In 1984, Silent Night, Deadly Night was released to a storm of protest and disdain, thanks to its portrayal of a serial killer who wore a Santa Claus costume while mercilessly mutilating his victims. This controversy cemented the film's eventual cult status as one of that decade's more enjoyably vicious slasher films, popular enough to spawn a handful of forgettable sequels, one of which even starred Mickey Rooney, a man who had vocally condemned the first installment.
I could spend this entire review talking about what a crazy jolt of ugly Christmas nastiness that first film was, its character upping the ante delivered by the well-intentioned lunatic of 1980's Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) and pushing it straight into Friday the 13th-level exploitation territory. But instead I have to tell you about this film, a loose remake of the original, one with the same Murder-Santa template and different plot specifics, in love with '80s horror but lost when it comes to conveying genuine fear or inventive slaughter. Nostalgia is sweet and cozy, the opposite of terror.
Small town police officer Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King, used to this sort of thing after starring in the remakes of Mother's Day and My Bloody Valentine) and her gruff boss Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell, punching the clock and getting paid, just like he did in the remakes of Halloween and Halloween II) are on the trail of a Christmas Eve killer in a Santa costume. This Bad Santa kills the just (a run-of-the-mill soft-core porn model) and the unjust (a creepy minister and a terrible tween brat) alike, while the movie aims for in-joke horror fan comedy. The distraught mother of the obnoxious dead child, in between sobs, confesses that she wanted a break from her little monster but was thinking more along the lines of boarding school. It's like that.
It has to do that because the premise is no longer frightening. And in the absence of horror, what's left is shout-out moments to the original's dialogue or ax-handling and admiration for the non-CG splatter effects. Disorganized, sloppy and dull between kills, it comes alive only when Santa slays. Those are the "good parts" and it feels as though the filmmakers cared only about those isolated elements, the movie equivalent of Homer Simpson seeing Bachman Turner Overdrive perform "Takin' Care of Business" at the county fair and shouting at the band to hurry up and get to the part about "workin' overtime." And in the future, when bits and pieces of this illegally wind up on YouTube, you'll be able to say, "No, I didn't watch the whole thing. But I saw that wood-chipper scene online." And you'll know, somehow, that that was plenty.