The influx of pointless horror remakes has died down a bit this year, until now. It always holds major trepidation to see a fondly remembered movie be remade, but those that were hardly good in the first place are fair game for a new lease on life. Retaining only half of the title, “Silent Night” is a very loose remake of 1984’s unholy (and then-controversial) horror shocker, “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” which dared to have a psycho dress as Jolly Old Saint Nick and punish! the naughty, and spawned a campy sequel and three direct-to-video follow-ups. Full disclosure: the notorious holiday-themed nasty was pretty ballsy and graphic for its time, causing an uproar when released, and developed a cult following since, but it was just depressingly cheap and mean-spirited exploitation. Honestly, 1980’s more obscure “You Better Watch Out” (aka “Christmas Evil”/”Terror in Toyland”) was one of the first and better Killer Santa movies.
In this day and age with trends of torture-porn and human centipedes, the premise of a killer suited up as the jolly, gift-giving mythical figure is now less shocking but will still tarnish a child’s innocent belief. While its ’80s antecedent concerned a mad slasher named Billy, whose killing spree stemmed from a disturbing childhoodâ€”his insane grandfather told him what Santa Claus does to the naughty on Christmas Eve, he witnessed his parents murdered by a Santa-suited criminal, then ended up at an orphanage and was abused by Mother Superior, and then just snappedâ€”this 2012 edition is just an unimaginative, adequately bloody body-count flick with a standard-issue nutjob.
The mostly nice people of the sleepy burg of Cryer County, Wisconsin, are gearing up for a merry, merry Christmas, especially their annual Santa Parade. Then a psycho dressed in the plush red suit starts painting the town red, picking off all the naughty boys and girls at random. All the while, on her first Christmas without her husband, deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King) spends it on duty. When one of her fellow deputies is found murdered, the casualities only increase from there, and Aubrey and Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell) must put a stop to the carnage.
Director Steven C. Miller (he of the 2011 After Dark Original movie “Scream of the Banshee”) doesn’t fail to pull any punches with the kills, which are bloody gruesome but not always inspired either. There’s electrocution and strangulation with twinkle lights; a petulant teenage brat demanding her Church-going mother (Lisa Marie) to take her to the mall then gets put in time-out with a cattle prod; and in a well-staged set-piece that begins in a second-floor motel room, a soft-core porn model gets thrown into a buzzing woodchipper (good times!). For those that care, the kinda-sorta remake goes out of its way to make a few nods to 1984: one character has a catatonic but crazy grandfather; a slutty caroler gets impaled on the antlers of a mounted antelope head; bad Santa gives a little girl a bloody candy cane (instead of a knife); and there’s some old-fashioned ax-play. And from the awful sequel “Silent Night, Deadly Night Part II,” the notorious line “Garbage Day!” is uttered as a throwaway.
That’s all well and good, but Jayson Rothwell’s script is very weak and routine. Sure, the dumb plot is just another excuse to string together some gnarly deaths, but logic is sloppy and suspense close to nil. According to one of the Santa-dressed suspects, urban legend has it that every Christmas, a wronged man goes from town to town to kill off the bad eggs. How does “Santa” know where to find the naughty ones? Unsurprising narrative misdirection with other skeezy Santas takes time away from the real culprit and his slayings. And before the flame-throwing, red-and-green-tinted climax set in the police station, Aubrey’s crossword puzzle clue of a nine-letter world for a six-sided item and the killer leaving presents at each crime scene come into play but are treated as afterthoughts.Â Then, a last-minute plot twist, though clever at first, is just riddled with inconsistencies.
King has evidently become the go-to scream queen of remakes after the better “My Bloody Valentine” and “Mother’s Day.” As Aubrey, a young woman who still mourns for her husband and may not be up to following in her dad’s footsteps as a cop, she just goes through the motions, mostly asked to show some heroine pluck while holding a gun and mouthing occasionally stilted dialogue. An over-the-top McDowell, no stranger to horror either (he played the iconic Dr. Loomis in both of Rob Zombie’s desecrations of “Halloween” and “Halloween II”), adds some black humor playing the unprofessional, no-bull sheriff and having a ball. Ellen Wong, who was a sweet charmer in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” plays the police department secretary with all the gossip but has nothing to do. The rest of the characters are sleazy fodder for skewering, including a leering priest (Curtis Moore) and a misanthropic traveling Santa (Donal Logue).
About as scary as a ’90s episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” with amped-up violence and gore, “Silent Night” is no great shakes, even with its vicious slayings. So, if you’re a bloodthirsty horror fan and splatter is all you require, it will sate your appetite every ten minutes or so. It’s also a slicker production than its forefather, but on the whole, it’s never as much fun as “Santa’s Slay,” that tongue-in-cheek hoot with wrestler Bill Goldberg as an evil Santa, or even the 2006 “Black Christmas” redux, which was at least an entertaining bad movie. No yuletide joy or phony sentiments here, just ordinary exploitation for the whole family!
94 min., rated R.