I love all things horror. Films, books, television shows, etc. Horror is a great genre for films and novels and it is my personal favorite. Unlike other film genres, horror has its own season, Halloween, where fans celebrate the macabre with month long marathons of their favorite fright films, books, and stories. Personally, I watch horror all year round but I do have quite the marathon during October.
In December, moods change and I, along with the rest of the world, am filled with holiday spirit that lasts into the New Year. The films I watch during the Christmas months are full of holiday charm. I am a sucker for the classic Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol and I am even prone to getting teary when I watch the ending of Home Alone. Holiday spirit does not, however, prevent me from watching horror films and this year I was excited to see the new fright film Silent Night, starring the great Malcolm McDowell, Donal Logue, and Jaime King. I figured it would be fun to review a horror themed holiday film during December and bring some good yuletide bloodletting to the season.
The film is a very loose remake of the 1984 controversial horror film Silent Night, Deadly Night. That film caused quite a stir, as parents groups protested the ads being shown on television that depicted a psycho Santa with a bloody axe coming out of a chimney. The film has a minor cult status but, in my opinion, is not very good. I was not a fan at all and this is why I was interested to hear about the remake being done. My rule regarding remakes is that we should remake the flawed films that could be done better and not the classics. Remake Silent Night, Deadly Night not Psycho!
Well, here it is, the week of Christmas and a couple of nights ago I settled in with some popcorn, turned off the lights, and readied myself for a fun, gory, Christmas themed horror flick!
Silent Night tells the story of a northern Midwestern town being terrorized by a murderous Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. This Santa wears a clear mask that disfigures his features just enough that no one will see his face. It is a creepy look. In the opening, we see him glue the beard to his mask and put on the full Santa costume as he begins his murderous rampage by electrocuting a man tied to a chair with Christmas lights. The killing and movie have begun and are off to an interesting start.
We are introduced to the Sherriff and his main Deputy, played by Malcolm McDowell and Jaime King respectively as McDowell calls in King because one of the other deputies is missing. Her character is depressed this time of year because of an incident that I will not reveal. An actress I don’t usually like, King works well here and is believable as a deputy in over her head that harbors some inner pain. I enjoyed her work in this film.
Malcolm McDowell plays it fairly straight for once as the sheriff. He has a few lines of sarcasm but he is not trying to chew the scenery here, as he does in a lot of his work these days.
The bodies begin to pile up and the sheriff gets his first call to a house where a young girl has been murdered by the killer Santa. She has been shocked to death by a cattle prod and stabbed.
Here lies my first issue with the film. The scene where the girl is killed is vicious and brutal. As I have stated before, children in peril have no place in horror films of this type. Yes, the kids in John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Fog and young Danny in The Shining were in extreme peril but those films were made with style and were more than just popcorn entertainment. In this film, the director Steven C. Miller and his writer Jayson Rothwell try to justify the young girl’s death by having her, only moments before, be an extreme brat to her mother. She demands to be taken to the mall to buy her gifts as she berates her mother over and over. As the mother goes to get the keys, there is a knock at the door. The girl opens it, says some nasty insults to “Santa,” and we are witnessed to her being cattle prodded until she is foaming at the mouth. This is not entertaining. It is an ugly moment and the film keeps getting uglier from there.
The killings are not done with any sort of style. They are brutal to be brutal and the tone does not support them as the script, uneven and quite messy, jumps from darkly serious to trying some macabre humor here and there. The balance is extremely off and the humor is nonexistent.
The director has said that he was trying to get the feel of a Rob Zombie horror film. Mr. Miller, you have failed! Zombie’s films work as he, along with genre filmmakers such as, John Carpenter, George A. Romero, and especially Sam Raimi, perfectly blend the blackest of humor with the evil that inhabits their films. This director mention Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects and his remake of Halloween as his prime templates for this film.
You can see his tribute to Zombie’s Halloween in the look of the film. It has an almost grainy and darkly hued look, the music cues are very close to Tyler Bate’s score for Zombie’s film, and the police are uniformed almost exactly like the Sheriff and his men in Halloween.
This is where the comparisons stop. It is not enough to tip your hat to a film or filmmaker’s style that you love. You must have your own voice and be able to tell a story your own way, putting your spin on a script while peppering it with moments from the films you love. Quentin Tarantino would be, perhaps, the ultimate example of this.
The film has no sense of humor and is bleak from the moment it begins and keeps getting darker as it goes on. When you make a film about a killer Santa I believe you need to sprinkle it with a few light moments. Truly, this is an ugly film, which takes the fun and enjoyment away.
There are no moments of scares and the killings get somewhat creative but are rendered null by the aforementioned ugliness. There is a death by wood chipper that is supposed to shock us and make us grin at the same time. It falls flat and made me think of the comically brilliant moment in the great Coen brothers film Fargo, where the lead character interrupts a killer as he is finishing up a murder in a wood chipper. In that film, the scene plays brilliantly and we smile at its audacity. In Silent Night the sequence falls flat and is simply grim to be grim.
As the hunt for the killer ensues, a few red herrings are thrown our way. The most annoying of them all is the arrival of the fine character actor Donal Logue as a cynical fake Santa who makes kids cry by telling them that Christmas is bullshit. I like Logue but his performance here is annoyingly vicious and over the top. When he is on screen I wanted to hit him over the head with a stocking full of coal, which leads me to a couple of nice touches in the film.
There is a scene where the killer sends a warning that he is coming for certain characters. His warnings are sent as stockings filled with coal. I thought that was a nice touch.
As the police realize they are searching for a killer dressed as Santa, they are distressed as the annual Christmas parade and contest where over a hundred Santas are in town and dressed in full costume. This was a clever idea, as well.
The rest of the film is gruesome and ugly. I keep coming back to that word because it is the reason the film does not work for me. In horror, if you go too ugly with no humor or lightness at all you will lose your audience. You want the horror fans to have fun being scared and not turn them off and make them feel bad.
In these 90 minutes of boring excess we get a bratty preteen killed in close up, a lecherous priest, and that old slasher flick stand by, the sex crazed couple who are murdered during their lusty liaison. That scene is one of only a few direct references to the first film. Oh yeah, Santa even brandishes a flamethrower in the finale! The scene is frenetic and loud but falls flat.
Little, if nothing, that happens in the film is original. As slasher flicks go, it is pretty pedestrian. The director has given us a film that is brutal, extremely unpleasant, unmemorable, and in no danger of becoming a yuletide classic. If you want horror for your holidays, rent Joe Dante’s holiday horror classic and textbook example of blending humor and terror, Gremlins. You could also watch the original 25 minute cartoon of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. At least it has Boris Karloff!
Silent Night is a film I will soon forget. Dear Santa, I have been a good boy this year. Please make this happen soon.
Merry Christmas Horror fans!