Silent Night, Deadly Night 3-5
After the second film, Silent Night, Deadly Night looked like your plain, run of the mill eighties slasher series. Killer Santa, one family member picking up after the other, plenty of sleaze and just as much cheese. When Little Ricky started trampling through a quite suburb shooting people and yelling “Garbage Day!” one really could say “There goes the neighbourhood!” Rather than die, though, the series instead veered off onto most unpredictable paths. The third film followed a blind woman with a telekinetic connection to a comatose victim, the fourth involved giant slimy creatures and Clint Howard (what more can you say?), and the fifth followed Mickey Rooney of all people as a demented toy maker. Although there’s a killer Santa on the front of this three pack, you won’t see him in Parts 3 or 4, and even in the 5th it’s an axe-less Mickey Rooney! There’s no question the three films in this new Lionsgate package are different, but the question remains…are they good or bah humbug bad?
Better Watch Out! starts off impressively in a Caligari-esque dream world of white, where the protagonist, Laura (Samantha Scully) finds her dreaming of a deadly chase with a killer with his brain exposed. Said killer is none other than Ricky Caldwell, the Santa killer brother from Part 2 (this time played by Bill Moseley), who has been comatose ever since taking one too many gunshots during the previous film’s climax. Laura wakes up to reveal she’s been dreaming, all probed up for mental recording from the hospital’s psychology unit. Dr. Newbury (Richard Beymer, Twin Peaks) sees a special talent in Laura, that maybe she might finally be able to communicate telepathically with Ricky after years of silence. Conveniently for the plot, Newbury has her dream about Ricky’s flashbacks from the first film. Even when she’s not dreaming, though, she’s seeing him, and apparently he’s seeing her.
Laura’s blind, but somehow through her thoughts Ricky is able to see. One night he busts out of his hospital room and heads out to see, all zombie like, the woman he repeatedly calls “Lauuuuuuuuuraaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh” (sort of like in that game, D, for any 32-bit gamers out there). Meanwhile, the police start tracking Ricky’s footsteps, trying to come to terms with that fact that this vegetable is actually back on a killing spree. Led by Lt. Connely (Robert Culp, best known for TV with leads in I Spy and The Greatest American Hero, but also a Christmas horror stalwart now with Santa’s Slay under his belt) the unit start tracking Ricky’s moves, which seem to always be one step behind Laura’s. Laura is staying with her brother, Chris (Eric Da Re, Twin Peaks, Critters 4), and his girlfriend Jerri (Laura Harring, a boob job away from Mulholland Dr., credited as “Laura Herring”), who by Laura’s telling gives great head. Good to know. Their quiet little wintry getaway gets a lot redder as Ricky bursts through the door to slay once more. Is he dead, is he live, or is he Memorex? Ask Chris!
Leave it to the great Monte Hellman, director behind acclaimed works like Two-Lane Blacktop, The Shooting and Ride the Whirlwind to inject life into a series that was definitely on life support. It’s peculiar that he’d even touch such a franchise, but he does the impossible in not only catering to fans by offering continuity in the series, but also in taking the series into an entirely different, and fresh, direction. From strictly a horror standpoint, the film is very successful in establishing a sort of omnipotent dread, giving Ricky a Freddy Krueger-like quality of always being in the protagonist’s head. No silly one liners in the Freddy or Ricky of Part 2 vein, though, as Hellman instead uses an almost entirely silent Bill Moseley to great restraint (imagine that, dog dick!). Like the great horror heroes, Ricky is both a threatening force and a sympathetic victim of society, and by exposing his brain to us literally throughout, Hellman invites us to get inside his mind and understand that sometimes the system really is to blame.
While the film is incredibly effective at establishing a mood, what with the ethereal and haunting Brian Eno-esque minimalist score and the assured camerawork, it’s these insights into society, humanity, government and the mind that make it such a lingering delight. Much more than just exposition scenes to keep the story moving forward, Hellman instead uses the scenes with the detective and doctor as a way to share with the audience his enlightened opinions on life. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that’s better sold me on the idea of telepathy being a believable phenomena more than the doctor’s musings on animal sense here. The two oldies, both played brilliantly by two vets of old Hollywood, also really sum up the paradox of the killer being a mere product of the apparently just society we live in. We put him through poor half-way homes. We kept him alive after he killed. What did we expect? The ending is particularly tragic, not for the lead, but instead for the old guys, as they realize their cryptic conjectures have been reaffirmed. The lieutenant’s “I guess there’s a lot of things that I don’t know…” strikes with a sad, nihilistic irony, especially given Ricky’s reformed new year’s greeting at the end. It’s a killer we bore, and you can rest assured we’ll clean him up so he can kill again.
