‘Silent Night’ Brings Us the Best Kind of Bad Santa
The controversial classic Silent Night, Deadly Night is part of the bedrock of the Christmas horror subgenre—a seasonal title many horror fans revisit this time of year. It also inspired one of the very best Christmas horror movies ever made: 2012’s Silent Night, a title that deserves a place on every horror fan’s watch list during the holiday season. Writer Jayson Rothwell and director Steven C. Miller’s loose remake of the 1984 original is an unrelenting, excessive (in a good way), and humorous flick that does its own thing. Not a second of its 93 minutes is wasted.
Silent Night is set in the small town of Cryer, Wisconsin—actually Manitoba, Canada—and revolves around Deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King). Aubrey is grieving the death of her husband John and planning a quiet Christmas Eve with her parents, but a colleague doesn’t show up for work and Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell) demands that she fill in for him. Reluctantly, she heads to the station just before the department discovers that brutal murders are taking place in their normally quiet, peaceful town.
The opening scene sets the tone for what follows while establishing that the killer is in a Santa costume. A woman is tied up on a couch, screaming, and it’s clear her demise is imminent. In the basement, Deputy Jordan (Brendan Fehr)—the no-show whose absence means that Aubrey has to work on her day off—sits tied to a chair. He is wrapped in Christmas lights. He begs for his life, telling Evil Santa he didn’t know the woman upstairs was married. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. This isn’t his fault. No matter. Evil Santa is not interested in Jordan’s excuses. He electrocutes the deputy, and a nice overhead shot displays an exploding eyeball. This villain means business, and he’s only getting started.
The list of victims grows quickly, and Silent Night reveals its rather warped sensibilities with Santa’s next kill. A horrifically bratty and belligerent teenage girl screams at her mother about going to the mall. “Fuck church,” she replies when her mom says she’s hoping to attend service. The girl wants to go shopping and it’s not up for debate. When the doorbell rings and Santa is on the porch, she mutters “fucking Salvation Army” before he takes out his presents for her. First, he electrocutes her with a huge taser and then he stabs her with a fire poker. Even kids aren’t safe if they misbehave.
A bad smell from an abandoned house—what’s left of Jordan and the woman are decomposing inside—and a call from the dead girl’s mother alert Aubrey and the department to the presence of a slasher. This also begins Aubrey’s attempts to catch the Evil Santa. In addition to being a decent human in a sea of awful people—who are mostly, though not entirely, male—she’s smart, hard-working, and determined. Aubrey carefully analyzes what evidence they have and begins piecing together a motive while eliminating suspects.
Meanwhile, bad men surround her. There’s the reverend (Curtis Moore) who sees Aubrey mourning her late husband and takes the opportunity to inappropriately touch her. There’s another Santa, Jim Epstein (Donal Logue), who scares children with his foul mouth and also makes a crude pass at her. Yet another Santa, Stein Karsson (Mike O’Brien)—aka Mr. Snow, a drug dealer and murder suspect—viciously attacks Aubrey (after making obscene comments to her) when she identifies him as a dealer. Deputy Giles (Andrew Cecon) is an unreliable coward only interested in sitting behind a desk. And finally, Sheriff Cooper, an irritable sexist full of macho bluster who constantly berates and belittles Aubrey. In the end, she’s more capable than all of them and is the last one standing.
A whole lot of bodies drop on the way there. The kills in Silent Night are bloody, inventive, and mean-spirited. There’s never much time between them as Santa’s naughty list is long. Highlights include an impaling that’s a nod to the original; an axe that splits a head in half; a person forced into a woodchipper; and the aforementioned tasing and impaling.
In addition to the frequent, gruesome slayings, there’s a plethora of arresting imagery in the movie, starting with the flamethrowers. There’s so much flamethrower action. Mr. Snow tells an urban legend about a deadly Santa who uses a flamethrower to get revenge on his unfaithful wife. Later, the conclusion features a showdown between Cooper and Evil Santa, who’s armed with a flamethrower. Aubrey also gets a chance to use it after Cooper goes down.
The mask that the killer wears is effectively imposing and a bit creepy. He cuts a plastic Santa face in half and attaches a long white beard to it, and there are black circles around the eye holes, making his peepers nearly impossible to see. The grand finale, in a dark police station with no power and the sprinklers turned on, boasts some nifty shots, including one where the killer runs at her in the dark. During the final showdown between Aubrey and the killer, there’s a brief axe fight before she picks up the flamethrower and torches him.
A woodchipper, an axe fight, and multiple uses of a flamethrower – Silent Night has it all.
The frequent kills and striking imagery are complemented by a solid cast and a healthy dose of humor, much of it on the dark side. Epstein, after his litany of gripes, is beaten to death with brass knuckles that read “Ho Ho Ho.” McDowell also generates frequent chuckles with some amusing one-liners (“never bring a flamethrower to a gunfight” and “don’t put an avocado on a burger”) and chews the scenery without overdoing it. Logue, a fine comic actor, delivers plenty of cynicism in a couple of biting rants lashing out at the holiday season. O’Brien and Moore are effectively gross and contemptible. King’s rock solid and anchors the movie, portraying an astute, proficient, and resolute woman who stands up to a bunch of assholes and a deranged killer. Aubrey Bradimore’s a kickass horror heroine who deserves more admiration.
The merciless killer, frequent laughs, relentless pace, strong cast, and flamethrower fights add up to a first-rate Christmas horror movie. It’s one I revisit every December as it always puts a huge smile on my face. The “oh that’s just wrong” nature of Silent Night makes it a true holiday treat. You simply can’t do much better when it comes to deciding what to watch this (or any) holiday season.