Sunday, December 18, 2022

Silent Night, Bloody Night (USA, 1970/72)

Silent Night, Bloody Night is the second feature film of director Theodore Gershuny (30 Oct 1933 – 16 May 2007), whose only other completed feature-length cinema release of note is the arty grindhouse exploiter Sugar Cookies (1973 / trailer), a film that pushes the envelope far more so than this muddled but oddly engrossing, Christmas-set proto-slasher. (As a holiday-set body counter, it beat everyone's favorite Golden Age gate-opening slasher, Halloween [1978 / trailer], to the silver screen by six years.)
Trailer to
Silent Night, Bloody Night:
Filmed in 1970 in New York at an Oyster Bay mansion originally built in the 1850s for New York Senator James Williams Beekman, Silent Night, Bloody Night sat on the shelf (due both to production complications and disinterest) until 1972, when a pre-Golan-Globus Cannon Films finally released it as Night of the Dark Full Moon to little fanfare. Re-released a year later with its current moniker (and some years later as Death House), Silent Night, Bloody Night remained relatively obscure until it reached TV, where regular screenings (including on Elvira's Movie Macabre) and its intriguing cast helped the movie gain some cult popularity. Today, Silent Night, Bloody Night is in the public domain and easily found online or on your local thrift store's DVD shelf, where any number of cheap DVD versions can usually be found.
Told mostly in flashback, Silent Night, Bloody Night is pretty much a narrative mess complete with flashbacks within flashbacks and some doozy, WTF plot twists, but director Gershuny, who in his early days definitely had a penchant for arty visuals and experimentation, does the best he can with what he has and manages to deliver a movie that is far more watchable and entertaining than it should be. Under even the lightest of scrutiny, most of the crucial plot points don't hold water at all, but the oddly nonsensical narrative combined with the art-film filmic flourishes and disjointed dialogue and the regularly interspersed (sometimes even bloody) deaths engender the film with an oddly moody, if not somewhat surreal, aura that goes a long way to keeping the viewer interested. As a proto-slasher, it does stand out for having a body count consisting mostly of geriatrics instead of teens.
For all the blood found in the film, however, Silent Night, Bloody Night remains surprisingly demure when it comes to naked flesh: there is no boobage and the slight and discreet disrobing scene of the truly beautiful Astrid Heeren — a former top model whose extremely limited screen career ended with this film — is indeed slight and discreet, barely showing more than her back (below, not from the film) and a bit of a tantalizing rear end. Here, Heeren plays Ingrid, the lover of the married real estate agent John Carter (Patrick O'Neal [26 Sept 1927 – 9 Sept 1994] of The Mad Magician [1954 / trailer], Chamber of Horror [1966 / trailer], The Stepford Wives 1975 / trailer] and The Stuff 1985 / trailer]); they are among the youngest of the cast, and as such fall victim to one of the later Golden Rules of the post-Halloween body counter: you have sex, you die.
Ignoring the opening and closing scenes with a reminiscing Diane Adams (Mary Woronov of Night of the Comet [1984]), the film's "final girl", the core narrative told in flashback concerns a house with a history, the Butler Mansion, inherited some twenty years earlier by Jeffrey Butler (James Patterson [29 Jun 1932 – 19 Aug 1972]* of Lilith [1964 / trailer] and Castle Keep [1969 / trailer]) from his "grandfather" Wilfred Butler (Philip Bruns [2 May 1931 – 8 Feb 2012] of Digital Man [1995 / trailer], Love Bites [1993 / full film], Dead Men Don't Die [1990 / trailer], and Return of the Living Dead: Part II [1988 / trailer]), whom we see perish in flames early in the film. For whatever reason, Jeffrey decides to sell the house, which not only seems to put the leading citizens of East Willard, Massachusetts — Mayor Adams (Walter Abel [6 Jun 1898 – 26 Mar 1987] of Fury [1936 / trailer]), Sheriff Mason (Walter Klavun [8 May 1906 – 14 Apr 1984] of Fright [1956 / trailer / full film]), switchboard operator Tess Howard (Fran Stevens [8 Mar 1919 – 2 Nov 1991] of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight [1971 / trailer) and Charlie Towman (John Carradine [5 Feb 1906 – 27 Nov 1988]**), the mute publisher of the town paper — on edge, but also so enrages a patient at a nearby nuthouse as to cause him to break out of the institution. And so it comes that body count soon grows...
* One of the many complications the production suffered is that the 40-year-old Patterson, despite his apparent healthy appearance in the movie, died of cancer, prior to the completion of the film. As a result, his dialogue was subsequently dubbed by another [unknown] actor. 
** It must be mentioned that despite his natural presence, the John Carradine (of Buried Alive [1989], The Monster Club [1981], Vampire Hookers [1978], Shock Waves [1977], The White Buffalo [1977] and House of Frankenstein [1944]) is oddly wasted in this movie: as his character cannot speak, he never does much more than ring a bell or make a croaking-like sound — nevertheless, although he plays a part that could have been played by any old geezer, his is, as always, an enjoyable plus to the movie.
As mentioned, the convoluted and extremely porous plot of Silent Night, Bloody Night is incapable of withstanding even the slightest of scrutiny, so one should not go into the movie expecting it to truly work on a narrative level. On the whole, the movie is less an unpolished gemstone than an oddly attractive slab of quartz, and as such it slowly overcomes many of its flaws and keeps you interested. But then, much can be said about how captivating an illogical, slightly lethargic narrative can become when liberally spiced with a saturnine (if not somewhat dreamily hypnagogic) atmosphere, interesting camerawork and use of tinted film stock, offbeat dialogue, and intrigue and mystery.
Silent Night, Bloody Night is never truly scary, though it does manage to drum up some tension in advance of a few of the deaths (especially the first ones). Towards the end, the narrative tosses out not one but two true WTF howlers that truly reduce one to laughter, but as head-shaking as the twists are, they fit the overall inanity of the fairly confusing plot. What is annoying, however, are the occasional attempts to cast a "could he be the killer?" shadow of suspicion upon Jeffrey Butler, especially since it is so obvious more than once that he would have to have a teleporter to be the unseen killer, whose identity remains a mystery for much of the movie.
No, Silent Night, Bloody Night is not really a good movie, but it is fun and is truly appropriate for anyone looking for some surreally idiotic, body-ridden, season-related filmic entertainment that is truly on the far side of, dunno, What a Wonderful Life (1946 / trailer). And keep your eyes open for brief, mostly uncredited appearances of diverse Andy Warhol "Superstars" like Ondine (16 Jun 1937 – 26 Aug 1989), Tally Brown (1 Aug 1924 – 6 May 1989) and Candy Darling (24 Nov 144 – 21 Mar 1974), not to mention some subsequently successful and/or influential art names like Jack Smith, George Trakis and Susan Rothenberg.
Though hardly a success in its day, Silent Night Bloody Night went on to spawn a pointless no-budget British remake in 2013, Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming (trailer), as well as an equally pointless and no-budget "sequel" in 2014, Silent Night, Bloody Night 2: Revival (trailer).
The full film
Silent Night Bloody Night:

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