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The pic that stole Xmas

Genre arm decides to counter-program the season with 'Darkness'

Film critics with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads beware: Instead of unwrapping yet another lighted-pen stocking stuffer Dec. 25, you could be spending your holiday with Dimension’s haunted house pic “Darkness.”

Pic, which stars Anna Paquin and Lena Olin, had been shelved for more than two years when Miramax’s genre arm said recently it would roll out the feature as a counter-programming title amid feel-good seasonal fare like “Fat Albert,” “Meet the Fockers” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

But with the studio providing no advance screenings for media, some denizens of deadline life may be scarfing down Diet Dr. Pepper and Twizzlers rather than cocoa and figgy pudding come Christmas Day to file their reviews in a timely fashion.

“That could be our situation,” reckons one Gotham-based critic before mulling a blood ‘n’ eggnog scenario. “Maybe I could go at midnight before I get on the train home. That’d be cool!”

“We’re running into this problem more and more, when movies are held till the last minute,” says critic Richard Roeper (“Ebert & Roeper and the Movies”), whose show passes over films it can’t screen in advance. “We were just discussing this in our production meeting,” he adds. “But there are a lot of Oscar and other quality films out there to see.”

Hopefully for the nation’s critics, even the most grizzled editors won’t have hearts like lumps of coal.

“As much as I like to be thorough in posting reviews,” says Premiere magazine online editor Nicole Perri, “I don’t think I’d make anyone go out on Christmas. We can probably wait until Monday.”

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