The "holiday horror" subgenre is a weird one indeed, requiring a fine tonal balancing act that involves wedding jolly Christmas cheer with bloody visceral scares. There's something about the phony brightness holidays that brings out some really fucked-up shit, and it's a well that many films have attempted, among them the sardonic "Christmas Evil" (one of John Waters' favorite films); the inky "Black Christmas," directed by Bob Clark (who also did "A Christmas Story"); and an episode of "Tales from the Crypt" that Robert Zemeckis directed about an escaped lunatic dressed like Santa Claus. (The less said about the Bill Goldberg-starring "Santa's Slay," the better.) One of the more straightforward holiday horror entries was 1984's "Silent Night, Deadly Night," an easily forgettable slasher film wrapped in Christmas lights and tinsel. Well, that film has been given the remake treatment, re-titled "Silent Night," and shoved into theaters and home video (a perfect stocking stuffer!) just in time for the yuletide spirit to melt your skull with a homemade flamethrower. Ho ho no.
"Silent Night" gets off to a terrible start, as a masked Santa Claus figure, in full regalia, electrocutes a dude to death using faulty Christmas lights (yes, seriously). It sets the tone in a weird way, because the death is so outlandish and dumb that you wonder if it's some kind of winky, meta-textual commentary on film violence, more "Piranha 3D" than "Saw," just really poorly executed. Sadly, time after time in "Silent Night," we're hit over the head (sometimes quite literally) with grotesque violence devoid of any social commentary or humor, so if it's trying to be funny, it's failing miserably and repeatedly. Especially when our villain sends a comely topless girl down a wood chipper. Misogyny and eggnog: such a smooth combination. Yum!
Anyway, these kind of dumb-ass horror set pieces are repeated, over and over again in "Silent Night." There's a young deputy (played, with workmanlike thanklessness by Jaime King), out to prove her police lady chops, especially in the face of her boss, played by Malcolm McDowell, who seems more in on the "joke" than most of the other actors, but who is still saddled with undignified lines of dialogue that include: "This isn't 'Glee.'" This is the same man that was in "A Clockwork Orange," people! Viddy that shit. The cast is rounded out by former Tim Burton wife Lisa Marie, playing the charcoal-eyed mother of a dead girl; Ellen Wong from "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" as the police department's sassy secretary (seriously?); and Donal Logue as a potential suspect although this movie has more herrings than a traditional Christmas Eve smorgasbord (minus the weird jelly).
"Silent Night" was directed by Steven C. Miller, who helmed "The Aggression Scale," a marginal midnight movie that played SXSW earlier this year. Miller throws every stylistic flourish in the book at "Silent Night," desperate for something to stick and for the material to somehow be elevated above basement-level B-movie trash. Nothing works. And instead of adding some night slickness to the project, it instead makes it even more annoyingly garish – like the neighbors that have the giant inflatable snow globe in their front yard. In particular, Miller seems obsessed with lens flares, to an unhealthy degree. He must have really loved the new "Star Trek" movie but his work here, which are almost always computer-generated (or at the very least assisted) makes J.J. Abrams seem like a master of subtlety. Literally every light on a string of Christmas lights gives off its own little flare. Later in the movie, during the climax that's set at the police station, Miller goes HAM on our asses, alternating between green and red filters as he switches between scenes. You can see he's going for something, but what that something is remains vague and elusive. You can throw a bunch of glitter on a pile of dog shit; it doesn't change the fact that it's still dog shit.
The plot makes so little sense that the climax of the movie happens before it even bothers to sort out who the killer was. Usually it's the other way around – the reveal of the killers adds depth to the climax and anchors things with a weighty emotional connection, particularly if it's one of the dozen or so characters that have already been introduced. But "Silent Night" seems content to keep piling on the uncreative, unnecessarily bloody kills (one dude gets his head split open by an axe, while a "slutty" girl gets impaled on a taxidermied deer head), without bothering to ever make any sense. The big "reveal" is so dumb and arbitrary that, if the movie was really building towards it the whole time, hoping to dazzle audiences with its cleverness and narrative seed-planting, well, it completely missed the mark. "Silent Night" is unrelentingly ugly and stupid, the kind of movie that you'll find underneath the Christmas tree only if you've been really, really, voted-for-Romney naughty. A giant lump of coal would be better. [D]