For those who have always wanted to see a psycho Santa Claus apply an electric cattle prod to a bratty little girl, there is “Silent Night,” a kinda-sorta remake of the notorious 1984 slasher pic “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” Trouble is, apart from some modestly inventive carnage and an undeniably humorous hambone turn by Malcolm McDowell, there’s really nothing here to make genre fans dash through the snow (or maneuver through traffic) to megaplexes before the low-budget, high-concept Canadian production’s Dec. 4 homevid release.
The original thriller — which was popular enough to spawn four sequels, including one (1989’s “Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!”) directed by cult-fave auteur Monte Hellman — told the twisted tale of a troubled young man who, years after seeing a thug in a Santa Claus disguise murder his mom and dad, dons the red suit and goes on a slay ride of his own. Among the most memorable of that pic’s many murders: The very bad Santa impales a young woman on the antlers of a mounted antelope head.
Helmer Steven C. Miller references that scene in his new “Silent Night,” and also drops wink-wink allusions to other pics. Judging from the conspicuous appearance of small-town cops with earflap caps and the inclusion of a grisly scene involving a woodchopper, “Fargo” looms large on the filmmaker’s list of cinematic influences. For the most part, however, this is a singularly glum and dumb enterprise, the sort of slasher movie in which even the mad killer appears to lose interest in his murder spree during the final scenes, and at one point simply beats a victim to death.
Scripter Jayson Rothwell’s plot has something to do with a Santa-suited serial killer who cuts a bloody swath through a Wisconsin hamlet, and something else to do with an annual Christmas festival that invites dozens of Santas to mingle in town and, of course, serve as decoys to distract the gruff sheriff (McDowell, barely suppressing his glee at picking up an easy paycheck) and plucky deputy (Jaime King) searching for the psycho.
But this slight scenario serves merely as an excuse to string together various and sundry violent demises. Pornographers, unfaithful spouses, sexually active teens and a lascivious minster are among the naughty folks checked off the psycho Santa’s hit list. Weapons of choice include knives, axes, a flamethrower, Christmas tree lights amped with high-voltage currents and, yes, the aforementioned cattle prod.
Donal Logue has a hilarious rant as a misanthropic Santa who explains why Christmas isn’t terribly merry for many people. And co-star Cortney Palm merits some kind of good-sport prize for her grace under pressure during the longest stretch of gratuitous nudity in any slasher pic since Betsy Rue’s legendary flash-and-dash in “My Bloody Valentine” (2009), yet another remake of a “classic” ’80s horror show.