The new Silent Night from director Steven C. Miller is a “loose” remake of the 1984 cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night. Both deal with a deranged killer who dresses as Santa before ho-ho-ho-ing the hell out of his hapless victims. We chatted with Miller about the differences between the two Silent Nights and why this is a film for the horror community.
How did you get involved in Silent Night?
Silent Night, Deadly Night was a huge thing for me growing up. It was a fun movie when I was little. When I grew up and got out here and made my first movie, the guy who was a huge part of buying that movie was Richard Saperstein. At the time they were playing around with the idea of a Silent Night, Deadly Night remake so I gave them my pitch and they liked it but it just sort of fell apart. That was like three years ago. About a year ago, Richard called me and said he had left the Weinstein Company, but he had taken Silent Night with him and he had a script and wanted me to read it. He thought I would be great to do this movie. I read it, I really liked it, and thought I could really do some fun things with it.
This is a “loose remake.” Why keep it “loose?”
I think because, number one, I’m not a huge remake fan. For me, if I’m going to do a movie, I don’t want to do the same movie that was done in 1980. I don’t want to do a shot-for-shot remake. I want to do something people haven’t seen, give the killer some new life... give the movie some new life for a new audience - but still show that I am a huge fan of the original, that I am in on the joke. I love those movies. Here are some great scenes that are some homages to the original; here are some great one-liners from the sequel. [The original] is one of those movies that isn’t the most amazing thing ever. I thought it could do with a redo and punch up the ante on it a little bit.
One of the biggest departures from the original was that in your version, the killer never speaks, whereas in the original, he has a... I don’t want to call it a “quip,” but he says “Punish” during every kill. What was the thought process behind that?
Originally, he did speak, quite a bit. There was so much dark humor going on in the movie that I thought to balance that, you needed a very serious tone from our killer - a very menacing tone. Every time he began to talk, I thought, “This doesn’t feel as menacing as it should.” I wanted to make sure he had that mystique. I am a huge fan of slasher films from the 1980s, and the best don’t talk. The best do it with their looks and their actions and their movements. I wanted to infuse that into his DNA and try to give him something new and different.
He actually does have that one line at the end of the movie, where he says, “Not nice.” It was originally “Punish,” but that was changed without my knowledge. I didn’t even know about that change until it was too late. That one is a little disappointing for me, because I had that in there for the fans, and they changed it for whatever reason. But at the end of the day, I felt like it kept him more menacing.
They didn’t tell you why they changed that one line?
No, it was one of those things where they just decided to change it. What could I say? The movie was already being put to wherever it was going. They allowed me to do so much in the movie that I wanted to do that fighting for that didn’t seem worth it. I had already fought to keep with killing a kid in the movie; I fought for this crazy chase sequence and someone in a wood chipper. Things like that that I felt like this audience would really have fun with. You’ve just got to pick your battles.
Do you feel like the executives you deal with - not just on this film, but all of them - don’t really “get” the horror genre?
For sure. There are definitely some producers and executives that don’t get it. But the thing about being a filmmaker is, you get to pick the people you work with. For me, that’s important. Working with a genre company like Anchor Bay - these guys get horror. They love horror movies. They understand them and know how to make them. For me it was pretty fun because every idea I threw out, they were like, “That’s crazy! Yeah, let’s try it!” So I had a lot of fun on this movie because they do get it. But I think there is a lot of friction out there with producers who just don’t get it. I think that’s where you miss out. You lose that charm. You need to accept that there really is a certain audience for these kinds of films, and you have to cater to them.
They are a pretty fanatical base.
Yes! They are. They’re very picky. And I think that is why I love the horror genre, because it is a family community. When they like something, they get behind it and will push very hard, and that was the goal: to get them to like this movie.
What has the reaction been so far?
So far, from what I am getting on Facebook and Twitter and even Rotten Tomatoes, people are loving the movie. Even you guys gave it a great review. People are really digging it. They get the tone I was going for, and I just don’t think there are enough of these kinds of movies. People are crying out for holiday slashers, so I think that is something we are going to try to keep giving them.
Does that mean you are already preparing a sequel for next season?
In my head I am! Does the studio want to do it? We’ll see. But I am 100% on board to get this thing going.
The film is getting an extremely limited theatrical release - like eight theaters - before going to DVD and blu-ray. What can you tell us about that distribution model?
It’s a little unfortunate for this movie.I think this movie had the potential to be out there and go wide. Just from the poster alone - I think if you walked up to a theater and didn’t know what to see, but you saw that poster, you’d think, “Okay, I want to see that movie.” It’s unfortunate that this film didn’t get the release it should have, but that goes back to economics, especially at smaller places like Anchor Bay. They just don’t have the funds right now to put it out like that. At least they enjoyed the movie enough to try to get it out there. The blu-ray and DVD is just a smart way for them to make some money so we can go out and do another one. Maybe if we can get a cult following on this one, and people are crying out for another one, next year we can go big and open wide for the sequel.
And it makes a great stocking stuffer!
It does make a great stocking stuffer! I’m sure any family member would enjoy it - assuming they are not like under 13.
I don’t know, I saw the original Silent Night, Deadly Night when I was about 11 or 12 and I grew up fine.
[Laughs.] I say that all the time to my wife! My daughter is two, and when we were editing the movie, my wife was always covering her eyes or sending her into another room.
What is it about the horror genre that draws you to it?
I love the people involved. I think the fans are so great. I think it is the reactions you get. There is something about giving people something to react to; having fun with the emotion of fear and tension and humor. In horror movies, you get to do all of that. You have this license to do whatever you want. It’s not like a drama where there is a [tonal] formula you have to stick to. With horror movies, you can do your own thing and create your own world, and if it is done well enough, people will accept it.
A lot of horror fans would say that horror films themselves are very formulaic. Do you find the better ones not to be formulaic?
Yeah. When you look at something like Silent Night that has the formulaic sensibilities, where it separates itself is with atmosphere. Being able to create a movie that looks like a movie, something cinematically shot... I am a huge fan of that. With this generation, you have to look at what the movies look like now: found footage and Handi-Cam and “let’s make it look as real as possible.” That’s not really “horror” to me. Horror, to me, is watching Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street. I think the generation that is coming up now is going to be very interesting. You are going to be able to show them something like Silent Night, with all these practical effects, and it will be so intense for them because they are used to seeing CG. The practical becomes very real for them, and maybe even more terrifying than it was for us. I’m interested in seeing how that plays out.
Do you think the reliance on CG in horror films is dragging it down for you?
Yeah. I think it is hindering the creativity of filmmakers. If you can sit there and say, “We can fix that later,” or “Let’s just do that some other time, we’ll get a guy to draw it up on a screen,” I think you are losing the idea of what these movies were about: being there, in the moment, building things with your bare hands, from scratch, with friends. There is something about getting that blood splatter on screen that is so visceral and so real. It was important for me that this movie embodied that completely.
I think visual effects and CG are a 100% great tool for enhancement. If you need to clean some things up, or enhance them, then sure. But building it from scratch I think should be done the right way.
Silent Night is currently playing in a handful of theaters nationwide. It comes to DVD and blu-ray on December 4th.