Christmas-related horror films are always a good time. The concept of homicidal rampages during the season of love and giving makes these films gleefully absurd and instantly offensive. While it wasn’t the first of the holiday horror films, 1984′s Silent Night, Deadly Night is the most celebrated of the subgenre. After it’s release, the film was shunned by Gene Siskel on television and pretty much chased out of theaters.
The idea of a bloodthirsty Santa offended the shit out of plenty of people, but it’s also a really good and interesting movie. Unlike most slashers, Silent Night, Deadly Night follows our killer Billy from boyhood to young adult – through watching his parents killed by a man dressed as Santa to having Mother Superior force feed him sexual repression in an orphanage, we’re there for his entire origin story. When his boss forces him to dress as a department store Santa, the nativity knifing begins!
28 years later, director Steven Miller’s remake is in name only. Earlier this year Miller’s Aggression Scale blew our faces off with its hyperviolent approach to kid vs. home intruders ala Home Alone. With Silent Night, he further proves he knows how to shoot creative, colorful violence and create some really tense set-pieces. The problem is that all the talent behind a camera can’t save a hollow movie.
Silent Night is set in a small town on Christmas Eve. The town is preparing for its annual Santa Parade, in which hundreds of folks dress as Santa march through downtown – making it the perfect camouflage for a killer Santa to do some work. A big problem right off the batis that we don’t know anything about the killer. Just that there’s an urban legend about some guy who dresses as Santa who travels from town to town and goes on murder sprees every Christmas. There doesn’t seem to be any thought behind his murders. He does give them gifts before he kills them, but that small plot point doesn’t pay off. He does seem to only kill people who are selfish (a whiny little brat) and involved in some illicit, racy stuff (a man cheating on his wife, a drug dealer, a softcore porno crew, etc.).
So maybe somehow this Santa knows who’s being naughty or nice, but it probably has more to do with slasher tropes than anything else. You fuck, you die. You bitch, you die. You run naked through a Christmas tree lot screaming your face off, you die. But while the original Silent Night dealt out killings based on Billy’s twisted, moral worldview that was pounded into him at the orphanage (making us sympathetic towards him at the same time), we don’t know anything about the killer in Miller’s film. Him going around slaying “bad” people has no depth to it other than it makes for some fun kills.
Malcolm McDowell plays the sheriff and boy howdy is he an idiot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more inept fictional sheriff. Every single theory he comes up with turns out to be wrong and he never believes Aubrey (Jaime King), the only cop in town with a head on her shoulders. Santa’s got beef with Aubrey and when they finally have a showdown at the end, it’s revealed there’s a connection between the two characters. It’s not as complicated as you think, it’s more predictable than shocking. For the final showdown Santa busts out the homemade flamethrower, which I really liked.
While Silent Night is a remake in name and taxidermy death only, it’s sure to satisfy slasher fans. Miller’s got a great eye for violence and chases, of which there are plenty of here. It’s definitely worth a watch with your loved ones and plenty of spiked eggnog.- Patrick Cooper