"The scum who made that movie should be run out of town."
-- Mickey Rooney upon the release of Silent Night, Deadly Night in 1984
The above quote, denoting the Mickster's displeasure with a movie about a psycho in a Santa suit, is included in a series of anti-blurbs found on Anchor Bay's new DVD release of Silent Night, Deadly Night Parts I and II. It comes with lots of other scathing critical reactions, but Rooney's quote is especially noteworthy because, seven years later, Rooney himself played the psycho in a Santa suit in the 1991 sequel Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker.
That speaks to the vulnerability of actors willing to overlook their personal morals when they need a gig.
But it really speaks to how radically a culture can shift in a short period of time.
In 1984, Silent Night Deadly Night set off a firestorm of protests from concerned parent groups disturbed by the film's primary advertising image: Santa on a rooftop with an axe.
This was hardly the first psycho Santa to come down the chimney. That distinction belongs to Tales from the Crypt, a 1972 anthology movie from Britain that, in one of its segments, depicted a murderess (Joan Collins) attempting to prevent an escaped lunatic in a Santa suit from entering her home. The segment was titled ... And All Through the House.
But SNDN landed a decade later in the era of the Moral Majority, the Christian right movement that sought to influence broadcasters and theatre owners with organized boycotts. The Moral Majority set the tone for much of the censorious '80s and even mainstream critics Siskel & Ebert weren't immune to a certain high-handed attitude, especially when it came to horror movies. Reviewing Silent Night, Deadly Night, the influential Chicago critics read out the names of cast and crew in an effort to shame the movie's participants.
So what was the result of all that negative attention? Silent Night, Deadly Night was an unqualified hit. People curious to see what all the fuss was about flocked in droves that presumably outnumbered the film's protesters. In it opening weekend, the shlocky little gore movie outgrossed Wes Craven's horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, released the same year. It spawned four sequels, and now a remake, Silent Night, shot in Winnipeg and Selkirk earlier this year.
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Director Steven C. Miller has a few advantages going into this remake. A $4 million-plus budget allows for a cast of good actors, including Malcolm McDowell, Donal Logue and Jaime King (making her third '80s horror remake after My Bloody Valentine and Mother's Day).
He is also freed up from the original film's elaborate back story for its designated homicidal maniac. (A quick recap: As a child, young Billy witnessed his parents murdered by a psychopathic thief. Raised in a Catholic orphanage, he is further traumatized when a cruel Mother Superior makes him sit on a visiting Santa's lap. When he himself gets a job at a department store and dons the Santa suit, his mind finally cracks and thus begins a homicidal rampage against the "naughty" members of his small town community, i.e. just about everybody.)
Miller dispenses with back story until the movie's final minutes. It starts right in with the psycho killings, starting with a hapless, adulterous deputy (played by former Winnipegger Brendan Fehr) sentenced for his sins to a Christmas light-festooned electric chair.
Jaime King is a traumatized deputy, Aubrey Bradimore, suffering the loss of her husband a year earlier, but resigned to investigate the first of a series of ever more violent killings, due to the arrogance of McDowell's Sheriff Cooper.
The mysterious killer, dressed in a Santa suit and a decidedly creepy Santa mask (played by local actor/stuntman/drama teacher Rick Skene) is relentlessly killing the citizens of the Wisconsin town of Crier on Christmas Eve. A couple of obvious red herring suspects arise, including Donal Logue's embittered nasty Claus, "Santa Jim."
The director distinguished himself earlier this year with a very cheap but effective home invasion thriller titled The Aggression Scale. Sad to say, this film doesn't rely as much on invention. It's pretty much a rote psycho killer movie, that reproduces some of the kills from the first movie (yes, a woman will be impaled on antlers) and ups the ante with more graphic violence involving, among other things, a woodchipper.
For Winnipeggers, there is some satisfaction in seeing local actors such as Skene maintain their cool while more high-profile thesps like McDowell chew scenery all over the place. (Note Brian Richardson playing a catatonic grampa who comes out of a coma long enough to warn a young punk that Christmas is the scariest day of the year, an almost word-for word lift from the original movie.)
If Silent Night Deadly Night aroused all sorts of controversy undeserving of such a rote thriller, the remake Silent Night is destined only to achieve the obscurity the material so richly deserves.