Oh, who am I kidding? You had me at "Silent Night, Zombie Night".
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Frank (Jack Forcinito) and Nash (Andy Hopper) aren't just partners on the police force...they're best friends. If you're gonna be holed up in an understocked apartment during a zombie apocalypse, who else would you wanna be with than your very best pal? 'Sjust that things have been kinda rocky between Frank and Nash over the past couple of days, even before the whole corpses-eating-people deal. Not only is the world coming to an end around them, but they've barricaded themselves inside with Frank's wife Sarah (Nadine Stenovitch) who -- oh yeah! -- they're both in love with, plus Nash is still reeling from a zombie attack and a gunshot wound...we're not exactly talking cherished Christmas memories of chestnuts roasting on an open fire here. It looks like the three of 'em are safe for the moment, but sooner or later they're gonna run out of food, and those doors won't hold forever...
My snap judgment from the title alone was that Silent Night, Zombie Night had to be some kind of deliriously campy horror-comedy, but...no, it's not. The movie absolutely has a sense of humor, but
writer/director Sean Cain doesn't cut himself off there. At its core, Silent Night, Zombie Night is a relationship drama that happens to be set against the backdrop of the apocalypse...a soap opera with zombies and lots and lots of guns. The movie strikes a pretty terrific balance between characterization and undead mayhem. I mean, the counter hasn't even ticked to the minute mark before you get your first zombie attack. Rather than slowly introduce the cast of characters in some kind of extended, zombie-free prologue, Silent Night, Zombie Night opens as the plague first starts to spread. To keep the pace from ever getting bogged down by reams of exposition, Cain just shoves Sarah, Frank, and Nash in front of the camera. Rather than just pile on a bunch of backstory upfront, we get to know them as the movie goes along, and the way those initial teases of what had happened between them gradually get filled in adds an extra layer of tension. So much of the time, characters like these are just cardboard cutouts waiting to be devoured, but I actually found myself interested in what the backstory is here. It doesn't hurt that Silent Night, Zombie Night is headed by a cast with chops like this. There are some intensely emotional moments here, and the cast swings for the fences. Andy Hopper channels Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs for a while there and completely nails it, and Nadine Stenovitch completely escapes into the part of Sarah. When she breaks down and bursts into tears, it doesn't read as acting, and that's pretty amazing to see. Rather than shove some gallant hero type in the lead, Jack Forcinito instead takes the wheel as an arrogant prick, but...well, it's the kind of arrogant prick you'd want on your side when the world's crumbling into ruin 'cause you know he's got what it takes to walk away from it in one piece. It's not the easiest thing in the world to make an unrepentant asshole seem likeable, but Forcinito pulls it off.
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...but hey, you didn't click on a review of Silent Night, Zombie Night to read about the craftsmanship of the movie's performances or whatever. You want me to say something about the zombies, and, yeah, no shortage of gut-munching here. The pacing is pretty much perfect. The movie never goes more than a few minutes without at least one zombie shambling in front of the camera, and it keeps the momentum plowing
ahead even when a couple of the characters are holed up inside and talking about their feelings. The dramatic elements and the horror are really skillfully balanced overall, especially considering that the movie's more interested in its story than stringing together a bunch of blood-spattered action sequences. Silent Night, Zombie Night has at least some of the smirking sense of humor you'd expect from a title like that, such as zombie-Santa getting sniped or Frank beating the shit out of swarms of the undead to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". That sort of thing is fun, yeah, and it's used very sparingly to prevent any of the drama or tension from getting drained away. The zombies here remind me a lot of the infected in Nightmare City with their bubbling, necrotic flesh and -- depending on which flavor of ghoul you're looking at, exactly -- blazing speed. The way the undead whimper and mewl leaves some of them feel more animalistic, setting the movie apart from the snarls and groans you're used to in these sorts of movies. All of the splatter that counts is pulled off practically too, and even though Silent Night, Zombie Night doesn't revel in it, plenty of the red stuff gets sloshed around.
