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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Holiday horror stalks Christmas

Take stab at ‘Silent Night’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Knife’

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Jane Widdop as Winnie Carruthers in &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a Wonderful Knife,&rdquo; a new holiday horror comedy.
Jane Widdop as Winnie Carruthers in “It’s a Wonderful Knife,” a new holiday horror comedy. (RLJE Films/Shudder) Photo Gallery

In “Silent Night,” the new holiday movie from action auteur John Woo, a grief-stricken, revenge-minded father hunts down the gang members who shot his child on Christmas Eve.

In ‘It’s a Wonderful Knife,” the teen heroine wishes at Christmas that she’d never been born, and discovers that a serial killer she’d killed in her real life is still very much alive in her alternative timeline.

Yep, it’s time for a new slate of Christmas-themed horror films and action movies in theaters or streaming at home.

And while it’s not exactly a new trend it definitely feels like it’s a vibrant one.

In addition to “Silent Night” and “It’s a Wonderful Knife,” this year’s frights include “The Sacrifice Game,” which has the tagline, “This Christmas, raise a little hell.” Then there’s “A Creature Was Stirring” about two young criminals who aren’t going to like what they find in the house they burgle. And look out for “Santa Isn’t Real” — even if they were on his naughty list, do the young people in the remote wintery cabin really deserve what Kris Kringle is serving?

It almost makes the old argument over “Die Hard” — Christmas movie or not? — seem quaint.

So let’s look at what “Silent Night” and “It’s a Wonderful Knife” have wrapped in shiny packages for you this year, and celebrate the fact that there’s something other than the romances on the Hallmark Channel to send holiday shivers up and down your back.

‘It’s a Wonderful Knife’

When screenwriter Michael Kennedy sat down to brainstorm ideas for a Christmas slasher movie, he first thought to look to the past. It worked with “Freaky,” his horror-fied adaptation of the classic comedy “Freaky Friday,” so why not the holidays, too?

“And immediately I thought of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” Kennedy says of director Frank Capra’s 1947 holiday classic with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. “Just because I do love that movie. It makes me cry every time I watch it still.”

“It’s a Wonderful Knife,” the horror comedy that Kennedy wrote and produced, might make the late Jimmy Stewart himself weep, if for different reasons. But to fans of offbeat, alternative holiday fare, it sticks the landing.

Jane Widdop stars as Winnie Carruthers, who despite vanquishing the serial killer on the loose in her quaint small town one Christmas, ends up wishing she, like George Bailey, had never been born. When her wish is granted, she realizes the folly of her ways. In this timeline, the serial killer is still slashing victims.

With Justin Long as the town’s ne’er-do-well mayor, Joel McHale as his beleaguered assistant and Winnie’s father, and Jess McLeod as Winnie’s friend Bertie, the story unfolds in a mix of horror and heart that pays homage to its inspiration.

“It’s not like a beat-for-beat remake of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ by any means,” director Tyler MacIntyre says. “It’s just using that high concept as a jumping-off point. I have a lot of respect for Frank Capra and what that film has become in terms of a cultural icon.

“Doing a spin on that, I think, is part of the fun of it,” he says. “It’s not a spoof of it. It’s just another fun way of sort of framing it in the more macabre form that we want to have.

“We have these horrific, fun scenes, but at the same time, there are some opportunities for satire in there, particularly of other Christmas fare, like Hallmark films and more traditional holiday films.”

Both MacIntyre and Kennedy are longtime fans of holiday action and horror movies.

“For me, it was the original ‘Black Christmas,’” Kennedy says. “I love the 1974 ‘Black Christmas. I loved finding out that it was the same guy that directed ‘A Christmas Story’ that made that movie. That was when I really got obsessed with horror movies in my teen years.

“It scared the (bleep) out of me,” he says. “It was like, ‘Oh, Christmas is so dark, and Christmas is disturbing.’ It was kind of an eye-opener of, like, sure, there’s a serial killer and it’s a little bit heightened, but it’s also a little bit like, Christmas isn’t this jolly season for everyone.”

For MacIntyre, alternative holiday films started showing up in many places once he started looking as a young movie fan.

“I know ‘Die Hard’ gets a lot of press for being the Christmas action movie, but so is ‘Lethal Weapon. That’s a Christmas movie,” MacIntyre says. “I really liked ‘Gremlins’ — and how pitch-black is that Phoebe Cates monologue in the middle of that?

“And then putting together that the guy who wrote ‘Gremlins’ also directed ‘Home Alone’ — Chris Columbus just loves Christmas,” he says. “Those are great movies that are completely separate from each other and both involve Christmas in a very fundamental way.

“I don’t think it’s any mystery that some of these things get paired together,” MacIntyre says of the mix-and-match of genre movies with holiday fare. “Because I do think there’s something inherently just very satisfying juxtaposing such cheery kind of holiday imagery with things that are a little darker.”

‘Silent Night’

Director John Woo’s “Silent Night” opens with actor Joel Kinnaman in a reindeer Christmas sweater, racing on foot after the street gang members whose stray bullets hit and killed his young son on Christmas Eve.

He catches them, which was his goal, and ends up shot through the neck, which was not the plan. As he recovers, his voice lost to the injury, he begins to plan his revenge, targeting Christmas Eve one year later as the day he’ll take the gang down, and by down, we mean 6 feet under.

Woo, who made his name in Hong Kong action films such as “A Better Tomorrow” and “The Killer,” before jumping to Hollywood for movies such as “Face/Off” and “Mission: Impossible 2,” says he was attracted to the film because of what it didn’t have: Dialogue.

“I thought it was really well written,” Woo says. “And by the time I saw there was no dialogue, I thought, ‘Oh, OK, yeah.’

“For me, it was a good opportunity for me because I don’t like much dialogue in the movie,” he says. “I hate using the dialogue to explain images, to explain how actors feel.”

Because Brian Godlock (Kinnaman) no longer can talk, he texts with his wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and police detective Dennis Vassel (Scott Mescudi, better known as the hip-hop artist Kid Cudi). The gangsters led by Playa (Harold Torres) are also text-loving criminals, so the only words heard in the movie are ambient conversations on police broadcasts or car radios.

Woo says the absence of dialogue was one of the ways in which “Silent Night” differs from many of his previous movies.