Universal Told ‘Violent Night’ Screenwriters to ‘Just Go Nuts’ with Action, No Expense Barred

"It was preposterous that anyone with money would think this was a good idea," co-screenwriter Josh Miller said.
Violent Night David Harbour
"Violent Night"
Allen Fraser/courtesy of Universal Pictures

Turns out Universal Pictures was willing to bet big on “Die Hard”-inspired holiday action movie “Violent Night.”

The R-rated Christmas movie stars David Harbour as Santa, who is willing to prove that he is no saint. Screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller referred to their long-gestating idea for the film as the “‘Die Hard’ Santa thing” that was on the border of being self-funded before they hit it big by penning Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie.

“At one point, we were like, ‘Is there a way to just make this ourselves for $30,000, Kevin Smith style?'” Miller told Vulture. “We usually didn’t even tell people about the idea. We didn’t think a regular production company would like it, let alone a major Hollywood studio. It was preposterous that anyone with money would think this was a good idea.”

Yet within one day of pitching “Violent Night” to their agents as an “honorable mention” among other proposals, 87 North producer David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Bullet Train”) was on board, with Universal executive vice president of production Matt Riley soon following.

“We were kind of shocked because we always thought the idea was so stupid,” Casey said. “But, as it turned out, maybe it was just stupid enough because David was loving everything about it.”

Universal Pictures’ Riley had two requests for “Violent Night,” according to Vulture: “any depiction of the North Pole would be prohibitively expensive, and ‘just go nuts’ with the action.”

“The object of this movie was always just to be a fun time. And Universal execs didn’t make us water it down,” Casey recalled. “They really embraced everything this movie could be.”

Miller added, “We couldn’t believe that people were so into this idea at every turn!”

Helmed by Tommy Wirkola (“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”), “Violent Night” also stars John Leguizamo, Cam Gigandet, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, and Beverly D’Angelo.

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote that the violence is key to the campy film. “[Director] Wirkola has often delighted in turning basic-ish ideas into bloody good fun with the addition of head-bashing twists,” Erbland penned. “You can practically hear the elevator pitches: ‘It’s a horror movie about Nazis…who are also zombies’ or ‘It’s Hansel and Gretel…but also they’re witch hunters.’ Santa Claus is a natural fit for that sort of sensibility, and with the added zip and zeal of production shingle 87North (‘Bullet Train,’ ‘Nobody’), it’s got the bone-crunching stunts to match Santa’s panache for killing baddies.”

The review concluded, “In short: Come for David Harbour throwing bad guys into giant Christmas trees, stay for him eventually feeding them into a wood chipper.”

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