This is a really great movie. Hellman himself has proudly boasted that he considers it to be his best work, and I wouldn’t hold it against him. I’d say the surreal tone even had an impact on David Lynch, who used no less than three of the main cast members for his most acclaimed later projects. At a time when horror films were falling into stale sequel complacency or outlandish excess, Hellman instead tapped into the essence of the genre and pull out a film from the heart. From the old Hollywood actors to the foreshadowing clips of The Terror (also about a man hopelessly following a woman to her home), the film has an old master’s touch that’s so scant in horror films. The script is filled with razor sharp commentary and a sad regret, as if it’s all been one big nostalgic dream. It’s Frankenstein for a newer era, and for 1989, it’s the best horror film of the year. There may be no killer Santa, but make no mistake, this is the best gift the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise ever bore.
And we go from the best to the worst, with Brian Yuzna’s repugnant Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation. You know it’s going to be bad when the first scene involves a homeless Clint Howard eating a hamburger out of a garbage can. The film stays there in the gutter as a woman then jumps off a building and spontaneously combusts sometime in December. If you were looking for your Christmas connection, that’s it. It really ties the series together, doesn’t it? Anyway, after some steamy all-over-the-room sex, wannabe reporter, Kim (Neith Hunter), sees a news update about the dead fire woman. She asks for the story at work, but her boss Eli (Reggie Banister, Phantasm) is indifferent. She decides to take it upon herself to investigate the seedy side of the city to find out just what happened. A burly Asian man says the woman was a prostitute and Clint Howard grabs a giant, not-of-this-world maggot from a vent on the roof. Somehow, those two instances have the biggest bearing on the plot.
Kim ends up falling in with a coven of weird worm loving witches, I think, becoming some whore for their dirty desires. Then Clint Howard, who never seems to go away despite really offering nothing to the story, comes back to implant the giant maggot into her belly button. There are then some scenes where Kim is moving up in work but also being humiliated. Then a nice scene of the maggot oozing an oatmeal-like substance out of Kim’s vagina before turning her whole bottom half into a giant slug as she writhes around naked in pain. Lots of screaming, lots of slime and zero sense. That’s Initiation.
I’m pretty sure this is the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen. Not the worst in terms of production value, but certainly the worst in terms of story, outcome and intent. What is the point of this movie? It’s just one giant, nasty downer of a picture that is mean-spirited, misogynistic and morbid. The color scheme is a disgusting burgundy brown, most of the scenes feel underexposed, and all the slimy effects are just nasty to look at. It’s as if Yuzna showed pictures of afterbirth to the effects crew and told them to have a field day. Not enjoyable in the least bit, the whole movie is like watching a cat decompose. It’s just ugly and without purpose. Yuzna turns over every rock he can find in the downtrodden areas of the big city, and, well, he certainly found something repulsive.
What makes the visual effects diarrhea and anti-feminist rhetoric all the more unpleasant is that Yuzna destroyed the continuity of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series while doing so. Hellman’s take was so fresh, and he certainly left it open for more, so why did Yuzna have to drown maggot vile all over it? I can understand thinking “Okay, the Ricky story is spent. Let’s take this in a new direction like Carpenter did with Halloween III and make this a new Christmas horror story.” But the thing is, Yuzna doesn’t even do that. Other than superficially being set around a death at some office Christmas party, this has absolutely zero to do with Christmas. Nothing. It could be set around any other time and the film would still make just as much sense (very little). Hell, the lead character in the film even admits to not celebrating Christmas because she’s Jewish. What the fuck. Did Yuzna just try to make everything about this movie as far as he possibly could from satisfying the target audience? I want him to make a Friday the 13th movie where the leads say they hate camping and then spend the rest of the film in the city trying to get ahead at work. That would be really great. Sorry, but if you’re going to use the Silent Night, Deadly Night banner, then set it around fucking Christmas. Why do I even have to explain that? I don’t know what Yuzna was Initiating the audience for, but if it gets any worse than this I think they call that the apocalypse.
