PLOT: A considerable amount of naughty people in a small Midwestern town fall victim to a brutal Santa Claus determined to turn them into little more than lumps of coal; an overzealous Sheriff and his deputy are the only ones who can stuff him down the chimney of justice.
REVIEW: There's just something provocative about a killer Santa, isn't there? The ultimate symbol of good used for true evil, the idea crawls under the skin in a subtle way, and Charles Sellier's 1984 SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT capitalized on that in a memorably grisly way (as have other, less noteworthy exploitation pictures). Now we have a loose remake of that flick attempting the same style of candy-coated debauchery, although this one, simply titled SILENT NIGHT, wisely assumes a tongue-in-cheek attitude and pumps in an ample amount of over-the-top gore. Not likely to stir up much controversy, the Steven C. Miller-directed slasher isn't seeking to rewrite any books but it proves to be an acceptable diversion and dishes out some sick, sick holiday cheer.
Instead of documenting a troubled young man's gradual unraveling until a breaking point is reached, SILENT NIGHT's approach is a bit in the whodunit mold, as a small police department must deal with the sudden emergence of a Santa suit-wearing serial killer on Christmas Eve. The town's Sheriff, Cooper (played in full scenery chewing mode by Malcolm McDowell), is strangely invigorated by the deaths, which are seemingly only perpetrated by folks who deserve it. Cooper has been waiting years to dispense with the trivialities of small town police work (parking tickets, small cats out of trees, etc.) to focus on something more significant, and this is his chance to play Dirty Harry. Meanwhile, Deputy Aubrey (Jaime King), is appropriately troubled by the events and works toward breaking the mystery of the maniac's identity, which is made all the more difficult since the town is hosting a Santa parade that very day. (A strange event for a thoroughly small and insignificant mill town, but we'll let is slide for the plot's sake.)
So who is Santa dispatching? Well, he raids a topless photo shoot in a seedy motel (which leads to a wood-chipper death that is tops), takes out a snotty, materialistic brat (the movie gets points for killing a kid, no matter how obnoxious), a lecherous priest receives a most unholy communion, and the like. Soon, however, this insane Saint Nick just goes totally nuts, eliminating anyone and everyone in his path. Director Miller and company thankfully don't hold back with the red stuff; there's as much blood here than in any other movie I can think of from this year, and it appears as though most of the grisly effects are of a practical nature. (There's a rather lovely pick-ax-to-the-eye bit that looks just great.)
SILENT NIGHT also benefits from a cast that is willing to sink their teeth into the tawdry material. McDowell, as always, can be counted upon to invest every fiber of his being into the character, no matter how thinly conceived; his Sheriff Cooper has some of the Sam Loomis from HALLOWEEN II in his DNA; he's all pompous bluster and cockiness. Ms. King, on the flipside, gives a fairly emotional performance, as her character is directly effected by the murders. King has surprisingly become one of horror's most dependable scream queens - and she can actually act! Donal Logue, one of our great character actors, here plays a sleazy Santa who is ostensibly just in town to participate in the parade, but may be there to do something more sinister. He has a rather fantastic monologue where he trashes Christmas that could become a minor classic.
The film isn't without its flaws: most glaringly, the ending is totally botched, and the revelation of the killer is a supreme letdown. It doesn't ruin the movie, but it always feels a bit like a tainted experience when a murder mystery can't stick the landing. That said, up until that point SILENT NIGHT has delivered a crazy little present for those of you who enjoy your Yuletide with side of darkly humorous murder and mayhem.