With Steven C. Miller’s slasher Santa flick Silent Night having wrapped last month in Winnipeg, we chatted with the director regarding the feature, as we also did with makeup guru Vincent Guastini, both of whom gave us the lowdown on the FX-heavy flick, its slated release date, and more.
“We shot it in seventeen days,” Miller, whose feature The Aggression Scale released earlier this week to video via Anchor Bay, told us of Silent Night, which stars veteran actor Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King (Sin City), Jamie Kennedy (Scream), Brendan Fehr (Final Destination), Lisa Marie (Sleepy Hollow), Donal Logue (Shark Night 3D) and Ellen Wong and serves as a loose remake of Charles E. Sellier, Jr.’s controversial 1984 slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night. The originator revolved around an unhinged teenager who embarks on an axe murder spree while dressed as Saint Nick.
“We didn’t get to shoot full twelve-hour days for most of it; they were nine-hour days,” continued Miller of the production, the narrative of which revolves around King’s character of Deputy Sheriff Aubrey Bradimore, who battles a killer Santa who terrorizes her small Midwestern town. “So it was a heavy shoot given the time frame and the amount of practical effects that we did.”
Of the last night of shooting, “It was great!” said Miller the following day. “We had a lot of blood and a lot of fun and an axe through a face. The actual last shot of the movie was to split that head open.”
Concerning the execution of that gag, FX artist Guastini (whose shop V.G.P. Effects handled the gore) offered, “We had one take, and it was the last shot of the night and the producer of Se7en (Richard Saperstein) was watching me. I’m the one that axed the head. We had a huge array of tubing in the head and all hands on deck to pump the blood. There were up to seven people operating this thing. It was done with magnets and cables, and it was designed to handle twenty or more takes, and we only did one. I must say that the head really came apart on cue.”
“I think the great thing about the script is that it incorporates some things, especially with practical effects, that maybe haven’t been seen onscreen in a while since the 80’s, like practically exploding that head open,” director Miller mused of the Jayson Rothwell screenplay and its inherent gore. “We also do homage some kills from the original movie, like the ‘antler kill’, which I think audiences will get excited about.”
“That gag was approached as a two-part effect,” Guastini stated of his recreation, “one that involved a silicone torso for piercing, which had a complicated rig, and an array of tubing. The other part involved the actress wearing a prosthetic we’d created expressly for the shot.”
“The biggest challenge was to get the effects to work in one take,” continued Guastini. “I hate those situations, but that’s the result I try and strive for. All of the prep work and rigging that I designed and built with magnets and cables were basic but very creative I felt, and everything was designed for multiple takes and also to be able to be shot as precisely as possible, knowing how fast things were to move on set.”
At the center of Silent Night is actress King, well known to genre fans for her turns in the feature films Sin City, Mother’s Day and The Tripper (and to the mainstream for her role in the television series “Hart of Dixie”), and we queried Miller on his experience working her.
“Jaime is an actress that has no problem just being in character, and it’s absolutely amazing to see her work that way,” reflected Miller. “In a movie like this it’s pretty difficult for an actor to keep themselves in that very serious mindset when they are dealing with a Santa Claus with an axe, so there’s a balance you need to find because there is that line of ‘goofy or not.’ She approached her performance with a serious tone, which created a scary atmosphere, and I think she did a great job with that.”
“On the other hand you have Malcolm’s character, who is supposed to be over-the-top,” Miller stated of actor McDowell, “and his lines in the script were so ridiculous that I always thought that whoever was to play the character was going to have such a hard time, but every time Malcolm would say them they sounded badass!”
“He’s one of those actors that is able to make a character his own, and he’s 100% capable in a really great way,” the filmmaker continued. “He has a great personality and a great presence on screen, and he’s wonderful to work with. He’s an old-school actor that understands the process of making movies.”
As for his thoughts on working with the veteran, who as a self-avowed genre fan Miller spent his earlier years watching his work in myriad flicks from Clockwork Orange to Rob Zombie’s Halloween, “It’s crazy when you work with someone like Malcolm that you grew up watching, especially if they were in a film like Clockwork. That’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and yeah, we have a fun homage to Clockwork in this movie.”
Of the intended look of Silent Night, “[Cinematographer] Joseph White definitely made the film dark like I wanted it to be,” stated Miller, “and we really tried to make the film feel like a classic 80’s slasher, too, but also give it a very nuanced feel. The art direction was really great, too, and there’s a fantastic look to it. The producers really gave me the ability to expand and to do what I felt like in regards to what the movie needed, and everyone was really on board with what I was doing, so there was never really a fight. When you are making a film in seventeen days, you really don’t have time to argue.”
That shortened schedule has continued for Miller into the post-production phase as well.
“I have four weeks for a director’s cut, and it has to be completely done and delivered by August 17th for a December 7th release,” the director offered. “It’s crazy fast, but I guess that’s the model these days so that they can get it out and make some money, so I understand that outlook. It’s my job to bring it in, in that amount of time.”
So is Miller happy with how Silent Night is cutting together?
“I really am,” he said. “The great thing about this film is that it’s the most days I’ve had to shoot a film, and I’ve made four movies, so I am used to that pacing and time, and I’m also an editor by background so there’s not a lot of extraneous shots. It’s very much what I felt needed to be there, and I feel like everything I shot will make it into the movie. You have to be extremely precise, and it’s definitely an editor’s movie because you are shooting it with that in mind. It’s a strange thing, but it’s also fun, and I think it keeps everyone excited on-set and everyone constantly moving.”
As for what’s next on Miller’s plate (his other feature directorial credits include Automaton Transfusion and the upcoming Under the Bed), he told us, “I am working on basically a post-apocalyptic Fight Club/District 9-type movie, so that’s my next venture, which is to move more into the action world. Something a little bit bigger then seventeen days would be nice so I’m making a big step. The script is currently untitled. It’s a really cool spin on genre films in a huge action sort of way, and it will definitely need some time and money [to produce].”
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