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Entries in Silent Night [2012] (1)


Silent Night (2012)

Locals Roasting on an Open Fire

One of my earliest horror-movie memories is renting 1984's Silent Night, Deadly Night during a fifth-grade sleepover. My friends and I had heard about the controversy surrounding the film's release,* and were curious to see if the notorious Santa slasher was really as twisted as everyone said it was. Charles Sellier Jr.'s bleak and bloody movie cast a dark cloud over my soul; it wasn't just violent in ways I hadn't expected, there was also a distinct anti-humanity message throughout that made me profoundly sick.

Not wanting to seem like a wuss to my friends, I cheered as the deranged St. Nick yelled "Punish!" at his victims and laughed when he ran through a topless Linnea Quigley with a pair of mounted trophy antlers. Ah, sweet youth...

Nearly thirty years later, the remake fairy dropped an early Christmas present on my virtual doorstep. Sellier's vision has been given new life as Silent Night, a pretty-much-straight-to-video update that shares some of the original's DNA (to use that awful Ridley-ism), while staking out its own kookily entertaining identity.

In the film, death has come to the sleepy town of Cryer, Wisconsin. A maniac dressed as Santa Claus (Rick Skene) walks the streets, apparently eavesdropping on conversations to find out who's been naughty and who's been nice. The "bad" people are treated to murder by electrocution, impaling, wood-chipper, flamethrower, and ol' fashioned multiple stabbings.

The "good" people...well, he doesn't really find any--except for an old lady who witnesses him killing a lascivious priest in the middle of an empty Christmas Eve service. Santa gives her the bloody collection money that Father Touchy had stolen from the donation box. This begs the question, "Doesn't accepting that money put her in the 'Naughty' column?"

The slasher story takes a back seat to the personal drama of Sheriff's Deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jamie King). She lost her husband a year ago, and is still struggling to pick up the pieces. Luckily, she's got plenty of wackiness to keep her mind occupied, from the invasion of Santa look-alikes pouring into town for the "record-setting" annual parade; to the creep who causes a disturbance by telling kids the truth about Christmas; to her eccentric English boss, Sheriff Cooper (Malcom McDowell), who sees every crime as the opportunity to play super-cop.

I was surprised by how much attention was paid to Silent Night's non-horror elements. Could it be that director Steven C. Miller and writer Jayson Rothwell are just as bored by horror remakes as the rest of us? By focusing on Aubrey and her relationship with the townsfolk, the filmmakers elevate the material to that of a pseudo-Twin Peaks TV pilot. Were it not inevitable that most of the cast wind up dead by film's end, I could easily imagine this as an ongoing adventure series about a mad-Brit sheriff, his glum-but-determined deputy, and their feisty dispatcher (Ellen Wong).

But this is a horror movie, and I must review it as such. Though Silent Night is utterly lacking in scares, it has a lot to admire in the gore department. Frankly, it's refreshing to see squibs and gooey, gore-soaked dummies flopping about instead of the insulting fakery of After Effects digital plug-ins. Miller and cinematographer Joseph White accomplish their elaborate kills the old fashioned way: by shooting around the practical special effects in ways that can later be edited into effective kill scenes, which still require some imagination on the audience's part.

The one odd aesthetic choice (which would make a hell of a drinking game for those that are so inclined) is the over-use of lens flares. Forget J.J. Abrams' Super 8 and Star TrekSilent Night takes the gold in the Reflected-light Olympics. It's hard to tell if Miller and company achieved this retro atmosphere through on-set techniques, or if the omnipresent, cutting beams of light were added in later. Regardless, it's hilarious to the point of distraction. In one scene, Aubrey navigates an old house with her flashlight aimed at the darkness (i.e. right at us), and the effect is like that of her carrying Darth Maul's double-headed lightsaber into battle.

Speaking of hilarious, I'd be remiss in not giving a huge shout-out to Silent Night's MVP, Donal Logue. As Santa Jim, the creep who likes to spoil kids' Christmas with Yuletide honesty, he barrels through the movie with an abbrasive wit that practically belongs in another movie. It's as if the filmmakers had wanted to get Billy Bob Thornton to reprise his Bad Santa role, but couldn't, and settled for the next best thing. Jim delivers an impassioned, crazy speech towards the end of the film that reminded me of Stallone's climactic screaming fit in Rambo, and his defiant last words to the killer Claus belong on t-shirts and bumper stickers.

I recommend Silent Night, but not strictly as slasher escapism. The killer is the least interesting part of the film, and the juciest stuff happens when he's not on screen. If you're into these kinds of movies, you may know that this is at least the second remake each for King and McDowell, who starred in updates of My Bloody Valentine and Halloween, respectively. Silent Night owes as much to those movies, stylistically and narratively, as it does to its own source material (blink and you'll also miss references to Black Christmas and the cult catch-phrase from 1987's Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2).

No, the real joy is figuring out if you're more into following the Santa killer on his grisly rounds or watching Aubrey stumble in her attempts to pin a local drug dealer (also dressed as Santa Claus) to the murders. This weird little movie is full of enough red herrings, homages, and sub-plots to down a magical sleigh. It falters in the final moments, appending a superfluous villain-origin to a story that had muscled along quite nicely without it. But over all, Silent Night's quirkiness stands in sharp contrast to the original, which played like a snuff film with a death wish.

*With all the outrageously demented stuff that's oozed out of cineplexes in the decades since, it's cute to think of parents forming protest groups because a horror-movie villain decided to dress up as Santa.