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Admittedly, Silent Night, Zombie Night was shot on a shoestring, and sometimes the seams show. Because the movie's mostly shot in and around a suburban duplex or whatever, it doesn't exactly read as Los Angeles. There are a lot of zombies but not enough for it to feel truly overwhelming or apocalyptic, and I don't get that sense of hopeless isolation. The cinematography has a prosumer digital look to it that I'm not crazy about, and although most of the gore is fielded with practical effects, digital tweaks like muzzle flares and bloody gunshot hits don't blend in convincingly. As strong as I think most of the acting is, there are a few missteps, like a clumsily delivered weepy monologue late in the movie and a couple of the actors playing drunk. Geez, it turns out that Sleepaway Camp alum Felissa Rose looks really, really goofy when she's running too. Oh, and I guess if you're expecting this to be a heavily Christmas-themed horror flick, you might walk away disappointed since the holidays are only mentioned a few times. You'd only have to make a few nips and tucks to make it Here Comes Peter Zombietail or Zombiegiving or Valenzombie Day or whatever.
That's okay, though. Even if some of the edges are a little unpolished, I had a blast with Silent Night, Zombie Night. The story and characters actually matter, something I don't really get to say all that much about zombie flicks, and the writing and performances are well above average. Sean Cain ekes a hell of a lot out of what I'm sure was a very low budget, finding a way to turn those limitations into a strength rather than a stumbling block. Even with as many zombie flicks I have scattered all over my living room, Silent Night, Zombie Night never feels like more of the same. Really distinctive and really well done. It's a movie that definitely comes recommended, but for whatever reason, the DVD scores a loaded special edition and the Blu-ray disc...doesn't. Not a single one of the DVD's extras have found their way over to this shiny new high-def release. If they had, I'd have given this disc a way more enthusiastic recommendation, but with it gimped like this...? Rent It.
For a movie shot on the cheap like this, Silent Night, Zombie Night looks pretty great. They didn't shoot the flick on some $20,000 rig or anything, so the photography isn't dazzlingly crisp and detailed, but it holds up well enough in high-def. Definition and detail can vary quite a bit from shot-to-shot but generally come through pretty well, especially whenever the camera's closed in fairly tightly. A couple of the patterns in the background look a little aliased and distorted, and there's one backyard barbecue sequence that's swarming with video noise, but those sorts of hiccups are pretty rare. A movie shot with this kind of gear can only look so good, but I get the impression that this Blu-ray disc is completely faithful to the original photography, and that's all we can really hope for, right?
Silent Night, Zombie Night is dished out on a single-layer Blu-ray disc. The movie's presented without any matting and has been encoded with AVC.
Silent Night, Zombie Night doesn't do the whole lossless audio thing, instead limited to a DVD-quality Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps) track. That may make some gearheads cringe, but really, I don't think DTS-HD Master Audio or whatever would've made much of a difference. It doesn't have that big, booming, theatrical sound to it anyway. Dialogue and music are definitely the focal points of the mix, although the recording can sound a little harsh and overly digital at times, like when our cop hero types are first introduced. There's not a lot going on in the lower frequencies, with even the couple of stings in the score sounding really meek. The surrounds dish out some atmosphere -- sirens in the background and whirling helicopter blades overhead, f'r instance -- and also reinforce some of the action with cracks of gunfire and stuff like the bubbling sound of cauterizing flesh. I wish the sound design were a little more immersive, packed a punchier LFE, and belted out a stronger sense of imaging, but...yeah, it does the job, and I'm not complaining.
This Blu-ray disc is about as no-frills as it gets, so it kinda goes without saying that you're not gonna get any dubs or subtitles or anything. (If you're curious, the DVD release does include English and Spanish subtitles.)
The DVD version of Silent Night, Zombie Night piles on all kinds of bells and whistles: an audio commentary, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, trailers, and a shiny Easter egg. This Blu-ray disc, meanwhile, has...well, nothing. The main menu has a "Play" option, and that's it. No idea why they decided to gimp the high-def release like that.
The Final Word
I walked in expecting some kind of campy splatterfest, and instead, I wound up watching a really solid and fiercely independent drama-action-horror mashup. Hey, Silent Night, Zombie Night almost counts as a date movie! You've got some romance for the ladies, and semiautomatic weapons and gutmunching for the fellas. Silent Night, Zombie Night hits pretty much every mark you'd want: the writing's sharp, the cast is great straight across the board, it's sopping with splatter, and the pacing never screeches to a halt even with all the relationshippy stuff that's heaped on here. Some of the edges are a little rough, but that kind of goes with the territory. I kind of assumed I'd like it based on the title alone, but...yeah, totally topped all of my expectations. The biggest downside is that this Blu-ray disc has been stripped down to bare metal, and all of the extras on the DVD have been axed. I'd have given Silent Night, Zombie Night a much higher recommendation if there were...well, anything else. I'd hold out for the price to drop a few more bucks before forking over your credit card, but in the meantime...? Definitely Rent It.