To me, the key to a truly great “remake” of a pre-existing horror film is simple. Would the new update make a good double feature with the original movie? When it comes to programming a double bill, the goal is to find two movies with a similar theme that would complement each other. And there’s no better test to see if a remake works than by watching it back to back with its inspiration and seeing if it respects its source material and tells a similar enough story, yet does its own thing. Each week, we’re going to pair up two horror films – its original and its remake as a double feature and see if it makes for a great double bill. Welcome to Double Take!
When it comes to holiday horror, there’s not a whole lot to choose from. OK, maybe there are plenty of choices, but none of them are exactly “classics” a la the original BLACK CHRISTMAS. But on the other side of the spectrum, some horror titles defy all classification just by being so bat-shit crazy and outside of the norm. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is one of those notorious cult movies. In all honesty, the original SILENT NIGHT was a film I came to appreciate a few years back when Fangoria spearheaded a theatrical re-release. The lunacy of this film finally made sense once I experienced it with an enthusiastic, horror-loving audience. As a kid, I was always put off by the extremely mean-spirited nature of the flick and always preferred SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2. No, not because it’s “so bad it’s good,” a phrase I’m not very fond of, but because it edits the first movie into a much tighter paced movie, minus all the nastiness and then veers off in a radical, crazy direction with Ricky. It’s fun and thoroughly entertaining. But alas, that’s an article for another day. Let’s go back to the original!
Because of the theatrical poster and marketing campaign featuring an ax wielding Santa coming down the chimney, before SILENT NIGHT even opened, it was met with protests and backlash from angry parents’ rights groups for implying a killer Santa Claus. In actuality, the movie isn’t about Santa Claus becoming a killer, but killers (plural) throughout the course of the movie wearing Santa costumes as they go about their dastardly deeds. In the opening, a common criminal is on the run after having robbed a gas station. We’re introduced to 6 year old Billy, his infant brother Ricky and his two parents who promise that Santa is going to bring him a “big surprise” this year. They stop to visit Grandpa, who has remained catatonic for years until he springs to life in front of Billy when the boy is alone and gives him the ominous warning about Santa.
The disguised crook from the opening attempts to car jack Billy’s family car and that’s when his parents are slain – his father shot dead, his mother raped with her throat slashed, Billy hiding in the woods and baby Ricky crying in the car. It’s… pretty darned brutal! Years later, Billy and Ricky are now at a Church orphanage. Obviously, Billy has a problem with the holidays and Santa in general, and yet the evil Mother Superior continues to punish him for his drawings of a dead Santa and even goes as far as to try to make him sit on Santa’s lap. Listen, Mother Superior. You are well aware of how this kid’s parents perished. What you’re doing to him is just cold! Cold, I tell you!
On his 18th birthday, Billy for the most part has stabilized, and he gets a job at Ira’s Toys for the holidays. All is going well. Until their Santa Claus calls out sick and Billy is forced to don the costume and entertain children. Even then, things are fine. But when he catches one of his co-workers attempting to rape another, he is reminded of his mother’s death and immediately snaps and takes action by calling out “punish!” From that moment on, there’s no turning back and he goes on a murderous rampage all through town, which will eventually lead him back to the orphanage to take care of Mother Superior once and for all.
Again, the content of the movie is pretty mean-spirited, but Billy was forced into his situation by those around him, so I feel a great deal of sympathy for him, even though he becomes a crazed killer for the second half of the film. The kills are, at least, memorable considering this was the height of the “slasher” boom and competition for films to out do each other was fierce. The most notorious death befalls scream queen Linnea Quigley, who gets impaled on a set of deer antlers. Ouch! And while the movie outperformed A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET during its opening weekend, that’s the only time people got to see it theatrically as the controversy caught up to the studio and it was yanked out of theaters after the first week. It did manage to spawn 4 sequels – 2 official, 2 unrelated and a remake, the 2012 SILENT NIGHT.
SILENT NIGHT can be considered more of a sequel than a remake as it doesn’t really follow any of the plot, characters or beats of the original. But when it first went into production, the producers did in fact acquire the title “SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT” intending it to be a remake of the infamous original, although initial drafts of the script proved to go far off track. Once Steven C. Miller came on board as director, he was able to tweak it and fill it up with plenty of call backs and references to the first movie. So while it’s a completely different movie and story, there’s still enough SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT DNA in the final product to see it for the sequel/remake hybrid that it truly is.
There’s a killer on the loose in this small Midwestern town. He’s dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, but also sports a creepy transparent face mask to obscure his identity. It seems like he’s specifically targeting the “naughty” people of this community, but who is he? And why is he doing this? Leading the all-star cast is town Sheriff Cooper (the great Malcolm McDowell!) and his deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King from MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D). Aubrey is still a rookie cop and trying to live up to her father’s legacy as a police officer. Donal Logue stars as Santa Jim, a begrudged drunk town Santa that’s telling the little kids how it really is, and also the prime suspect in the Santa killings.
The things the movie gets right? It has a really kick-ass looking, unique Santa killer. It’s radically different from its inspiration and offers a murder/mystery plot in terms of the identity of the killer. There’s some pretty nasty, over the top gory kill sequences and nods to the previous films including the crazy catatonic Grandpa scene, the death by deer antlers and even a “Garbage Day” reference! And the wood chipper death is pretty epic. It’s down side? Despite Christmas lights everywhere, people in Santa costumes and people dressed in winter attire for the entire movie, it just doesn’t feel like a Christmas movie. A big part of that is lack of snow, but for whatever reason, even without that, it just doesn’t feel right to me.
Do the two work together as a double feature? Yes, absolutely. But they don’t feel at all like they’re from the same franchise, even though technically they’re supposed to be. Also, I don’t consider either to be the best Christmas horror movies out there, but if you’re looking for a fun, if somewhat mean-spirited night of “slasher” mayhem, then this double bill will do the trick!
What do you think? Let’s hear which is your favorite from this franchise?