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Mini Review: Silent Night (2012)

Silent Night #1

by Steve Habrat

In November of 2012, Anchor Bay Films quietly snuck Steve C. Miller’s Silent Night, a loose remake of the 1984 Christmas slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night, into select theaters and then quickly released it on Blu-ray and DVD just a few short weeks later. Were us horror fans really that bad that we deserved a lump of coal like this?! Apparently yes, yes we were. From the get-go, it is obvious Silent Night is winking at the horror fans that will undoubtedly flock to it over the years. But too often, the film is awkward and amateurish, consistently confusing pulpy gore for honest scares to the point where it is almost maddening. To make it worse, this abysmal waste of time can’t seem to smoothly deliver anything resembling a good joke. It’s so bad, folks, that even a beloved genre star like Malcolm McDowell can’t even sell it, and believe me when I tell you that he tries very, very hard to make this formulaic snoozefest work. The only positives that you will find in Silent Night are the homicidal Santa, who prefers to toast his victims with a flamethrower, and a scene in which one character gets their head chopped in half with an axe. That is where this turkey’s joys begin and end.

Silent Night picks up on Christmas Eve, where the citizens of a small Midwestern town are gearing up for a massive holiday celebration that invites hundreds of Santa Claus impersonators to get in on the fun. Among the citizens looking forward to the holiday activities are Aubrey Bradimore (played by Jamie King), a sheriff’s deputy still attempting to get over the loss of her husband. The celebration seems to be getting off to a smooth start, aside from one belligerent Santa (played by Donal Logue) who is making children cry in a local park, but things take a nasty turn when a small-time porn director and his star wind up brutally slaughtered at a local motel. Bradimore, fellow deputy Giles (played by Andrew Cecon), and the town Sheriff, Cooper (played by Malcolm McDowell), launch an investigation, but they realize that this massacre isn’t an isolated incident. After watching a videotape that was rolling during the murders at the motel, the officers discover that their suspect is dressed as a morbid Santa Claus, making it extremely difficult to track down the killer and bring him to justice. As the sun sets and the celebration kicks into high gear, several more citizens turn up dead, but the quest to track down the maniacal Santa gets personal when one murder strikes close to home for Aubrey.

Silent Night #2

Silent Night opens with a pitch-black opening credit sequence that suggests that what we are getting into is going to be a straight-shooting horror movie that wallows in shadowy suspense. Miller’s camera is trained on the killer as he makes his chilling Santa mask, suits up in that jolly red suit, and torments one victim with an axe before offing him in a totally unexpected manner. It’s a sturdy stage setter, that you cannot deny, but once Miller emerges from that dark cellar and lets his killer loose on the town streets, the film quickly plummets. Almost every death scene is completely wooden, shot with a jittery camera and strung together through fast edits that resemble something out of a heavy metal music video. These death scenes will undoubtedly please gore fans, as the blood sprays in every single direction, but they never rise above being gross. Now I’m certainly not one to complain about gross, but Miller never even considers injecting an ounce of terror into any of these scenes. They just flail around on the screen with sudden blasts of music, the same old lazy jump scares that we have all come to expect from uninspired horror exercises such as this. Furthermore, the “ick” moments seem to lack a punch of originality, especially a scene in which a wannabe porn star is crammed into a wood chipper. It’s nauseating enough, but it seems like more of an obnoxious cry for attention rather than a vicious little surprise.

In addition to the lack of solid scares, Miller can’t seem to get his actors to do much with Jayson Rothwell’s clunky script, which is bogged down with clichéd dialogue and leaden one-liners. McDowell taps into his fiery wit and bug-eyed smugness, but even he can’t make some of the jokes work. It’s almost painful watching him spit out lines like “what is this, Glee?” to one caroling officer. And to think that this is the same man who played the sadistic Alex De Large in A Clockwork Orange! King’s Aubrey fares no better, as she just sulks around and forces a brooding side to her one-dimensional heroine. Cecon’s Giles is also pretty painful, a dimwit only present to bite it in an idiotic death scene. The only two actors who seem to rise above the material are Logue, who gets to have a bit of fun as a cranky Saint Nick who rants and raves about the holiday season, and Ellen Wong, who shows up as the perky Brenda, the wisecracking secretary of the police station. Overall, while all of the bloody mayhem and tongue-in-cheek approach may sound tempting to horror fans, Miller’s Silent Night is a flat, clumsy, and scare-less affair that bores more than it thrills. Aside from it’s chilling killer, it is just another careless remake that should have remained shelved at the studio.

Grade: D-

Silent Night is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Ghost Rider (2007)

by Steve Habrat

When Marvel isn’t busy trying to force The Punisher on disinterested audiences, they are cramming Ghost Rider down our throats. This fiery badass on a bike just plays too nice in his disposable 2007 big screen debut, a film that only fans of the comic could love. Director Mark Steven Johnson’s Ghost Rider is a run-of-the-mill superhero film with the a whole bunch of superhero clichés we have seen countless times in other, better superhero movies. It doesn’t help that the film has no staying power once you have walked away from it. The culprit for all the mediocrity is the fact that the script, penned by Johnson, has holes big enough to drive a tricked out motorcycle from Hell through. Johnson seems like he is eager to deliver for Ghost Rider fans and I applaud him for that, but it would have been nice if he cleaned up his story a bit and, oh, I don’t know, thought outside the box. It would have also helped if he had filled his film with actors who actually care about the material they are working with. The only one who seems like he wants to be there is Nicolas Cage but he has such little talent to speak of that he doesn’t really come up with anything that will save this clunker of a film from a slow, fiery death.

