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SYFY WIRE Violent Night

‘Die Hard’ with Santa Claus: How ‘Violent Night’ sprang from a story idea hatched in high school

Writers Pat Casey & Josh Miller explain the bloody fun origins behind David Harbour’s St. Nick smackdown.

By Benjamin Bullard
(from left) Jason (Alex Hassell), Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo), Alva (Edi Patterson), Linda (Alexis Louder), Trudy (Leah Brady) and Santa (David Harbour) in Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola.

Home Alone already showed us how much fun clobbering bad guys can be at Christmastime. But nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like Santa himself checking his list twice and then sleighing some well-deserved justice into a bad batch of would-be evildoers.

Stranger Things and Black Widow veteran David Harbour plays a seriously smack-handed version of Father Christmas in Universal’s just-released Violent Night, and there’s probably no better actor to embody St. Nick as a not-so-jolly old elf with a grudging thirst to lay down some peppermint schnapps-flavored holiday vengeance. The film’s hilariously savage premise sounds like something that could only thrive in the dementedly immature imaginations of teenagers — and as fate would have it, that’s precisely the place where the story for Violent Night was first conceived.

Writers Pat Casey & Josh Miller (the same creative duo behind the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog films) recently spoke with Entertainment Weekly about how they came up with the original idea for Violent Night. It’s a tale that goes all the way back to their high school days as classmates in icy Minnesota — long before their first film-industry break, and long, long before they could ever envision Universal biting on a movie about a Santa who fights like he’s danced with the devil.

RELATED: 'Violent Night' star David Harbour on Santa's emotional 'journey' and Marvel's 'Thunderbolts' film

“When we first met, Josh told me about all his plans for movies and the novels he was working on,” Casey explained. “Right from the get-go, he was like, ‘I'm going to move to Hollywood and make giant movies.’ That had never even occurred to me as a thing you could do. His ambition was ridiculous. That kind of made me think, well, if this idiot can do it, then I can do it too.”

“Like a lot of towns back in the '90s, our town had public access channels, and we got our own show,” Miller added. “It was like Saturday Night Live for high school kids. It was like joining a football team or something. It was a bunch of nerds who wanted to put on a TV show. We made several Die Hard parodies…just the idea of Santa stumbling across some criminals. That version of Santa was way more of a comedic idiot.”

After gaining some industry clout with film successes that included National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze and eventually the ongoing Sonic franchise, the pair went ahead and let their agent in on their long-sidelined teen-dream idea of committing a comedic, John McClane-style Santa slugfest to film.

The agent mentioned it to a production company, and called the next day: “‘Can you go pitch it to David Leitch tomorrow?’” Casey recalls. “Of course, we were not ready to pitch it but we said we were. We spent the morning getting ready, and then we met [eventual Violent Night co-producer] David Leitch for lunch, and David loved it, and then we were out pitching it very shortly to the studios.”

Harbour told EW that part of the movie’s appeal is that it isn’t simply violent for violence’s sake. Like Home Alone, there's a heart behind all the hard-hitting comedic mayhem — even for his scrappy, half-drunk Santa. “This team of mercenaries comes in, they're going to rob the place, and they have everybody trapped. Santa first doesn't want anything to do with it, but there's a little girl who has a radio to him, and he wants to save her,” he explained.

“As he begins fighting the bad guys on his naughty list, we start to realize that Santa has a past that was a little less than nice. It's John Wick meets Miracle on 34th Street…You will believe in Santa Claus again, and you will believe that he's a violent motherf***er.”

Hey, hoofing it around the big, bad world at night with nothing but a posse of reindeer at your side probably counts as a compelling reason to brush up on your skull-cracking skills — even if your name’s Kris Kringle. Grab a hot chocolate and head to the theater for a holiday movie night that’s anything but silent: Violent Night is now playing — and slaying — on big screens nationwide.

Feeling festive? How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (the 1966 animated special) is now streaming on Peacock.