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All is bright with Scream Factory’s restoration of ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’

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Preston Barta

Santa's slay (or Ho ho oh no!)

Bumping elbows with other shoppers as you chase the latest on-sale item, visiting with unfriendly family members, burning your Christmas dinner -- the holidays can be a horrifying time of the year. (Excuse me. Sorry, mom. The most wonderful time of the year.) It’s no wonder there’s an appeal to watch Christmas horror movies during this festive month. There’s something really nice about spicing up your eggnog with holiday movies that are simply to die for.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 

Rated R, 79 minutes.

Available Tuesday on Blu-ray through shoutfactory.com and at Movie Trading Co.

3.5 of 5 stars

1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night catalyzed a franchise and redefined the subgenre in many ways. As ridiculous a movie as it sounds - often narrowed down to a story of a man dressed as Santa Claus who goes on a killing spree - there is a solid foundation laid before our central character becomes the seasonal slasher. It all begins when a young Billy (Danny Wagner) is left traumatized after seeing his parents murdered by a man (Charles Dierkop) in a Santa suit and years of abuse following his parents untimely death. Instead of taking pointers from Batman and using his fear for good, Billy uses his fear to terrorize others by becoming St. Nick, only he ain’t jolly.

Silent Night is truly a dark story. What so easily could have been a movie where a Jason or Michael Myers-esque soulless killer executes all the poor folks on the naughty list, there’s a nice blend of well-developed psychology behind its characters and fun B-movie horror. It’s a collector’s edition to own if you’re a fan of Christmas horror films or are in need of a stocking stuffer.

Extras: The Scream Factory release includes an unrated version of the film (at 85 minutes), behind-the-scene featurettes and interviews with the cast and filmmakers, three different audio commentary tracks, poster and still gallery, and original trailers and TV spots.

Despicable Me (3 stars) - Despicable Me 3 finds our villain-turned-family man Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) trying to keep his newly established family in order. His three adopted daughters (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Nev Scharrel) and new wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), are back, of course, but after a defeated mission leaves the Anti-Villain League agents jobless, Gru learns he has a long-lost blond twin brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell). The reunited siblings soon join forces to go up against trickster villain Balthazar Bratt (a terrific Trey Parker), a fallen '80s child star who seeks revenge against the world.

Dru, left, and Gru, both voiced by Steve Carell in a scene from "Despicable Me 3." AP
Dru, left, and Gru, both voiced by Steve Carell in a scene from "Despicable Me 3." 
AP

This third go-round doesn't exactly further the universe in which these characters exist. It merely extends the emotional current placed by its predecessors. Like many sequels in today's money-making movie market, we pretty much end where we started, with only a few developments. This film exists solely to create chaos and then return to form. So as long as you expect more of the same safe storytelling with adorable characters and gags, Despicable Me 3 is enough to satisfy the entire family.

Rated PG, 89 minutes.

Extras: The Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release includes an all-new mini movie, a deleted scene, a making-of, music videos and a slew of fun featurettes.

Fargo: Year Three (4 stars) - When it comes to new seasons of a celebrated television show, bigger is usually seen as better. Annual network meetings seem likely to be filled with questions of how showrunners should up the stakes and outdo concepts from the previous season. However, when it comes to FX's wildly popular series Fargo (a spiritual continuation of the groundwork laid by Joel and Ethan Coen in the 1996 film about crime happenings in the snowy, northern states), creator Noah Hawley (Legion TV series) takes the modest route to success.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz, Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy. FX
Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz, Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy. 
FX

Set in 2010, the third installment of Fargo sees Ewan McGregor as Emmit Stussy, a real estate mogul and kingpin of a parking lot company who finds himself mixed up with the wrong people (chiefly David Thewlis as a scary capitalist named V.M. Varga). Emmit's younger, less successful brother Ray (also played by McGregor) has a massive chip on his shoulder about how his life has panned out in comparison to his brother, and he blames Emmit entirely.

Season 3's story feels like an understated Shakespearean drama, befitting a universe that has always embraced the playwright's essence. Even in the Coen brothers' film, the central character of Marge (Frances McDormand) comments on tragedy in a form that reflects the acclaimed wordsmith, most notably during the film's final scene. Hawley's series continues that tradition, not only through his rich dialogue but also his careful plotting. It's phenomenal storytelling and acting.

TV-MA, about 530 minutes.

Extras: The Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD release includes a first look, character profiles, scene anatomies, and behind-the-scene featurettes.

Also available this week: 100 Years of Olympic Films (1912-2012): The Criterion Collection, American Assassin, Better Watch Out (a terrible slasher), The Crucifixion, Jumanji (1995) - Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD re-release, Men in Black trilogy in 4K Ultra HD, The Simpson: Season 18, Transformers 1-4 in 4K Ultra HD and Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonBarta.

FEATURE IMAGE: Danny Wagner is Billy in 'Silent Night, Deadly Night,' a gem in the holiday horror genre. Photo courtesy of Tri Star Pictures