Movies don't always confine bizarre vistas to the screen. Sometimes, cinema's surreal spectacle crosses over into the realm of real life.
Case in point: On a Tuesday night in late April, when leaves are starting to bloom on trees, a Santa Claus Parade is taking place on Manitoba Avenue in the town of Selkirk, 22 kilometres north of Winnipeg. As darkness falls, the street is literally filling with a surfeit of Santas. There must be around 40 men in Santa suits milling in front of the neon-appointed Garry Theatre marquee, in addition to extras dressed as Gingerbread men, Christmas stars and Christmas trees. (Between takes, the guys dressed as trees laugh with discomfort upon being eyed with interest by an imposingly muscular black dog on a leash.)
At the front of the parade, extras carry a banner: "Cryer, Wisconsin, Home of the World's Best Santa Parade."
Welcome to the filming of Silent Night, a horror remake of a notorious 1984 slasher. Budgeted somewhere under $4 million, this new film from L.A.'s The Genre Company is based on Silent Night, Deadly Night, a film that once raised the ire of a more conservative Reagan-era American public due to unsavoury ad images of a killer Santa Claus brandishing an axe, clearly up to no good. Parents groups rallied in front of theatres in protest.
Today, it's dozens of Santas in front of a movie theatre, their movements orchestrated by director Steven C. Miller clad in a Goonies skull-and-crossbones T-shirt.
Of the 18-day shooting schedule, 15 of those days are on location in Selkirk, population 10,000. Genre Company producer Shara Kay says the town offered a wealth of atmosphere for the film, including this stretch of Manitoba Avenue, which closely resembles "the quintessential Main Street of an American small town."
"We found a police station with real working jail cells, an abandoned house," Kay says, adding that more than 200 Selkirk residents showed up as volunteer extras to enthusiastically portray the parade's audience.
"This is our town," Kay says.
(They didn't find snow, unfortunately, which would have been an unreasonable request to make of Manitoba in May. "We address the lack of snow in the script," Kay says.)
Horror remakes often boast bigger, better actors than appeared in the original version, and on this night, that is proven by the presence of Malcolm McDowell, Donal Logue and Jaime King on the set. McDowell and King are dressed as a sheriff and deputy, respectively. Logue plays one of the Santas, and a decidedly seedy-looking one.
For both King and McDowell, this is the third time on the remake-of-a-decades-old-slasher thing. McDowell played the role of Dr. Loomis in Rob Zombie's revisionist remakes Halloween and Halloween 2. King has made My Bloody Valentine and Mother's Day, the latter shot in Winnipeg in the autumn of 2009.
For Logue, McDowell and King, this is also a second time experience shooting in Manitoba. King shot the aforementioned Mothers Day in Winnipeg in the fall of 2009, Logue worked here on the 2007 drama The Good Life, and McDowell just finished shooting the TV movie Home Alone 5: Alone in the Dark here last month.
The Yorkshire-born McDowell, 68, muses that he has become a person on interest on the horror movie radar since doing those Halloween films.
"All the fans of horror, they trip out on this stuff," he says, adding that the experience offered him his first opportunity, in a storied career, to don a sheriff's costume.
"That was one of the things that drew me to it because I'm going off to play a couple of butlers next," he says, while relaxing between takes. "You get a certain amount of gravitas as soon as you put this stuff on."
McDowell started out with prestigious work for the likes of Lindsay Anderson (O Lucky Man) and Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange) and has sustained his career across genres, from science fiction (Time After Time) to swashbuckling historical adventure (Royal Flash) to porn-infused potboiler (Caligula). He says he is happy to keep working in a multitude of different projects.
"I'm having a lot of fun," he says. "I can't take it too seriously."
The Ottawa-born Logue may be new to the horror remake, but he has appeared in a few notable horror films such as last year's Shark Night and the Wesley Snipes vampire thriller Blade. A solid working actor with an amazing variety of roles on his resumé, Logue is not an actor to look down his nose on genre films.
"When I first moved to Los Angeles, people said, 'You have to choose. Are you TV, or film or comedy or drama?'"
Logue's response was to do everything.
"I've had a good time bouncing between genres," he says. "It was fun to do four-camera sitcoms in front of a live studio audience, to do huge big-budget studio pictures like The Patriot or Zodiac, or it's fun to do fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants movies and different genres and different things."
"In England, they don't really have anything called a character actor because everybody's an actor, but in America, that's what I am," Logue says. The label allows him to lead a varied career, which he appreciates.
"I like changing things up a lot. There's not a category where someone can say: He's never done that. You have to keep appearing on different radar screens in different ways."
Producer Shara Kay says the plan is to release Silent Night theatrically in time for Christmas 2012.
Silent Night reveals its secret (psycho) Santa
A horror movie is usually only as good as its villain.
In the movie Silent Night, the killer dressed as Santa Claus inspires not visions of sugarplums, but something decidedly more nightmarish as he slices his way through the naughty citizenry of Cryer, Wisconsin.
The Genre Company revealed that the role of the killer would be played by Winnipeg actor-stunt co-ordinator Rick Skene.
It's a particularly delicious change-up for Skene, the son of former Free Press theatre critic Reg Skene. Rick was the stunt co-ordinator of the direct-to-DVD horror film Wrong Turn 4 in which his stuntman-actor sons Sean and Daniel Skene played two of the film's three mutant cannibal villains, Three Finger and One Eye.
On this shoot, Sean Skene is the stunt co-ordinator while his dad is in the psycho hot seat.
"He came in as the stunt co-ordinator and we asked him: Would you consider playing the role?" says producer Shara Kay. "Fortunately, he accepted."
"They asked me if I acted," says Skene, who actually teaches acting as well as fight choreography at the University of Winnipeg. "It's kind of a logical move to have an experienced stunt performer who is also an actor. Because having to switch (between actor and stuntman) through the entire movie is so crazy, it just made sense to go in that direction.
"It's a really big role to bite off."