Okay, so with the franchise continuity destroyed and the Christmas theme sullied, we move on apprehensively to Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker. Well, the killer Santa returns, kind of, as a demented shop keeper with a passion for creating killer toys. The toy store owner, wait for it, Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney!), has been making booby trapped toys that can kill whomever is unlucky enough to receive them. These are the kind of toys that would make even Puppet Master feel inferior. Army figures with live ammo, dummy hands that can crawl around like Thing, a spare maggot prop from Initiation (run out of money, Screaming Mad George?), a face hugger Santa, and a few jigsaw rigged action figures. The Santa face hugs the stepdad of little Derek (William Thorne), to whom the present was initially wrapped. After that, Derek is traumatized and can no longer speak. All he knows is that he hates toys…particularly those that will kill him.
His well meaning mom, Sarah (Jane Higginson, Slaughterhouse) of course doesn’t know that, and takes Derek to Petto’s toy store for a little pick-me-up. Joe’s good with kids, he’s got one himself, wait for it, Pino (Brian Bremer, Pumpkinhead, Yuzna’s Society), and tries to cheer Derek up. You can’t tell whether it’s the character or the uh, perceivable autism, of the main actor, but Derek is nonetheless unresponsive. He keeps getting gifts in the mail though, and whomever gets them ends up dead. What’s going on here, and why is an Gulf war vet following them around as a fake Santa?
After Initiation anything is up, but this is a fairly solid little horror film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Mickey Rooney is fantastic as the tyrannous toymaker. I’ve got to tangent for a second, though. Remember how Mickey Rooney vehemently spoke out against the original Silent Night, Deadly Night (his words preserved on the Anchor Bay disc of the film)? Well, call it a slight contradiction, but apparently he had no problem playing a child killer, drunk and abusive father in this one. He may have whored himself for the cash, but the film is all the better for it, with Rooney injecting a crazy awkward intensity to every line or action that emotes from his face. Even when he’s playing nice, the pint-sized senior is still damn scary.
Although the story and setting are completely different than any of the previous Silent Nights, the filmmakers still somehow decided to bridge this with the awful Initiation by bringing back Neith Hunter in a role of the same name, Kim. She’s got a teenage son here, so I guess she did stick with the boy she saved at the end of that one. Proving that you can never quite rid the world of Clint Howard, he’s back again as Ricky (making that a Ricky for every movie) a nothing part here, although he’s no longer homeless. Moving up in the world, I guess. Screaming Mad George does the effects here as he did in the fourth film, but thankfully these are far less of the slop variety and at least have a bit of creativity. Still, it’s definitely second (third?) rate to most of the animatronic Child’s Play stuff that was all the rage back in the early nineties.
While the film settles into a pretty predictable formula of “toy is given to kid, someone else takes toy, someone else dies in a weird way”, I give kudos for the wild finale. I never saw that twist coming, and things actually get pretty disturbing when a robot starts to have sex with Sarah screaming “I love you, mommy!” I’m pretty sure you can make a drinking game around all of Derek’s lifeless, autistic stares, the movie still works on its own on the strength of Rooney and the leftfield ending. It’s much more intertwined with the Christmas season, too, with people giving gifts, seeing mall Santas and Rooney going nuts in Kringle’s suit at the end. Like with Halloween III though, once they sort of got the formula for theme-related sequels right, they abandoned it all completely. Too bad!
Fans rejoiced when these three films were initially announced by Lionsgate with a widescreen specification. Unfortunately, they’re all full screen, but that’s always been the only way they’ve been exhibited, so it’s not a huge loss. They’ve also only been exhibited interlaced on NTSC television and VHS, and unfortunately they’re still interlaced here. Progressive scan transfers would have marked a big upgrade, but even still, the quality and clarity of these new transfers is quite good. All three films look pretty sharp considering. Part 3 looks a little desaturated compared to the Yuzna sequels, but that seems to have been a stylistic choice more than a transfer one. All three prints are in very good shape, with no real print damage to be seen, although there are occasional specs and such in Part 3 and slightly less in the other two sequels. Generally I do not like these video-based interlaced transfers – Lionsgate’s work on Slaughter High definitely wasn’t a personal favorite, but I must admit that these look pretty good. Considering they’ve been only available on VHS all these years, finally getting them clean and colored on DVD in such solid shape is definitely no lump of coal this Christmas!
All three films are presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0, and I’d say they’re all in shades of mono. No real directional effects were noticeable, but on the plus neither was any distortion or damage. There isn’t much range, but there isn’t much hiss either, so you can’t really complain. Like with the video, this gets the job done a little better than a pack of this type would lead you to believe.
