Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Cinema File #54: "Silent Night" Review

Santa Claus killing people in schlocky horror movies has become almost as predictable a tradition as the annual sleigh ride itself. Arguably, this trend began with the film Silent Night, Deadly Night, upon which the subject of today's film is very loosely based. I'll admit, I've never been a huge fan of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series, not because they are necessarily bad movies, but because I always thought the idea of a killer Santa Claus had more potential, what with him being a magical being and all. Though controversial for its time, to me, just making him a guy in a suit with a knife seems underwhelming. The later films introduced psychic powers, witches, and killer toys, which I understand a lot of fans frowned upon, but I always thought was an improvement on the formula. Silent Night, the new remake of the original film, takes the series back to its initial premise without all the supernatural stuff, but otherwise it has very little in common with the source material, and beyond a few bright spots here and there, it probably wasn't worth the effort.

While the original Silent Night, Deadly Night was more of a character study following the killer as he grew up, understanding his motives for killing the way he does, Silent Night presents their evil Santa as a largely anonymous subject of urban legend, a man betrayed by his wife on Christmas who killed her and her lover while dressed as Santa, and now goes from town to town punishing the naughty (with a slight, largely pointless twist to this story at the end). While this new direction, following the police hunting the killer and making him more of an amorphous, mysterious figure might in theory increase the suspense, I think it's ultimately to this new film's detriment, as he just becomes like any other slasher villain who just happens to work on Christmas and dress up like Santa Claus. Some of the death scenes are marginally interesting as he finds various Christmas-y ways of dispatching his victims, electrocuting them with strings of lights or impaling them on reindeer antlers, but the motif is never consistent, as he just as often uses other methods like cattle prods, sickles, brass knuckles, and even a high powered flame thrower in the climax. The only really effective death involves a Christmas tree lot and a wood chipper; the rest just seem like filler.

The other problem with making the killer just some guy is that the film goes out of its way to present the main characters trying to solve the mystery and identify the killer, complete with a series of rather pathetic red herrings along the way. That's fine if the killer is going to turn out to be someone we are introduced to (I had my money on either the Sheriff, his dimwitted deputy, or long shot, the petite secretary), but when you don't bother to have this revelation and instead shoehorn in this back story of some guy from another town who we never see outside of the flashback or the Santa suit, it feels like a cheat. They try to bring it back in the end to establish a slightly firmer connection to the main character and give a subtle nod to the original film in the process, but it just doesn't do anything for me. I don't remember a lot about the original movie as it has been a while since I've seen it, but what I do remember seems to show up here in little homages that seem disconnected from the main story, as if they had their own killer Santa movie they wanted to make, but needed to add some references to connect it to Silent Night Deadly Night to get it made.

Remember when Donal Logue was good in things? Yeah, me neither. I think after that Tao of Steve movie, I gave the guy a little more indie street cred than he ever deserved, because looking at his body of work, he's been in a lot of shitty stuff. He shows up here as a surly Santa who is at one point mistaken for the killer, and has two unnecessarily angry monologues about the secret degeneracy of Christmas, neither of which justify his character being in the film. Malcolm MacDowell is probably the stand out, as much as anything really stands out in this movie, always giving his all and living up to his reputation of apparently not giving a shit about what movies he's in or how they might damage his reputation. I get the feeling that he took the role just so he could deliver some of the silliest lines with utmost seriousness, which he does often and with gusto. Our protagonist is a character who clearly has some event in her past that makes her self conscious about being a police officer, and maybe I just wasn't paying attention, but I'm pretty sure the movie never bothers to explain what it is, beyond her just not feeling like she's cut out for the work.

Strangely, while a lot of movies like this set up a bunch of dickish characters so annoying that you want to see them murdered, so that you root for the killer as he goes about murdering them, I'd say the highlight of this film is actually the victim pool. There's this ridiculously over the top lecherous priest who is always laying his hand where it doesn't belong and gets them chopped off for his trouble, and a little Veruca Salt who gets tased to death, which is something I always like to see in movies just from the standpoint of knowing a film actually has the balls to kill children. Mostly though, Silent Night just devolves, as most slasher films do, into a series of kill scenes, some more or less interesting than others, but none of them stylish or memorable enough to elevate this movie into anything other than middle of the road fare. It might just barely be good enough for a night's rental if your into this sort of thing, but its largely forgettable, and not worth a purchase.

If you're looking for something really fun to get you into the Christmas spirit, I'd go with Silent Night 5: The Toymaker. Evil Robot Mickey Rooney saves Christmas every time.

Yeah, couldn't find a picture of that, but this works too.
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