At first glance, 2012’s Silent Night looks like a remake of 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, but it really isn’t. Even though it carries a similar title and uses the idea of a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus, it’s a whole new story with new characters, and it does enough to emerge as its own entity. However, Silent Night is every bit as tasteless and useless as the picture which inspired it, and it’s not chilling or terrifying enough to distinguish itself as a genuinely skilful slasher. Directed by Steven C. Miller, the flick does remain watchable at times thanks to competent production values, but otherwise this is a straight-to-video diversion that falls far short of its potential.

It’s December 24th in the small town of Cryer, Wisconsin, and the townsfolk are preparing for the festive season. Recently widowed cop Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King) wants to spend Christmas Eve at home, but is forced to come into work by Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell). Not long into the day, mutilated bodies are discovered, suggesting that a serial killer is on the loose. Digging deeper, they discover that the killer is dressed as Santa Claus…in a town that’s full of men in Santa costumes. As the murderous Kris Kringle hacks his way through Cryer’s inhabitants, Aubrey and Cooper work tirelessly to find the killer and end his Christmas rampage.

Written by Jayson Rothwell, the script for Silent Night is completely unremarkable, packed with every evil killer cliché in the slasher genre handbook. For instance, the killer slowly walks while his victims try to run away from him, and he tilts his head curiously as he watches people die. Added to this, he delivers minimal dialogue and has a talent for silently sneaking up behind unsuspecting characters. Worse, the narrative contains two or three outlandish red herrings that don’t make much sense and cannot help but draw attention to themselves as red herrings. One supposes that such plot elements were included to keep us guessing, but the killer’s identity is never a shocking mystery; rather than turning out to be one of the main characters, he’s just some random dude dressed as Santa Claus, a fact that we knew all along. To be sure, his origins are a bit of a revelation, but the reveal makes no impact.

The main issue with Silent Night is one of tone, as it veers wildly between the deadly serious and the outright laughable. Some of the kills are amusing (be it intentional or otherwise), and Santa sports brass knuckles which have been crudely engraved with “Ho-Ho-Ho,” but other scenes are just disturbing, including a wood-chipper kill that’s outright repulsive and difficult to watch, let alone enjoy. One imagines Silent Night was intended to be serious with an undercurrent of dark humour, but such a tone requires a deft touch that eludes Rothwell and Miller, especially since the script is so daft. If Silent Night was successfully campy all the way through, it might’ve been a fun beer and pizza flick. Likewise, if it was successfully straight-faced, it might’ve been a worthwhile slasher. But it’s unfortunately stuck between the two, and the jarring dissonance eliminates most of the picture’s joy.

On a more positive note, production values are solid given the straight-to-video pedigree, featuring slick cinematography which gives the picture an expensive look. Even if Miller struggles with establishing a consistent tone, various set-pieces are solid, with great special effects for the gory kills. Silent Night is brutally violent, with oodles of blood and plenty of dismemberment, and it all looks uncomfortably realistic. The acting is not too bad, with serviceable performances all-round. Jaime King offers the only truly convincing moments of acting in the movie, though her gravitas is somewhat wasted by a script that uses her as a bridge between set-pieces. The star of the show, though, is Malcolm McDowell. The former Clockwork Orange star shows again here that he’ll do absolutely anything that he’s offered these days, and it’s great to see him as the sheriff, delivering a performance that’s so over-the-top and enjoyably hammy that he provides a few nice laughs amid the otherwise glum experience.

Despite its Christmas flavour, Silent Night is a vapid, by-the-book slasher which dabbles in torture porn to an uncomfortable extent. The story is too daft to be taken seriously, and it’s too serious to be entertaining. Those looking for a string of disturbingly violent death scenes might walk away satisfied, but I prefer horror movies that can instil genuine fear or at least make me care about the characters. Silent Night fails to deliver in this sense, eschewing fun and suspense for banal misery. It’s gory, messy and extremely ugly, making it ideal for people who detest the goodness and magic of the Christmas holiday season.

4.9/10