One of the most controversial films of the 1980s, primarily due to its promotional material, which featured a killer ‘Santa Claus’ brandishing an axe as he emerged from a chimney. ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night,’ released in 1984, is well-known amongst horror fans for its bizarre legacy, spawning a franchise consisting of four low-budget sequels that had barely any relation to each other, yet still gained a cult following thanks to their bewildering stories and unintentionally hilarious moments. Years later, in 2012, we received ‘Silent Night,’ a remake of the original film that reimagines the concept of a murderous ‘Father Christmas’ for modern audiences, utilising its attractive visuals and creative kills to provide slasher fanatics with their fill of ho-ho-horror, even if ‘Silent Night’ is filled with many of its own unique issues.
Plot Summary: When a sadistic serial killer dressed as ‘Santa Claus’ embarks on a Christmas Eve rampage through a remote Midwestern town, the local police force must follow the killer’s trail of victims in the hope of uncovering his identity and averting the rest of his festive bloodbath…
Partially inspired by the 2008 Covina Holiday Massacre, during which, forty-five-year-old Bruce Jeffrey Pardo killed nine people at a Christmas party whilst wearing a ‘Santa Claus’ suit. ‘Silent Night’ isn’t the first voyage director Steven C. Miller (The Aggression Scale, Marauders, The Line of Duty) has taken into the horror genre, though, it may be his goriest, as Miller along with screenwriter Jayson Rothwell, up the ante from the original film by jumping straight into the violence, having the kills drive the story forward as they occur one after another. However, the screenplay certainly falls short when it comes to some other aspects such as developing the characters or building intrigue regarding the true identity of the masked killer, as the characters are insipid and the mystery uninteresting, making the film’s climactic plot twist feel less than galvanising, which is only made worse by the overcompensating dialogue.
The main cast of Jaime King, Malcolm McDowell, Donal Logue and Ellen Wong all try their hardest at giving their lifeless characters a personality and a reason for the audience to empathise with them, but it’s a largely wasted effort as King and Logue merely go through the motions as small-town police officers with a few glimmers of characterisation. While McDowell truly steals the spotlight as a dimwitted and pompous sheriff, often coming across as if his performance was taken from another film entirely. Then there is veteran stuntman Rick Skene, who fulfils the demanding physical requirements as the killer ‘Santa’ without saying a word, using his size and threatening demeanour to great effect.
Contrasting the horrific bloodshed of the story with a candy-coated aesthetic of stereotypical Christmas traditions, the cinematography by Joseph White allows for a number of visually interesting shots throughout the runtime, nearly all of which are enhanced by the festive colour palette, which employs an abundance of bright red, green and blue lights to make potentially bland locations such as the police station or a motel more visually appealing. And despite the moments of barbaric murder frequently falling back on hand-held shakiness in a feeble attempt of increasing the brutality of said murders, ‘Silent Night’ does redeem itself during its flashback sequences, as these scenes are entirely coated in black and white, aside from the killer’s ‘Santa’ suit, which remains a glowing red.
Contrarily, the original score by Kevin Riepl is a blaring and often tedious horror soundtrack, as outside of the track: ‘Sheriff Cooper,’ which strangely contains a guitar riff that sounds as if it’s from a ’70s crime-thriller. The majority of the score, including the tracks: ‘The Chipper’ and ‘Rack Mounted,’ are simply loud and unexceptional. Of course, being a film set at Christmas, the film also features a handful of renowned Christmas songs such as: ‘Up on the Housetop’ and ‘Deck the Halls,’ which thankfully aren’t overused.
Although ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ had its fair share of gore, ‘Silent Night’ takes its gruesome violence to another level, as the bloodthirsty ‘Santa’ make use of a range of tools including an axe, a cattle-prod, a scythe and even a flamethrower, in addition to constantly exploiting the environment around him, such as a scene where he impales a teenager onto a mounted set of deer antlers in a clear reference to the original film. What’s more, is all of the practical effects seen throughout these moments are magnificent, rarely relying on CG enhancements for further shock factor.
To conclude, ‘Silent Night’ is a modern slasher with its heart firmly in the ’80s, and I say that as a good thing. As with the film being a remake, it maintains the same level of cheese, dark humour and seduction as ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night,’ but as a result of its modern techniques, looks far better than most horror remakes/reimaginings. So, it’s truly a shame that the screenplay and original score continuously let the film down, as with a few improvements, ‘Silent Night’ could’ve gone down as a certified Christmas horror classic. But as it stands, while the film is far from a masterpiece, I believe ‘Silent Night’ will please fans of the series as well as those seeking a festive slasher. Final Rating: 5/10.