Monday, December 3, 2012

Silent Night Bloody Night (Shitmas Day #3)


Too many low budget horror films suffer from the disease of “great concept/terrible execution”. Reviewing films for this blog has felt like a two year look through the microscope observing this debilitating sickness.

Today, I examine one of this disease's worst victims. Gather around the metal slab my fellow shit-movie surgeons. Our patient today is the 1972 holiday horror film “Silent Night Bloody Night”. A movie with a deeply disturbing concept and an incredibly manic finale, but also infected with terrible, amateurish filmmaking. The film died a slow and almost unwatchable death. Now it's up to us to figure out why. Please enjoy the post-mortem.


The Patient: “Silent Night Bloody Night” starts in all too familiar fashion. The first 15 minutes are a series of unrelated images (some stock footage) tied together by a female voice-over who sets up the back story. This one in particular is of a secretive old man living in an ominous large house. Thankfully we see the old man burst out of the house, engulfed in flames. The old man immediately dies on the front lawn. The voice-over tells us that the man’s death occurred on Christmas Eve 1950. The mansion is now in the hands of his grandson, with one stipulation; that the young man never sell or destroy the place. Doing so could unleash an unspeakable evil. After a few years of letting the house rot the grandson finally announces that he is selling it (so much for grandpa's last wishes). When the news hits the state’s mental hospital an unseen man breaks out, smashes a few orderlies with a pipe wrench and heads straight to the mansion. All of this exposition is told by the voice-over lady, but at some point we need a character to follow and dialogue to be spoken so…cut to:

A Lawyer arrives in town representing the old man’s grandson and informs everyone of the sale. Since the big city lawyer has no place to stay he decides to spend the night in the old, evil infested mansion. Once there his first impulse is to call his girlfriend and have sex with her all over the place (hey, wouldn’t you?). 


Now the story starts to pick up. At its core “Silent Night Bloody Night” is a proto-slasher; meaning that the film is a “whodunit” murder mystery centered inside a single location. The movie is peppered with grizzly murders by a black gloved killer. This particular killer is an escaped mental patient. Even with his diagnosed mental illness our killer smartly decides to make his murder spree fairly easy. In a sinister, whispering tone he calls the most important people of the town (the sheriff, the mayor and the police dispatcher) and convinces each one to come to the abandoned house. Which they do, one-by-one of course, and are all viscerally ax murdered (except for the mayor, he dies even more horribly toward the end).

While the murder assembly line is going through the house (and 35 minutes into the movie) the old man’s grandson, Jeffery, shows up in town looking for his lawyer. He meets Diane, the daughter of the mayor and the voice-over lady from the beginning.

Being a bad mystery movie we immediately suspect that Jeffery is the killer. He winds up convincing Diane to go with him to the creepy mansion. Did I mention this was all happening on Christmas Eve again? Before they leave Diane decides to dig up the history of the house (newspaper flashback!). She finds some terrible stories about Jeffery’s grandfather, mother and pretty much everyone else in his family. All of these horrible things come as a surprise to Jeffery since he was adopted as a young child.


Once in the house all is revealed; the sordid history of Jeffery’s family, the extreme perversion of his grandfather and the fact that the mansion was once an insane asylum where the inmates decided to kill all of the doctors and staff (who knew?). All of the revelations and twists come flying at you faster than Chinese throwing stars. The black gloved killer is finally killed, but the mental damage is already done.

The film ends where it began, with the voice-over trying desperately to sow up the logical loose ends from all of the clumsy yet frenzied twists and multiple cuts from past to present. Although nothing set up in the opening is ever answered (the house was never evil, but the fucking people living in it sure were) the constant reinventing of the story made the ending very satisfying.


Vital Signs: During the film's final minutes the various twists are delivered in very interesting ways; starting with the old newspaper search that leads to a flashback of still images, then to the discovery of the old man’s diary that transitions to a full sepia toned flashback that heavily homage’s “Night of the Living Dead”. Finally, the actual reveal of the killer’s identity, which is done by the black gloved maniac screaming to Diane who he really is (I am not kidding the guy just comes right out and says it). 
The murders in Silent Night Bloody Night are simple, brutal and shocking. The double ax murder during the Lawyer's foreplay with his lady friend is the stand out, but a shovel bludgeoning and a killing in pitch darkness (with only a flashlight illuminating the victim's face) are also very creative kills.

Cause of Death: The filmmaking is as amateurish as a shot-on-VHS movie from the 80s and as ugly looking as a stag film. The voice-over is blatantly dropped in because none of the plot makes sense and the entire beginning of the movie feels like an industrial film from the 60s. The pace is sloooooow until the last act and then the cramming of crazy twists begin.
There is also no main character. It's not Diane, her importance to the story is only revealed in the last minute of the film. The rest of the time she is a passive observer. It's not Jeffery because, although he is very important to the plot, he doesn't physically show up until half way through. Then he just plays the obvious red herring the rest of the way.
Visually the movie is a mix between mud and clown make-up, not good.

Death Certificate: By the end of "Silent Night Bloody Night" brutal secrets hiding incest, mental illness, obsession and mass murder are uncovered. But to get there we had to plod through a very mundane (although surprisingly violent) 60s murder mystery that was ugly to look at and confusing to follow. Did the filmmakers know the bombshells at the end were going to change everything? Or did they realize during filming they had a turd and quickly spiced up the ending so the film wasn't a total waste? The answer is something we may never know. Then there is the narrative damage-control of shoehorning a voice-over to bookend the film. That is inexcusable.
What is certain is that "Silent Night Bloody Night" fought bravely before succumbing to a fate that is all too common in the B-movie world, the "great story, but no talent to tell it" syndrome also known as the "great concept/terrible execution” disease. I want to thank everyone for reading this forensic report. I hope future makers of trash-cinema see "Silent Night Bloody Night" as a cautionary tale. Go for broke or go home. Merry Shitmas.



Chris_Gormley



1 comment:

  1. Killer Santa. Watch out! This movie blown me away!

    Cleo Rogers (Backpacking Hawaii)

    ReplyDelete