Written by: Jayson Rothwell (screenplay)
Directed by: Steven C. Miller
Starring: Jaime King, Malcolm McDowell and Brendan Fehr
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďChristmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year."
Arriving with a chopped down title, Silent Night immediately reflects its status as an update of 1984ís infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night. It kind of is and isnít a remake of that film; aside from a choice line of dialogue, a handful of callbacks, and the killer Santa conceit, itís more of a re-imagining of the original. In terms of earning its title, itís one of the better recent remakes in its ability to meet expectations halfway, and, by the end of it, thereís no mistaking it for anything but a Silent Night, Deadly Night movie. Hell, itís more worthy than the last two films that actually bore the title, so you might as well consider it part six since producers were handing the moniker out like a ten cent candy cane twenty years ago.
This version flips the dynamic of the original on its head; instead of chronicling a manís descent into holiday-induced homicidal madness, it begins with a mysterious man in Santa garb torturing and killing a couple who have engaged in adultery. Heís just getting started too, as heís arrived in a small Wisconsin town on Christmas Eve to punish everyone whoís been naughty this year. As the killer Santa decks the halls with a trail of corpses, the local police force, headed by an eccentric sheriff (Malcom McDowell) and a plucky officer (Jaime King), attempts to unravel his identity and bring his killing spree to an end.
ďGrim and grittyĒ have been the big redux buzzwords these days, but you donít need Ďem in the case of Silent Night, Deadly Night, which was plenty fucked up the first time around. Maybe its reputation has been shaded by its terminally stupid follow-up, but the first movie is gleefully demented. Between a kid witnessing his parentsí murder at the hands of a guy in a Santa suit, his resultant psychosis, and his eventual killing spree (which takes him back to his childhood orphanage!), itís one of the grimiest, filthiest, and altogether deranged 80s slashers (obligatory juvenile shenanigans aside), and its glib, detached sense of absurdity especially inspired lines of angry families to picket theaters and call for its withdrawal. Thankfully, Silent Night doesnít really try to one-up its predecessor and opt for some extreme, harsh retelling of an story that was already nuttier than a fruitcake.
Silent Night nicely balances the brutality and semi-seriousness of the original with some expected slasher silliness. It doesnít veer all the way into intentional camp like the Black Christmas remake did (thereís no exacting pounds of flesh and baking them like Christmas cookies), but it doesnít feel quite as screwy as the original, which just has an odd, mean vibe for the most part. Instead, this oneís a little more fun--well, as fun as a movie can be when it involves a guy dressed as Jolly Saint Nick hacking and slashing his way through a town full of sinners (history and the SNDN sequels have proven that it often isnít very fun at all). Everyone from mouthy tween girls to pervy priests are on the chopping block, and the film even borrows some detours from the original (like when Santa busts up a couple of kids daring to bone). This one feels a little bit more like a body count movie since it comes from the opposite position of shrouding the killer in mystery instead of following him from childhood, so heís mostly offing a bunch of random characters who are introduced for the sole purpose of being added to the bloody pile (though, to be fair, the original did the same thing).
The main character during this outing is Kingís deputy, who comes with some baggage since she recently lost her husband (the film never spells out what happened to him, but it provides enough clues to insinuate that she blames herself). King might be one of the bigger takeaways from the film--this is her third tour of duty with holiday slashers after My Bloody Valentine and Motherís Day, and the genre is lucky to have her around. Maybe sheís a genuine enthusiast, and kudos to her if thatís the case. She crucially tethers Silent Night with a relatable sense of pathos, whereas just about every character surrounding her is an unbelievable goof or a turbo-charged dick. McDowell is sometimes outrageous as the sheriff, and itís almost as if he wandered straight in from the set of Halloween (though his performance isnít as ill-fitting or off-putting here as it was there, mostly because this movie is a little knowingly cock-eyed). The script also introduces a neat wrinkle that finds the town overrun with hundreds of Santa impersonators thanks to the Christmas Eve festivities, and the always delightful Donal Logue pops up as a cynical Saint Nick whoíd be kind of creepy if not for the other Santa wandering around wielding a blowtorch.
Silent Night is obviously more polished than its predecessor, for better or worse. The cinematography is slicker than the dowdy camerawork from two decades ago, and itís altogether more professionally realized. Some occasional flourishes (such as the tight, chaotic lensing of some of the kills and chases) are a bit much, but itís mostly well-done. What the film gains in production values, it loses in general atmosphere, however; this is a bit of a nitpick, but the lack of snow sometimes kills the vibe, and some scenes feel a little too bright and sunny. If thereís a common thread to all of the Christmas slashers Iíve encountered, itís an oppressive, almost sinister ambiance that results from the dreary, wintry surroundings. Maybe itís the disconnect between the cheery Christmas atmosphere and the horrific material, but movies like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Christmas Evil have a weird, distinctive feel that this one lacks despite its various Yuletide trimming. Criticizing it for its lack of slasher gusto is impossible, though, so Silent Night is accomplished in its most important arena; gore gags are mostly practical and convincing, which is no surprise considering how effectively director Steven Miller splattered around blood and guts in Automaton Transfusion, and he stages two of the more memorable slasher deaths in recent memory here.
I can level other, minor criticisms at Silent Night: itís a little uneven and predictable, and it should probably end three minutes earlier than it does since a tacked on coda tries a little too hard to bring this one back around to the original movie. Even though itís set up as a whodunnit, the film actually posits that this killer Santa is just an urban legend come to life, which is pretty cool but swept aside by the filmís end. Despite this, Silent Night is the best film in this series since the first one; that sounds a little bit like a backhanded compliment, but it also stacks up pretty well with the original. With all the winks and nods (obvious though they may be), itís difficult to say that this didnít come from a place of respect. Iím willing to bet that Miller has seen the original more than a few times, and heís made a movie that recovers the franchiseís reputation a bit (well, with horror fans anyway--something tells me there might be some moms dusting off their signs and ready to picket if they have to).
Unfortunately, the uptight moral majority doesnít have much of a battle this time around since Silent Night is getting a short, limited theatrical release this weekend before Anchor Bay releases it on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday. Their release is suitable enough: the special features are sparse, comprised of some deleted scenes and a making-of feature, but the presentation is quite stellar. The transfer is sleek and candy-colored, while the TrueHD track is clear, engaging, and especially allows Kevin Rieplís score to shine. Considering the dearth of good, wide-release horror movies this year, itís a shame that no one got behind Silent Night in a bigger way; maybe the lukewarm reception to Black Christmas scared everyone off, which is too bad (especially since that remake fares better with each revisit). As far as slasher remakes go, itís among the better ones, and I look forward to slotting it in my holiday horror rotation each year alongside the Black Christmas remake. Buy it!