Malcolm McDowell Talks Killing Santa Claus in Silent Night, in theaters this Friday and on Blu-ray December 4th
If you were a gore hungry kid in the 80s, nothing was more exciting than getting your hands on a copy of the banned VHS holiday horror classic Silent Night, Deadly Night, which featured a killer Santa Claus on a bloody rampage. Though five-year-olds shrug with indifference at the notion today, back in 1984, the idea of Jolly Saint Nick crawling down the chimney to axe your mom in the face was quite controversial. A certain kind of rush came from popping this in your video player for the first time. It didn't matter if the movie was any good. It only mattered that we weren't supposed to be watching such blasphemous filth.
Here, nearly 30 years removed from that quaint moment in time, the idea of a killer Santa is blasé. Films don't get banned for their content anymore, and the storyline might as well be featured on television as part of ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas line-up. Most of the shock factor has gone out of our entertainment. So why even remake Silent Night, Deadly Night here, in late 2012?
Because it's still a fun idea. It's no longer shocking or scary, but it's always a treat to see a man dressed like Santa Claus killing people. Director Steven C. Miller understood that simple fact going into Silent Night, which is being called a "loose" remake. He doesn't play the material straight, instead giving us a very dark, often times very funny slasher flick that is slightly off the rails and worth a watch this holiday season.
It's not going to muster the same kind of energy or aura as the original, so it doesn't even try. Instead, it merrily goes along on its own wicked path of destruction. And at the heart of this insanity is legendary actor Malcolm McDowell, who plays a bat shit crazy Sheriff hellbent on bringing this Yuletide killer to justice. He seems to be having more fun than any actor should in this type of B movie fare, and it's infectious. He gleefully gives the film a wicked sense of energy, and it's worth seeking out for his performance alone.
Silent Night is playing in select theaters across the country this weekend, before coming home to VOD, Blu-ray, and DVD this Tuesday, December 4th. To celebrate the film's release, we caught up Malcolm McDowell, who is genuinely excited about the film. Even though he, too agrees...Kids today? You just can't shock them like you used to.
Here is our conversation.
I couldn't help over-hearing the tail end of your last conversation there, about the hidden imagery in A Clockwork Orange. Is there any hidden imagery in Silent Night that we need to be aware of?
Malcolm McDowell: (Laughs) No! I don't think so...Oh, yes there is! There is! Because I did a CSI: Miami episode. I decided to put that in as some cop show my character is laughing at. I say, "What do you think this is? CSI: Miami?" Just because it was such a hoot doing that show, with David Caruso, and all those guys.
In most slasher movies, the cops never get the good end of the stick. They are never presented as intelligent beings with a soul. The original Silent Night, Deadly Night changed that. And the tradition of smart cops continued in Halloween 4. You kind of bring it full circle here, with Sheriff Cooper...
Malcolm McDowell: The horror movie and a smart cop are not synonymous, are they? You have to be really stupid not to figure out what is going on. The whole thing is so contrived, to give the audience a scream and a laugh. That's the thing, really. Smart cops are not going to fall into that equation.
With this, you guys really went after the laughs...
Malcolm McDowell: I tried not to eat too much scenery. I tried to keep it as straight and honest as I could. But of course, the man is a fool. There is a lot of fun to be had out of playing a fool.
I just watched the scene where a guy is getting chocked to death by a string of Christmas lights by this killer Santa. Sheriff Cooper is hearing this from the other end of his phone. He is oblivious to what is actually going on, and you play it straight. That, in itself, makes that entire scene way more fun than if your character was in on the joke...
Malcolm McDowell: Yeah! Yeah! Without getting too serious about this movie, it is really an entertainment, it is scary to see a parade of 40 Santas, and know that one of them is a serial killer. You know? He literally butchers half this town, as far as I can see. So, it has to be scary and funny. It has to be that. If you can do that, then I think you've succeeded. It is an entertainment. A bit of fluf. It exists so that people can have a good laugh. But that in itself? There is nothing wrong with that! I wish half the films I did, I could say that about.
I remember, I was a very young child when the original came out. I saw a picture of Santa with the axe in Inquire Magazine. The headline screamed "Banned Throughout the World!" Of course I was intrigued. I knew I had to watch the film immediately. Here, today, we don't see that kind of excitement centered on any movie, no matter what it is. What do you think about that aspect of the original, and its absence here?
Malcolm McDowell: I wasn't aware of the first film when it came out. To be honest with you, I'd never even heard of it! I don't know. I didn't ever see it. I have no idea what it was like. I think that original film had a really small budget. Even in today's terms, it was way smaller than the one we had. Obviously, the premise is kind of fun. The way children feel about Santa Claus, is he's wonderful, wise, giving, an old man who flies around servicing children. Making them happy. So, to have that associated with mayhem and murder is quite shocking. That helps us enormously.
