Night of the UnLiving Reindeer 17: Vixen goes to Hell

Night of the UnLiving Reindeer 17, the low-budget straight-to-DVD comeback of disgraced director McG, had a lot of promise. After a slew of effects heavy rubbish, and in a market saturated in Christmas kiddy-fare, it is nice to see such an uncharacteristically dark offering from the man behind Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Set in a north Finnish town, Night of the UnLiving Reindeers 17 reopens the franchise with another group of reindeer feeling the effects of the recently built nuclear power plant. Following the events of Night of the UnLiving Reindeer 16: Comet takes Manhattan, when Santa awakes with no idea of who he is or where he has come from, a group of ski-happy holiday-makers must work to restore his memory before Christmas arrives and brings the franchise’s trademark mutant reindeer zombies with it. Promising to nicely satirise the oversentimentality with which Christmas is so characteristically steeped, the simplistic plot promised an escape from a Christmas too often drenched in slush.

With Arnold Schwarzenegger once again returning as an increasingly geriatric Santa Clause, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse breaking the mould as Prancer’s cousin’s daughter’s father’s illegitimate calf, the scene was set for an adventure that might redeem this flailing franchise. Even the addition of Megan Fox as the flesh-eating Vixen couldn’t bring this reprieve to its knees, surely? This is after-all, as the advertising campaign suggested, “Night of the Living Dead meets Black Sheep“. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, apparently. What had once been a guilty-pleasure annual event, aware of its own lunacy, has been repackaged as a straightforward horror which delights in talking itself too seriously. Inspired by what Christopher Nolan has done with the Batman franchise, McG has proceeded to drain all camp and comedy from this once great series in the vogue search for darkness and realism. As a result, the pleasure that could once derived from this exploitative saga has been lost, Schwarzenegger’s penchant for puns obscured by his increasingly growly dialogue.

It doesn’t help either that, edited like a music video, it is impossible to tell what is going on. A horror mainstay, the token gore and violence is lost in a sea of fast cuts and ambiguous camera work. Shot like Transformers, a blurry whirl of colours fill the screen as the audience is left second guessing what action might actually be taking place onscreen. Such problems are exacerbated by the evidently meagre budget the filmmakers had to work with. Blowing their budget on a second act set piece in which Santa engages Vixen in aerial combat, the rest of the movie resembles an end of year play staged by an underfunded comprehensive school for the talently-handicapped.

With Santa by now running dangerously low on reindeers, it begs the question just how much longer this franchise can hope to go on. With whispers of studio interference, it is unlikely that McG will return for the inevitable sequel. What started as a subversive take on the increasingly commercial nature of Christmas and has since encompassed issues of global warming, globalization, terrorism and the very nature of the soul, has become a incorrigible assault on the senses. Should this franchise find itself in the hands of reboot specialists Platinum Dunes as the rumourmill suggests, we might be in for an even more joyless and irredeemable excursion to Lapland.

Lit like a Christmas tree, shot like a home video and featuring the worst costumes this side of a Scottish Children in Need, Night of the UnLiving Reindeer 17 isn’t worth the white padded wall it was scratched on.

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By Steven Neish

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