Ghost Rider begins with introducing us to a young stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze (Played by Matt Long) and his father, Barton Blaze (Played by Brett Cullen). Barton, it turns out, has terminal cancer, which he tries to hide from young Johnny but the secret finally slips out. Devastated, Johnny slips off to work on his motorcycle when he finds himself approached by Mephistopheles (Played by Peter Fonda), a mysterious man who asks Johnny to ride for him. He goes on to mention Barton’s illness and adds that he could help. Johnny accepts the help but he accidentally sells his soul to the mysterious man. The next day Barton wakes up refreshed and feeling better than ever, something that stuns Johnny. Later that day, Barton is getting ready to perform a new stunt for a huge crowd of fans but the stunt goes wrong and Barton is killed. At the exact moment Barton is killed, Johnny sees Mephistopheles standing by and laughing. After the accident, Johnny sets out on his own but he once again finds himself approached by the mysterious man who says that he will come back for Johnny’s services one day. The film then speeds ahead to present day with Johnny (Played by Nicolas Cage) now a big name stunt motorcyclist who is always cheating death. As Johnny enjoys his fame, a sinister force is walking among us in the form of Blackheart (Played by Wes Bentley), a deadly demon who is searching for a contract that could allow him to unleash hell on earth. In order to stop Blackheart, Mephistopheles calls upon Johnny and turns him into a fiery superhero called Ghost Rider.

Ghost Rider leans heavily on the almost nonstop action at its charred heart. Very rarely does the film actually calm down enough to give us an intimate character moment. Perhaps this is good because the action actually allows Ghost Rider to be watchable for its two-hour runtime. The CGI is very well done, especially the effects on Cage when he morphs into the hissing demon. Things do turn goofy when Fonda and Bentley see their faces distorting into bluish ghouls with row after row of crooked fangs. They would be a dentist’s worst nightmare but they wouldn’t scare anyone else. The action basically sees Ghost Rider stomping around on the screen and battling one of Blackheart’s three grinning henchmen, all of which are dispatched with ease. The sad part to all of this is that Cage and Bentley allow the special effects to do all the work for them. Bentley ends up being guiltier of this than Cage, if you can believe that. Bentley’s Blackheart has to be the least convincing baddie to ever torment a superhero. At times, he seems like someone is standing off screen holding up a white poster board with his lines written on it. He doesn’t bring any menace to the role and in the end, he falls behind voice distortion and layers of CGI to make him an intimidating force. Still, he just seems too nice.

Cage, meanwhile, had to be breathing a sigh of relief that for once, he wasn’t the one ruining the movie. I was actually surprised in the amount of enthusiasm that Cage demonstrated even if he is hit or miss. The performance finds him speaking in a southern drawl that appears and then disappears without warning, something that you would think Johnson would have righted. The rest of the time, Cage just seems to be playing a giddier version of himself. Apparently, Cage is a huge fan of Ghost Rider (he even has him tattooed on his arm) and he really lobbied to nab the role. You would think he would have brought something special to this demon party, being a huge fan and all. Ghost Rider finds Cage’s Johnny Blaze striking up a relationship with forgettable reporter Roxanne Simpson (Played by Eva Mendes), a romance that has absolutely no spark to speak of. Mendes seems to just be going through the motions, very aware that she is only here to be saved by Cage’s CGI alter ego. The great Sam Elliot steps in as the mysterious Caretaker who finds himself the target of Bentley’s Blackheart. Elliot does a fine job with what he has to work with, even if there are more than a few holes in his character. Donal Logue shows up as Blaze’s wisecracking partner, Mack, who gets stuck with the typical one-liners for the kids. Rounding out the main players is Fonda’s Mephistopheles, who seems delighted to be playing the creeping puppet master.

There are aspects of Ghost Rider that are never fully explained to us, with things happening for no reason at all. Cage can apparently manipulate anything he touches, making them look like they were ripped out of the Devil’s imagination. There was also a twist with the Caretaker that drove me absolutely nuts, especially since Blackheart brutally terrorizes him while he does nothing about it. Another problem I had with the film was Blackheart’s evil plot to destroy earth. He gets the upper hand on Ghost Rider because he has no soul, something that Ghost Rider can target and destroy. Blackheart’s master plan fills him with hundreds of hellish souls, all of which can be burned up by Ghost Rider (Didn’t anyone catch this error while writing the film?). The film desperately wants to be a western but it seems that the western didn’t want to be associated with this crap so it spit it back into action territory. Overall, with wiser casting choices and a fully developed script, Ghost Rider could have turned out to be one of the more fun Marvel movies. It could have been a darker alternative to Marvel’s usually family friendly heroes. Instead, it just feels like watered down excuse to sell toys to kids and act as a quick cash grab for the money-hungry Marvel. A throwaway superhero vehicle that feels like it has been done before, and much better at that.

Grade: D+

Ghost Rider is available on Blu-ray and DVD.