The now-outdated joke on the type of pitches that movie executives respond to is actually about what the audience responds to. We are the ones that enjoy tacos with special sauce stuffed inside a bacon burger topped with a pizza bun. And “Violent Night” is a film that takes the audience’s voracious appetite extremely seriously.
The title may imply a holiday-themed horror picture with Santa as a crazed killer, but, you know, we’ve been there, done that. In “Violent Night,” David Harbour, the cheerfully eccentric actor from “Stranger Things” and the 2019 “Hellboy” reboot, plays a dissolute Santa Claus who cruises through Christmas on a bender of holiday cookies and random alcohol, peeing and vomiting off the side of his sleigh — but we’ve also tasted that fast-food combination in films like “Bad Santa.”
To reawaken the jaded taste buds of the holiday movie audience of today, you need a piece of entertainment that genuinely combines flavors. Consider this: a comedy about a filthy-rich family whose members can’t tolerate each other but assemble for some forced holiday happiness on Christmas Eve at the Greenwich, Connecticut, estate of their misanthropic matriarch, Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo).
They are attacked by a violent squad of home invaders commanded by a madman who names himself Scrooge before the festivities have even begun (John Leguizamo). With a hearty “Bah humbug, motherfucker!” he sets the tone, and the foul-mouthed Christmas spirits build from there.
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Scrooge, who has been casing the establishment for months, is aware that $300 million is concealed in the vault below, and he has arranged for everyone, including the catering staff and security agents, to work in secret for him. What he did not anticipate was Santa Claus, who is making his annual Christmas tour.
Santa is a bit of a Scrooge: he’s an alcoholic and a grouch who can’t get over the fact that modern children have become consumerist zombies. But he also possesses extraordinary abilities. Do you mean his ability to glide up and down chimneys with the flick of his nose? Or the golden digital scrolls he unfolds with a list of each child’s naughty and positive actions? Definitely all of that.
This Santa is primarily a weapon-welding badass. In the style of vintage Kris Kringle, he began his life as some type of earthy Scandinavian Viking warrior. Now he’s like a member of the Expendables, eliminating foes with old-fashioned violence. When he grabs a sledgehammer, he transforms into a Thor with a death wish.
But because “Violent Night” is a Christmas film, everything is in good humor! Especially when Trudy (Leah Brady), the 7-year-old daughter of Jason (Alex Hassell), the only respectable member of the Lightstone clan, gets medieval on the asses of the home invaders in “Home Alone.” As a result of booby-trapped ladders, throats are pierced with nails; heads are scalped; and pain is delivered. As a character in a similar film would say: That’s what I’m talking about. Or perhaps I could simply say, “Have yourself a gonzo action Christmas.”
Over the past week, everyone in the entertainment media, including myself, has published stories lamenting the poor box office performance of the critically praised awards films. ‘Tár,’ ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ ‘She Said,’ ‘Triangle of Sadness,’ and ‘Till’ are each crawling toward a gross of approximately $10 million.
(“The Fabelmans,” which has a more prominent pedigree, will certainly earn $20 million”) We are aware that this is the Marvel era, thus “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is the triumphant antithesis. But even in 2022, not everyone watches Marvel films. The unquenchable appetite for blatant junk food, such as “Violent Night,” is one of the factors that has impeded adult moviegoing.
The film lacks a comic-book hook; it is a trash-compactor genre feast that combines a dozen familiar elements. However, that’s the hook. “Violent Night” is humorous in a few areas and tiresome in more than a few others, but to criticize it in the manner that I am would be churlish. It is a film that nourishes the beast. David Harbour emits an aura of likeability, which makes him the ideal actor to portray a depressed, vengeance-obsessed Santa Claus.
Under his crimson-flecked grey curls, the Christmas gentleman we want him to be. As usual, John Leguizamo refuses to slack off; as the Christmas-hating psychopath Scrooge, he makes every vulgarity stand out.
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Alexis Louder, Jason’s divorced wife, adds a solitary note of tenacious sanity to the proceedings. Beverly D’Angelo, Edi Patterson, and Cam Gigandet depict the rest of the Lightstone clan as walking high-camp nightmares.
“Violent Night” is a film that provokes the question, “What’s next, “Massacre on 34th Street?” due to its action-thriller score based on motifs from traditional Christmas songs.
Christmas movies, like all Hollywood schlock, build upon one another, and “Violent Night,” depending on how it performs, might pave the way for a new kind of gritty Christmas/action mash-up. Imagine hearing lines such as “God bless us all, motherfucker!” Possibilities are infinite.
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