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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT -- DVD review by porfle

A mix of the "spooky old house" and "axe murderer on the loose" genres, SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972) is hardly the campy-fun slasher-trash fest I expected.  In fact, there isn't an ounce of humor, intentional or otherwise, in this somber, wintry horror tale.

The gravely-intoned prologue, in which the Mayor's daughter Diane Adams (Mary Woronov, EATING RAOUL, ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL) reflects on  the horrible events surrounding the old Butler mansion at the edge of town, is enough to let us know that we're in for a depressing time,  It all has to do with the house's original owner, Wilfred Butler (Philip Bruns,  "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"), his mysterious death by fire, and the tragic fate of his daughter, Marianne. 

When his grandson Jeffrey (James Patterson, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) disobeys the stipulation in his will that the house remain untouched and unsold, a mysterious killer begins stalking the premises to make sure that whoever goes in doesn't come out.

Cue Jeffrey's lawyer John Carter (a typically urbane, laid-back Patrick O'Neal) and his secretary-slash-mistress Ingrid (the way-cute Astrid Heeren),  who decide to spend a night in the house while finalizing the details of its impending sale.  As if this isn't enough to stir things up, Jeffrey himself returns just in time to endure a night of murder and mayhem that will leave the quiet little town littered with corpses.  His uneasy alliance with Diane will result in them ending up right in the middle of the film's horrific climax. 

The confusing story will eventually yield a nice surprise or two, but it's basically just an excuse for the filmmakers to see how much of a dreary and oppressive gloom 'n' doom atmosphere they can muster with their low budget and limited resources.  Mary Woronov's husband Theodore Gershuny, who directed two other films and several episodes of TV shows such as "Tales From the Darkside" and "The Equalizer", helms Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller's funereal screenplay in a crudely effective fashion.  The film's rough-hewn production elements and choppy editing alternate between being distracting and somehow enhancing its dreary mood.

Once the killer stops creeping around unseen and gets the old axe a-swingin', we get a few mildly gory chop-'em-up scenes with some fake blood splattered about, along with a dismembered hand or two.  These moments of mayhem, however,  come after long, mundane stretches that are interesting only if you enjoy watching a very old John Carradine (and who doesn't?) or a very young and attractive Mary Woronov (ditto).  Distinguished actor James Pattererson, who died at age 40 shortly after this film was made, comes off well despite an understandably uninspired performance. 

Similar in feel to Bob Clark's 1974 BLACK CHRISTMAS, with the dreariest version of "Silent Night" you can imagine and a score that's almost more downbeat than Bernard Herrmann's music for PSYCHO, the best of SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT is saved for its centerpiece flashback sequence.  As Diane reads from Wilfred Butler's tattered journal, we're transported into a grainy, sepia-hued world that's so dark and depressingly surreal as to be almost a cross between David Lynch and H.P. Lovecraft. 

This vignette occurs during the time the Butler house served as an insane asylum, with the inmates being let loose to wreak revenge upon their cruel keepers, and is so fascinatingly, unremittingly nightmarish as to seem like part of a different film altogether.  Afterwards, the story's actual ending comes as something of an anti-climax despite director Gerhuny's efforts to build to a shocking finale that he isn't quite able to pull off. 

The DVD from Film Chest is in widescreen with 2.0 sound.  No subtitles or extras.  Opening titles (featuring the alternate name "Deathhouse") bleed off the sides of the screen a bit.  The film is an HD restoration from 35mm elements but the print used has several rough spots.  Personally, I like it when a film looks like it's been around the block a few times, but those wanting something closer to pristine may cringe a few times. 

Movies like SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT straddled some interesting cinematic territory between old-style Gothic horror and slasher-era gore while inadvertently helping to lay the groundwork for the tired "dead teenager" formulas of the 80s and 90s.  While unpolished and at times technically crude, it still manages to create an extremely effective and unrelievedly depressing mood (definitely not recommended for the suicidal) with atmosphere to burn. 

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kochillt said...

My Reel Classic DVD is the only version I've come across where the credits were both intact and legible. Caught this on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1977, and never forgot it.

kochillt said...

Having just seen the Film Chest release, and it's the best quality yet. Now if all the people who've been knocking this film for years due to the poor quality of available prints could see it now! Ted Gershuny would be proud.