So you’re paging through the on-demand titles of your video service of choice and you find a supposed remake of the cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night. “Well that’s cool. The original was a good slasher, savaged by censorship into a toothless mess but with some real promise in its execution. The sequel was another mess, but this one a delightful mis-match of tone stemming from the performances that elevated the mediocre writing to hilarity. And this new one even stars Malcolm McDowell! That’s probably worth a rental!” Well, inner monologue, I hate to disappoint you but that is all that this in-name-only cash-in will do.
Silent Night takes place over a single Christmas Eve, during the annual parade of Santas in a small midwestern town. Officer Bradimore (Jaime King) is a recently divorced police woman who must find the Santa suited killer who is on a murder spree. Suspects loom everywhere and the body count rises as the deplorable behavior of the townsfolk shows that no one belongs on the “nice” list. In the end the killer will be revealed, and will have nothing to do with anything.
Officer Bradimore, despite being an armed officer of the law who is never out of uniform is the target of constant sexual harassment. Not a scene passes by without her needing to talk past disgusting innuendos or shrug away from unwanted physical contact from co-workers, suspects and the creepy reverend. Not once does she ever effectively deal with a male character. She isn’t Laurie Strode, a virginal high-school girl, she’s an officer of the law! Much is made of her recent divorce weighing heavily on her mood but that can’t account for how pathetic she appears when it comes to defending herself from every half-drunk punk in a red suit.
Tell me I’m going soft if you want, but killing an obnoxious 13-year-old girl with a cattle prod just seems mean-spirited to me. Just because she whines to go to the mall and her mom is too strung out to argue with her, I’m supposed to laugh as Santa shocks her into vomiting and collapse? God Bless America wasn’t funny either.
This film hates Christmas. The script is peppered with monologues about how Christmas is awful. A “bad santa” wannabe writes and reads journal entries about how it drives people insane. A drunken drifter in a stained Santa suit tells us about how he uses the holidays to take advantage of people. The skeevy reverend delivers a homily about how Jesus was born into cow shit because we’re horrible sinners. None of these raving diatribes are very well written or well delivered but we’re all going to sit down and watch one wacko or another vent about why Christmas is all wrong before we’re allowed to go back to watching our bad murder-Santa movie! Other Christmas themed horror films don’t spread a message of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, but they also don’t chew up more than a minute or two of runtime with someone complaining that Christmas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Silent Night wants you to know that it’s all Christmas’ fault. So I guess the writer never got that red fire truck he wanted.
McDowell is here to do his signature move. Act wacky and collect an easy paycheck. Sheriff Cooper is a raving loon and his portrayal shows another flaw in the direction, a lack of commitment to McDowell’s background. He delivers his lines in a forced broad Midwestern accent but often slips back into his natural British accent. For a small town sheriff out in the boonies, he uses the epithet “bloody” a lot. The confused result sounds like McDowell was told to improvise his lines to be suitably raving but translating to the American accent caused some bumps in the process. Because no one tried to correct these painful moments, I suppose I’m meant to shrug my shoulders and chuckle warmly and say “Hey! McDowell, amiright? As these comedy efforts of the crazy sheriff fall apart there are a few poor executed references to the other films to try for an ironic chuckle, such as a redo of the killer offering a bloody gift to a little girl witness and a poor deputy made to actually speak the line “What is this? Garbage day?” Even the actor is embarrassed of that half-muttered line.
The story tries its hand at several different approaches for the modern slasher. A few early kills borrow the look of Saw or other “torture forward” flicks. Some murders have the 80’s flair for incongruous set ups, including the sexy teen impaled on reindeer antlers ala Linnea Quigley in the original. Victims at first are entirely characterized by sex, such as the cheating husband and the pornographer, so it’s implied that the film carries the “morality play” inspiration of the 80’s original, but then discards that angle. The killer leaves a calling card that the police can’t find but the audience is forced to see as obvious. When Bradimore shoots a suspect a red gift box can be seen on-screen, implying that the killer knew she would have to shoot? Or that the man she shot was the killer? Here’s where the film takes another page from a famous horror franchise.
Once the police are clued in the film becomes an awkward Scream sequel. Suspects are picked off one by one and the script tries to throw suspicion on others as the police race around trying to locate them. But it’s a hack job. The audience is already aware that half of the candidates for the electric chair don’t fit the appearance of the killer. We saw him in shadowy profile in the first minute of the film! No time and attention is actually paid to crafting a whodunnit mystery. In the end the killer is . . . Spoilers! . . . some guy. He’s no one to us because he hasn’t been a character before the reveal. And in that reveal he’s a child in a flashback to a murder from 20 years ago. Simultaneously the killer is a roving madman who appears in a different town every year and a wronged child returning to his hometown for vengeance against the people who shot his father for burning his mother to death while wearing a Santa suit. What?
That’s why Silent Night fails. It tries to be everything horror-film at once and ends up succeeding at nothing. It’s not scary, it’s not funny, and it’s certainly not interesting. The original two films have recently seen a Blu-ray release. Go spend your Xmas money there.
Merry Garbage Day Everyone!