It kind of plays into the original lore behind Santa. I don't think he started out as a very nice man.
Malcolm McDowell: No! I have always been a bit suspicious of him. As a person. As me.
Who wouldn't be?
Malcolm McDowell: I never found it exciting to stand in line at some department store, and go sit on some weird man's knee. I always quite liked the Seinfeld one where Kramer plays Santa, and he is giving this Communist propaganda to the kids. Which is quite hilarious. And the kids go, "He's a commie!" (Laughs)
Back in the 70s and early 80s, movies could still be controversial. Clockwork Orange was quite controversial for its time...
Malcolm McDowell: That was very controversial. That movie was made as a serious piece. It's a famous book. I think it was the first time that the hero, or rather the anti-hero, was an immoral person. This was way before Hannibal Lecter, lets not forget. This had never happened before. I never even thought about it until a little while ago. But there were no anti-heroes like him, before Alex, who was a murderer and a rapists. We had to make him watchable. So people wouldn't be turned off. That is the brilliance of the book, and Stanley Kubrick, and everything else. It was a very interesting time, and that was the first time that had been done.
Do you think its an over saturation in the marketplace that keeps anything from being shocking anymore?
Malcolm McDowell: Yes, I do. Because what do you do? You end up with a flamethrower. To be honest, I think it is so saturated now, we should go back to the beginning. I would have one slap that could mean as much as putting fifty bullet holes in someone. I actually think that a slap is more humiliating. I think...I don't know...I am thinking of this movie I am going to do next year called Monster Butler. It's about this con man that, in his sixties, turns into a serial killer. It's based on a true story. On a true character. Of course, the killings are sort of brutal. Its not fighting people out with guns in a romantic, unrealistic way. With those charges, and everything is blowing to bits in slow motion. That's not the way it is! I was in a pub, in a knife fight. I literally stood next to the guy that got the knife in his gut. I barely saw anything. It was just a movement. A quick (raspberry sound)! The guy turned and strolled off as though nothing had happened. It was amazing. Of course, all of the drama came later, when the guy fell to his knees.
Have you ever seen the movie Bully, by Larry Clarke?
Malcolm McDowell: No.
I think that has the most realistic stabbing I have ever seen in a movie. It has a certain weight to it that just turns your stomach. It sounds like Monster Butler might have the same sense of realistic brutality...
Malcolm McDowell: Listen, we haven't actually shot that yet. So I don't know what the director has in mind. In my opinion, less is more. Something you don't quite see, that is frightening. Like the fight. You just see the glimpse of a knife, and a little bit of a kafuffle. And then, gone. You don't see anything. You see no penetration. You don't see any blood, because there isn't any. It's too fast. Its only later, when the heart starts pumping, that blood starts to pour out. It is certainly not instantaneous. But that is not good for film purposes. We have to have everything in an instance.
For something like Silent Night, that works. Because its supposed to be an over the top horror movie.
Malcolm McDowell: Excatcly! That is exactly it! So you can't really...This is a genre piece. We want people to be scared and laugh. It's a simple entertainment, like the Penny Comics. That's what it is! (Laughs)
What do you think about the proposed sequel to Silent Night?
Malcolm McDowell: I'm up for it! I enjoyed playing this bumbling idiot. Maybe I'll get a little better next time.
You're clearly having a lot of fun here...
Malcolm McDowell: I love doing every role I do! Of course I love it. I love it! Here is the other thing, which I'm glad no one has brought up...How come, in this movie, there is an English guy in Maine, who is a detective? I love that whole thing. No one explains that. No one says anything about it. It's just the way it is.
I know the back story. His parents brought him to Maine when he was a young child, because his dad got transformed for a job. That's his childhood home, so to speak, so he never moved back to England. He stayed there and got a job on the police force. Because that is a very American thing to do.
Malcolm McDowell: That's it. Just like every immigrant here.
Just a younger generation of immigrant.
Malcolm McDowell: Yes!
We've enjoyed you so much on Franklin and Bash. Are you coming back for Season 3?
Malcolm McDowell: Yes, we are all coming back. We start filming at the end of January, the beginning of February. I am really looking forward to it. There will be a couple of little changes this year. I love the show. I love the guys. I think we are all happy that it's coming back. I think everyone is excited. I have stayed in touch with them all, and everyone is chomping at the bit. We will probably get together after Christmas. I am going off to do another movie before then. In December. I get back, have a Christmas holiday, and then I go and do another movie, and then I am supposed to be back on The Mentalist. I have been booked for three more of those. That show is good. I like that part. Its all fun.