If and when we think of Santa, we generally picture him as a cheery fellow with the joy of giving and love glowing in his heart.
But what if Santa is a bit more like us than we think? What if the decline of our tattered world weighs on him, too? The failing families, widespread anger and wounded innocents. And what if he’s fully aware of the lessening morals, growing greed and self-centeredness of kids around the globe?
With that sort of worrying stuff in his metaphorical gift sack, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Santa getting a bit down. Or … a lot. And that’s exactly where old Saint Nick is when we first meet him, taking a break from his Christmas Eve duties in a local bar with a beer (or many) in hand.
“Maybe this is my last year. My last Christmas,” the sighing fellow murmurs with a slightly drunken slur. And then he adjusts his red-furred cap, staggers back to the establishment’s rooftop and spurs his reindeer into flight.
For there are still at least a few innocents in the world who deserve a gift from the real Santa. There are a few children who still believe and long for his arrival.
One such innocent is young Trudy Lightstone. She’s spending Christmas with her mom and dad at her grandma’s big and well-appointed house. But unlike some kids with wealthy family connections, Tru isn’t thinking about getting expensive Christmas gifts.
In fact, the girl’s only Christmas wish is that Santa might help bring her separated parents back together again. They might be being nice for the holiday just for Tru’s sake, but she wishes it were for better reasons. She longs to be a family again like they used to be, and she has every faith that Santa, of all people, has the power to make that happen. That would make this Christmas magically wonderful.
Of course, what Tru and Santa aren’t aware of is the fact that, along with them, there are some very bad people rushing toward Grandma’s house this year. They’re ex-military men and women, all set to kill, pillage and destroy anything or anyone necessary to steal a great sum of money that’s sealed away in the estate’s vaults.
That surprise will lead to more of them. And for some, the biggest surprise will be that Santa actually exists. Another big shock will be that Santa, while protecting one of the few remaining believers in Christmas, can get very, very angry.
That’s something that some people definitely won’t want to see. Especially if they’re on Kris Kringle’s Naughty list.
For all of the negative attitudes and choices on display here, young Trudy remains loving and true to her belief in Santa and the people in her family. She even runs to readily embrace her grandmother, Gertrude, who is a foul-mouthed and generally hateful person … except when it comes to her loving granddaughter.
At first, when the shooting begins, Santa doesn’t want to get involved with the heated activities. But once he recognizes Tru’s involvement and realizes her goodness and innocence—which he dutifully looks up on a magical “Naughty and Nice” list—he determines that he must fight for her safety.
At one point, though, a badly battered Santa believes that he has lost against the overwhelming weaponry of the bad guys. And Tru reminds him of his own goodness and encourages him to stick by the things (including his feelings for Mrs. Claus) that he values and loves most.
Despite this pic’s bloody carnage, it does slow down long enough to lightly contemplate the good things in life: including family, loved ones and the spirit of giving at Christmas.
The “magic of Christmas” is referenced several times. And though Santa himself states that he doesn’t fully understand it, we see that magical force at play several times.
Santa dematerializes and whisks up a number of chimney flues, for instance. His reindeer-drawn sled flies. And his Santa sack has the ability to store a seemingly endless number of gifts that he can magically pull out just by reaching in.
There are also some flashback moments that harken back to Santa’s human life some thousands of years before he was somehow transformed into a man who lives forever.
Ultimately, the mystical power on display even raises the dead back to life.
Trudy’s mom and dad, Linda and Jason, kiss.
This movie is rightly named. Oh, the violence.
Violent Night revels in how much mounting violence and death-dealing it can portray in gruesome ways. People are riddled with bullets to begin with, leaving pools of blood on the floor and blood spatter on the walls.
From there, we witness numerous fights where combatants batter each other with fists and heavy objects; stab one another with knives, sharpened candy canes and, well, anything with a point; and have their necks and body parts slashed or impaled on the likes of everything from ice axes and sharp Christmas ornaments to ice skates. (One guy has a tree topper star jammed into his eye, for instance, and then his head bursts into flame when the ornament is turned on.)
Jason’s finger is painfully broken in the jaws of a small Nutcracker, and his genitals are about to be treated similarly (he’s stripped to his boxer shorts) before his tormentors are interrupted. The elderly Gertrude and a teen boy are both manhandled and punch in the face. Santa, who is pummeled painfully and consistently, stiches up a bloody gash in his side with an ornament hook and thread.
Someone’s head is cut off, men are dragged into a whirling woodchipper, a guy has a grenade jammed into his backside—all with the expected gory results. Another casualty is magically ripped in two, and we see the gruesome outcome. There are multiple explosions from gas engines, ruptured fire extinguisher tanks and high caliber weaponry.
Some of the more torturous-looking moments here are also the most low-tech. Tru, for instance, sets some Home Alone like traps for baddies after having seen that movie. In this case, the results of the fallen-on nails and hair-ripping glue is far more bloody and visceral that the original film. Bouncing bowling balls crush tender body parts and drive nails into people in deadly ways.
And, of course, throughout all of the flesh-rending mayhem described above (and quite a bit more), blood flows freely, dripping from people, weapons and scenery. Santa’s skull-crushing sledgehammer, for instance, is a goopy mess-maker.
We hear about 50 f-words and more than 25 s-words, along with multiple uses of the words “d–n,” “a–,” “h—” and “b–ch.”
There are also a half-dozen or so crude references made to male and female genitals. And God’s and Jesus’ names are both misused a total of six times (God being combined with “d–n” on three of those instances.)
Early on, Santa drinks quite heavily. We see him quaffing beer in a local pub, drinking cans of beer in his sleigh and downing brandy with some Christmas cookies. Jason and his adult family members—including Gertrude, Linda and his sister, Alva—all drink quite a bit too, imbibing wine, vodka and other cocktails.
Someone vomits on another person’s upturned face. A couple different people urinate in public (without genital exposure.) Several different people steal—in one case it’s a very large amount of money taken from the U.S. government.
At one point, Santa suggests that many kids have become “selfish little junkies,” always wanting and consuming things. And Jason’s wealthy family members are quickly ready to sacrifice others when a threatening situation arises.
For years, people have debated whether or not Die Hard is actually a Christmas movie. Well, here we have a Die Hard-like pic on jingle bell steroids … with a bloodletting Santa and his gory sledgehammer.
Of course, this film is all about giving adults something oh-so-un-Christmassy to chortle and snort over during the holiday season. And it does it’s mulched-skull, bullet-riddled, blood-spattered-Nutcracker job with all the gusto it can muster.
Does it have some ho-ho-ho chuckles in its collective run? Yes, along with some amped-up tips of the bloody Santa hat to other seasonal hits such as Home Alone. Does it wax nostalgic and maybe even sweet? Yup. Actor David Harbour’s Santa is a multilayered angry sleigh-pilot, and there are a few kids-and-the-magical-spirit-of-Christmas sighs in the story mix, too.
But trust me, there’s not even a wink at the true spirit and meaning of Christmas here. And the gory gush and intense profanity of this tale will sit like lumps of coal in your moviegoing stocking.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.