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Back in 1984, the idea of Santa Clause murdering people so bothered many God-fearing and moralistic people that protests sprang up across the country, demanding the removal of Silent Night, Deadly Night from theaters. Shockingly, TriStar Pictures, fearing negative publicity more than enjoying money, actually bowed to the public’s crazy demand and yanked the movie. Twenty-eight years later, the basic concept, while still off-putting and weird, seems positively tame when compared against things like Hostel and Teeth. Unfortunately, those behind Silent Night don’t really seem aware this gradual transition occurred.
Watching Santa mow people down isn’t enough anymore. It’s only a good starting point for a low budget horror movie, and Silent Night’s biggest problem is that it never really takes the concept to the next level. It gives viewers small town Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell), his deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King), a few unimportant supporting pieces and a fucked-up, sociopathic Kris Kringle excited about killing anyone he deems immoral. Because it doesn’t put them into particularly edgy (for a horror movie) situations beyond the whole Santa angle, the end result comes off as pretty tame and even worse, without a signature.
For a horror movie to work, it needs to choose a side. It either needs to revel in all the glorious, terrifying violence like a sadistic voyeur, or it needs to play in the shadows and make viewers fearful of what they’re not seeing. For a horror movie to work, it either needs to let viewers play detective by offering a number of clues to the killer’s identity and a number of suspects, or it needs to totally dispense with the guessing games and just work on catching the lunatic. Silent Night is a hodgepodge of all of those things. Sometimes it basks in the murders, showing pints of blood and terrified faces and sometimes it kills people off screen without any real payoff. Now and again, it pitches a guessing game of Santa suspects, but more often than not, it doesn’t really seem interested in what the hell a viewer might be thinking. It’s cluttered, disorganized and doesn’t really appeal to a specific fan base beyond the generic horror flick enthusiast.
That being said, Silent Night does sport a few redeeming qualities. Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King and Donal Logue’s acting performances are far better than the standard low budget horror flick offers, and the movie looks very good visually, especially for its genre. Director Steven C. Miller paces the film pretty well, and at no point does the momentum ever stammer. It might not be above average or particularly groundbreaking, but it does have a way of keeping a viewer’s interest, meaning the ninety-four minute runtime feels just about right.
Foolish reviewers will no doubt point to the Santa gimmick as the first sign of the film’s problems, but really, that’s the least of the film’s troubles. Many horror flicks separate themselves with a goofy premise. Silent Night’s biggest problem is that it didn’t capitalize on that goofy premise. It’s not for everyone, but as an impulse purchase from a cheap horror bin, you could do far worse.
Silent Night only has two special features, but luckily, both of them are actually noteworthy. The behind-the-scenes featurette doesn’t include any directorial commentary or witticisms from the stars. It’s literally just footage from behind the scenes, which is actually kind of cool. The format allows for an interesting, almost voyeuristic look at the filmmaking, and it really gives viewers an idea of what it must feel like to be on set. I especially enjoyed watching the actors hype themselves up prior to the takes, and the stunt performers getting sympathetic, rousing cheers. Unfortunately, at less than ten minutes, it could have used more footage.
The deleted scenes take the same basic format as the behind-the-scenes featurette. There’s no discussion as to why the shots were cut or any clue as to where they might fit within the larger narrative. They’re just sort of slopped together, which is a bit annoying. Still, the deleted scenes are worth watching if for no other reason than the enlightening conversation the deputy has with the town mayor. In the film, the mayor is informed of what’s happening by the sheriff, and this new alternate version adds an entirely different wrinkle to both of their characters.
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