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Thursday, November 29, 2012

SILENT NIGHT -- DVD review by porfle

I'm not sure who first had the idea of turning Santa Claus into a psycho killer, but I do recall sitting at the drive-in and thrilling to the sight of a not-so-saintly Saint Nick menacing Joan Collins in the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT.  Later, the home video age allowed me to witness Linnea Quigley's celebrated antler-skewering in 1984's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT in the comfort of my own recliner.  And now, with Anchor Bay's release of SILENT NIGHT (2012) on DVD, the jolly old elf with the axe and the attitude problem stalks the snow-swept streets yet again.

The pre-title sequence gets things off to a nice start with some teasing glimpses of Psycho Santa gearing up to go medieval on a couple of squirming home-invasion captives.  One guy's harrowing electrocution, complete with exploding eyeballs, gives us a foretaste of the film's generous gore content which will include plenty of slashings, choppings, piercings, dismemberments, and other mischief all done with old school 80s-style practical effects. 

Strangely enough, though, we've seen all this stuff so many times before that even the ghastliest effects have a "been there, done that" quality.  It's the staging of the mysterious killer Santa's attacks that makes the difference, with director Steven C. Miller doing his best to inject new life into very familiar situations.  He's already shown that he can do horror on a small budget (AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION) and handle action scenes with skill (THE AGGRESSION SCALE). 

Here, both are done with Miller's usual competence, although little that happens is original or over-the-top enough to really impress us on the level of, say, HALLOWEEN--which this movie resembles a bit in its earlier scenes of a placid Midwestern town lazily gearing up for a holiday amidst ominous glimpses of a murderous masked intruder.  As slasher killers go, this hulking Santa with the plastic mask has the size and imposing bearing for the job, yet lacks the personality needed to make him truly memorable in the "Michael Myers" vein.

Jaime King, who was the beautiful Goldie in SIN CITY, does a fine job in a non-glamorous role as a woman who actually looks like she might be a smalltown deputy.  Having just lost her husband, she's getting moral support from her parents over the holidays but is called in to work when Deputy Jordan (Brendan Fehr, COMEBACK SEASON) fails to show up--for reasons we're already aware of. 

As the killings escalate and a Santa-suited slasher is identified as the main suspect, the investigation is made doubly difficult by a plethora of Saint Nicks wandering the streets in preparation for the big Christmas parade.  Red herrings and false leads abound, including Donal Logue as an amusingly cynical fake-Santa who likes to make the kiddies cry by telling them the truth about Christmas.  Playing a crotchety old sheriff who looks forward to dealing with something exciting for a change, Malcolm McDowell is a welcome presence and seems to enjoy lending this earnest little horror flick some name value.

King's acting talent is given full range as her character's vulnerability and shaky self-confidence are evident in a series of close calls with suspects and some disturbing crime scenes including the murder of a little girl (who, as we see earlier, is an insufferable brat who richly deserves her fate!)  Equally shocking ends are in store for a stereotypically lecherous priest and an even more stereotypically sex-crazed teen couple whose lusty liason is rudely interrupted.  (The latter includes a direct homage to SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT that echoes a similar re-enactment by Linnea Quigley herself in CAESAR AND OTTO'S DEADLY XMAS.)

The gore effects are hokey but fun, with a crudely inventive woodchipper scene being perhaps the most genuinely unpleasant sequence.
Miller uses his modest budget to good effect and his movie looks pretty good (the Christmas ambience is especially well done) except for when the camera starts spazzing out during the murder scenes.  A frenetic flamethrower finale inside the police station isn't all that exciting but is rather impressively staged. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 soun and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of some deleted scenes and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette.

Like most good yuletide horror movies, SILENT NIGHT is melancholy and atmospheric, and actually generates a bit of Christmas spirit with which to contrast its brutal carnage.  While in no danger of becoming a perennial cult favorite along the lines of BLACK CHRISTMAS, and not particularly memorable in general, it's a morbidly fun way to pass the time while waiting for your chestnuts to roast.

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