Ho ho ho! It’s that special time of the year, folks. City streets are covered in shiny displays of exterior illumination. Department stores are blasting Andy Williams and Nat King Cole on repeat. If there’s any kind of tree with green left on it, chances are it’s covered in tinsel. You know, that season. But there’s another tradition during this colorful time that some people forget about…the movie season. No, I’m not talking about the would-be Oscar contenders or family films that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’m talking about those other films. The ones which seem tailor-made for those who cannot swallow another glass of eggnog and would rather see something, anything, besides Santa teaching children the meaning of Christmas. The counter-programming. For that very group, film studio Anchor Bay is releasing in select cities just such a film: Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night. The Christmas-horror combo, which will be available for DVD and Blu-ray everywhere on December 4, tries to thread the needle between sending up holiday traditions and letting those who would rather say, “Bah, humbug!” watch Santa teach children the true meaning of Christmas.
The film opens with an ominous silhouetted figure listening to a merry rendition of “Up on the House Top” as he shaves and dons his Santa gear. Of course, he will be our requisite murderer for the remainder of the picture. Before the opening credits are done, he has electrocuted a man to death in Christmas lights and taken an axe off a wall to continue spreading holiday cheer downstairs. Santa Claus is coming to town, indeed. In this particular town, it’s Christmas Eve and the local law enforcement is bracing itself for an onslaught of Santa Clauses participating in the annual St. Nick parade. One of the officers is Deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King), a shaken and on-edge cop who recently lost her husband. The sheriff has no confidence in her, but when a string of murders start up, all related to a 6-foot Santa out to punish sinners before Christmas Morn, they will have to put the past aside, collect clues, interview suspects and follow the trail in order to….Do I really need to go on? It’s a movie about a killer Santa with an axe. And a flamethrower. You get the idea.
Following in the remake trend, this movie is loosely based on another yuletide slasher, Charles E. Sellier’s cult followed Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). While I wouldn’t venture so far as to call the original a classic, it’s certainly a notorious curiosity. Coming off the tail end of all those holiday themed horror flicks we saw following John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, Halloween, it’s surprising it stood out. There was Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day, Home Sweet Home (Thanksgiving) and so forth flooding movie theatres. A Christmas-themed hack-and-slash seemed inevitable. But put one serial killer in a Santa suit and all hell breaks loose. The 1984 original was vehemently protested by the national PTA and family rights groups until it was quickly pulled out of theatres. Siskel and Ebert even publicly said, “Shame, shame” to all the filmmakers who worked on it. To have its remake be theatrically released, if only limitedly, without a peep must say something about our culture’s relationship with Santa or horror movies 30 years later. Either way, advocates for free speech shouldn’t jump for joy just yet.
Silent Night (2012) is a vapid, paint-by-numbers slasher that occasionally dabbles in torture porn. While the original had the intriguing conceit of a young boy witnessing a criminal dressed as Santa slaughter his family and then grow up to be a jolly slayer himself, the remake assumes we’ve seen it all before and makes no attempt to change that. The police procedural at the center of the story is too stupid to be interesting and too serious to be entertaining. If the film didn’t want to make an effort to be horrifying, it could have embraced the absurdity of the concept and made a self-referential splatter flick that Eli Roth could go giddy for. When they put a flamethrower in Santa Claus’s hands for a few key scenes, didn’t someone on the set realize it looked kind of funny? Instead, the movie is merely content with going through the motions by introducing new, unpleasant characters before rapidly killing them off. Some of the deaths are inventive and seasonally unique—Santa wins points in the movie for the best use of a wood chipper since Fargo—but this reviewer tends to look for more than the splashy gore.
King tries her hardest to keep the movie afloat. She believably portrays a woman haunted by a past mistake that she wants to make amends for. However, her talent is wasted in a movie that only uses her as a bridge between set pieces. The real star of the film is Malcolm McDowell as her boss, Sheriff Cooper. McDowell brightens the screen whenever he is on entirely because of his lack of effort. The actor, who appeared less bored in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes, obviously knows what kind of schlock he’s in and gives the material its due. If the rest of the film followed his sarcasm and self-deprecating intuition, there might have been a great dark comedy of camp in here.
Alas, the film just sits there, daring us to ask for the gift receipt. Perhaps those who can enjoy a series of simple set-ups for gruesome, but creative, murders will be satisfied with this blood-drenched present. But I want a horror film that makes me fear for the lives of its protagonists or at least be amused by its self-aware subversion of the genre. When a young girl in this movie, despite being presented as stereotypically bratty and mean, is electrocuted to the point of vomiting on herself, I am neither scared nor laughing. I am only tired of this repellant lump of coal.
Grade: D (65/100)