I’ve often said that if you’re going to remake a movie, it’s basically okay if the original wasn’t that great to begin with. A remake of Friday the 13th? No complaints from me. A remake of Halloween? Oh, you go to hell. You’d think that Silent Night, a loose reimagining of the controversial 1984 slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night, would fall inside that safety zone… and you’d be wrong. I actually maintain that Silent Night, Deadly Night is one of the best slashers ever made. And yes, I am completely serious.
The original film caused a media firestorm on its initial release, because it dared to turn Santa Claus – a beloved Coca Cola spokesperson who invites children to line up and sit on his lap in public – into a homicidal maniac. Never mind that the killer in Silent Night, Deadly Night was just a guy “dressed” as Santa Claus, and that he was created by a series of unfortunate events that represent everything wrong with the holiday. As a young boy, his mentally deranged grandfather terrifies him into believing that Santa Claus punishes the naughty, an indictment of traditional yuletide moral blackmail, before his parents are murdered in front of him by an armed robber dressed as Kris Kringle, a clear representation of soulless materialism. He’s then sent to an orphanage where puritanical nuns instill within him a thick layer of psychosis based on religious fundamentalism. Every single awful thing we associate with Christmas gets covered by the end of the prologue, in a blunt but meaningful way. By the time he goes in his inevitable holiday killing spree, we sympathize… with the killer… in a slasher movie. Silent Night, Deadly Night’s straightforward visual style forces us to look at the actual events of the film, never distracted by false artifice, and therefore actually accept them as a horribly logical extension of the seasonal spirit, taken to the utmost extreme. That’s some scary stuff, and it has a god damned point to make.
Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night takes a decidedly different approach, portraying its own homicidal Santa as a faceless specter of judgment befalling a small town on Christmas Eve, meting out terrible vengeance on the “naughty” and occasionally distributing blood-soaked candy canes to the innocent. He represents, like most slashers before him, the same puritanical oversimplification of morality that the original film exerted all of its energy condemning. His murders are efficient, entertaining and occasionally very creepy, but they aren’t terribly intriguing either. Silent Night is a standard shocker, made with style and skill but in service of practically nothing beyond ultraviolent distraction. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t impress me, particularly with source material this meaty.
Rather than focusing on the twisted psyche of the individual committing these crimes, Silent Night focuses on a young police officer, played by an excellent Jaime King, who experiences a trial by fire when the Santa Claus killer strikes her community. The sheriff, played by a thoroughly enjoyable Malcolm McDowell, responds to the crimes with comical hubris, ready to cowboy up and protect his community without any help from organizations with actual experience in these matters, like the FBI. The body count piles up as the mystery takes up more and more screen time. Who is this homicidal maniac? It couldn’t matter less.
The point of a mystery in a small town is to illuminate the secret lives of its inhabitants, but Silent Night allows the private vices of its cast to bubble right up to the surface in every scene. Pornographers get what’s coming to them. Oversexed teenagers get what’s coming to them. The hammiest morally bankrupt priest in movie history gets what’s coming to him, and so on and so on. Solving the mystery reveals nothing of consequence, instead merely giving the cops a couple of red herrings to chase throughout the film, padding the running time and boring me betwixt all the ultraviolent kills.
I admired the sharp storytelling of Steven C. Miller’s The Aggression Scale, a thrilling Home Alone riff in which little Kevin is actually a nascent serial killer. But whereas The Aggression Scale eschewed psychological depth for a reason, to allow a character who would be a villain in any other context to emerge as an unlikely hero, that same approach makes Silent Night feel like a hollow exercise. As a vacant holiday slasher, with its few attempts at social commentary limited to the overwritten tirades of Donal Logue, Silent Night works pretty well. The kills are nicely gory, the humor mostly lands and the set pieces are occasionally ridiculous enough to stand out from its many competitors. But it adds nothing to the medium or the conversation surrounding it, and flees from every opportunity to actually say something relevant about the complex social, economic and religious framework we’ve built around the curious holiday we call “Christmas.” It doesn’t betray the legacy of Silent Night, Deadly Night, but it doesn’t add anything to it either. Ho-ho-hum.