I guess getting these three films together is bonus enough, but I can’t help but feel a little cheated on the whole no extras thing. It’s especially disheartening since you can view bits of Monte Hellman talking favorably about the third film in an interview at the Alamo theater, so for sure he would have been game to lend his voice to at least a commentary on the third. Yuzna’s no stranger to DVD supplements, either, so it would have been nice to see him try and explain himself for the fourth film as well. And for the fifth film, how about a Mickey Rooney commentary? I’m pretty sure the guy is going to live forever, so they can get him when this is re-released on Blu-ray.
As for what’s actually here, we get three films on three separate single-layer discs, all packaged in a single alpha case with a cardboard slipcover. It’s a nice looking package overall, with each DVD easily accessible on its own in the case. There’s a killer Santa on each menu with a different location in the background. He must have seen that scummy world of Initiation and thought “why bother?” Wish I could have done the same. Trailers for Slaughter High (probably better than the film!), My Bloody Valentine 3-D and the DVD release of The Monster Squad are also included on startup.
The Silent Night, Deadly Night series comes to a conclusion with this nicely-packaged three disc set. The third film really is a special find and a thus far criminally overlooked horror film that ranks up with the best horror films of the late eighties. The fourth film, conversely, ranks down there with the worst, while Part 5 finds a nice midground on the strength of a batshit crazy Mickey Rooney. The audio and video presentation are slightly above average, so don’t be discouraged entirely by the full screen interlaced specs. There are no extras, but hopefully this fine little collection generates enough interest that Lionsgate may think to decorate it up by the time this hits high def. Considering the previous two films are out of print and have already been discussed to death, I’m recommending this as the stocking stuffer of the year for horror fans.
I want this sooooooooooo much
Nice reviews Rhett,I especially like your take on Pt 3,my favorite of the bunch.For fans of the film that Monte Hellman youtube clip is worth a look.Oh,one typo,Monte Hellman directed THE SHOOTING,not THE SHOOTIST.
Whoops. Fixed. Hellman deserved to direct the Duke, though, didn't he?
At retroslashers someone mentioned a scene that is said to be missing on the DVD. Can anyone comment on that?
"I discovered a tape I made of Part 3 from HBO as a kid and it actually has a shot of the receptionist with her throat cut spurting blood that isn’t in the home video version!"
@rhett: your reviews are always very informative and a pleasure to read. Whenever a new DVD / Blu is available I look forward to your reliable remarks:)
its possible that for The Initiation, it wasn't meant to be part of the Silent Night series when it started filming, but perhaps was decided by the distributor later on
Good point about these films always having been in fullscreen. But I'm just flat-out tired of Lionsgate's shitty treatment of every franchise they get their hands on. They can't be bothered to do any work on a movie once they get the rights to it... Amityville, Prom Night, Howling, now Silent Night...
I'm also planning to avoid getting this if it's at all possible.
gah! now i just wish Lionsgate could get the rights to parts 1 & 2 and put out a box set.!
Oh GOD NO!!! Don't let Lionsgate get their shitty, greasy, butterfingers on Part 2! Anyone but them! (Calling: Echo Bridge, Subversive Cinema, Dark Sky!)
I love your reviews, Rhett.
I watched SNDN 3 and 4 this Saturday, December 26th after watching Part 1 two days prior. All for the first time.
Part 1 is a good movie but I won't say I enjoyed it. It's a bit too mean spirited, twisted and dark to watch that close to Christmas. I can certainly understand why it’s a classic.
Part 3 is the most boring movie I’ve seen in recent memory. IMO, SNDN 3 is 25 minutes of a bad movie that they stretched to 89. I felt like the director was wasting my time with the scenes of the doctor and cop talking in the car. While the acting was terrible it wasn’t bad in a way that it was entertaining. The killer is pathetic, the gore scenes aren’t interesting and the final girl is an unlikable bitch. I really hate this movie.
Part 4 was a lot of fun but some of my enjoyment might have come from me being so desperate for anything worth watching after Part 3. It is odd that it has nothing to do with the previous entries or even Christmas for that matter but I was entertained throughout. It is very a bizarre movie that kept me wondering where it was going and by the time it got to the final part of the “Initiation” I was not disappointed. I wonder if it had been called something else if it would be more acceptable to genre fans.
I thought the image and sound quality for both were fine.
I think I’ll save Part 5 for next Christmas. I deserve a break after sitting through Part 3.
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