APRIL 19, 2009
A week or so ago I picked up a copy of Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! at a used VHS store near my home, for no other reason than that I found myself in an honest to god used VHS store. They had a few DVDs and a pitiful collection of used console games as well (nothing current gen), but the store was by and large a VHS reseller, which is admirable in today's market. And since SNDN 3 has never been released on DVD (in fact, 2 is the only sequel that was, and that is long out of print), I figured it was 3 dollars well spent.
I just wish the movie was as nostalgically charming. It's an OK enough slasher for the period (late 80s), but it's missing the mean-spirited feel (read: appeal) of the first two films. A grandmother is killed, but it's not played for wiseass laughs. Given director Monte Hellman's exploitation/grindhouse background, you would expect him to be an ideal choice to take on the 3rd entry in this notoriously insane franchise, but he had to go and try to make it all serious and shit.
Well, as serious as a movie in which the killer's brain is exposed and thus protected by some sort of glass bowl with an electronic gizmo on it can be, anyway. Bill Moseley himself plays Ricky this time around, and he's obviously a much better actor than Eric Freeman, the movie doesn't give him much to do beyond lumber around like Karloff's Monster and occasionally kill someone. His only real line of dialogue in the movie comes at the very end, when a ghostly apparition of Ricky appears and wishes us a happy new year, for some reason.
Also, speaking of Ricky, the movie flashes back to the first film's initial murder sequence, where Ricky's parents are killed. But for whatever reason, they make us try to think that it is a young Ricky in these scenes. At the time of the murders, Ricky was just a baby, and the clips edit his character out entirely, so an ignorant audience would probably think that the shots of young Billy are supposed to be Ricky. This allows part 2 footage to be skipped entirely as well.
Odd aside - Ricky hops on the 101 freeway to get to the house where most of the action takes place. The last time I saw the 101 depicted in a movie was another holiday slasher: Home Sweet Home (which also had a family getting offed instead of the usual group of friends). Weird.
One thing I did like a lot was the fate of the killer. Rather than definitively kill him off, or have him come back to life as a way of promising another sequel, we just have an EMT take the body away on a gurney while saying "If we hurry we can save his life" or something to that effect. More slashers should take this route, it horror-movie-logically leaves it open for a sequel without actively promising one. Of course, we all know that the next film had the Ricky character popping up but otherwise it had nothing to do with the first 3 films, so I guess they split the difference.
Another enjoyable quirk of the movie is the Robert Culp character. He seems added into the movie via reshoots (he doesn't even appear until a half hour or so into the movie, and only meets the heroine in the film's final shot), but his scenes are wonderfully offbeat. Many of them are shared with a pretentious psychiatrist, who doesn't appreciate Culp's sense of humor. Culp also spends 2-3 minutes of screentime professing his love for his new "cellular telephone" (which can store 100 contacts!) and trying to save money on his bill by getting the shrink to sign up on his referral. Given the film's surprising lack of violence (the body count is like, four), at least the bulk of the non-horror scenes aren't without entertainment value.
I also loved the opening nightmare sequence, which seemed taken from an Italian film. It's a rare nightmare scene in a horror movie that actually realistically depicts a dream, with illogically laid out locations, shifting tones and "plots", etc. It's also the only real setpiece of note in the film, as the kill/attack scenes are rather lazy. One in particular was pretty damn laughable - Ricky smashes through the door and grabs Laura Harring (!), and neither the heroine or Harring's boyfriend (the heroine's brother) really react. The heroine just mutters "he can't be stopped", and the brother/boyfriend makes a feeble attempt to pull the arm off, before briskly walking to the kitchen to grab a knife. There's no music or anything either, making it possibly the most casual attack scene in horror movie history. I've seen off-screen kills with more gravitas.
Back to the brother/boyfriend - those lines are made awfully thin by the fact that Harring looks a lot like the girl playing the sister (someone named Samantha Scully). Not only does it make some shots momentarily confusing, it also adds a likely unintentional layer to the film. We have this girl who keeps saying how her brother is the only thing she has in the world, and the dude has a girlfriend that looks just like her.
So I dunno, it's a disappointing SNDN entry, but still more or less a serviceable slasher. You get to see two future stars in early roles and shameless use of clips from The Terror (a film on which Hellman served as one of the many uncredited directors), and a guy stumble around with a mixing bowl on his head. You can do a lot worse.
What say you?