DECEMBER 22, 2014
I first watched Silent Night, Bloody Night only a few weeks into HMAD's run, and I didn't think too much of it at the time. I will chalk it up to three things: one is the season; it's a Christmas (ish) movie that I watched in March. Not that a movie has to be timely to be enjoyed (Die Hard is awesome every day of the year), but for non-bona fide classics like this, it certainly helps to be in the seasonal mood. The second thing was the transfer; I'd have to pull it out to be positive, but I'm pretty sure the copy I watched on Amazon was an improvement, as there was only one brief section where it was too dark to see clearly, and the rest would have been one of the better transfers on my Mill Creek sets (for what little that is worth, yes yes I am aware). When you're straining your eyes and ears, it's going to just make the experience a less than pleasant one, even if it's the best movie of all time.
The third is what I already mentioned - it was early into HMAD's run. I hadn't been exposed to too many bad movies yet, so the grading curve has changed. I've also mellowed out a lot, and thus I'm more forgiving of lousy editing or confusing plot development than I was 6-7 years ago. I'm guessing there are a lot of movies in this "perfectly decent" category that got negative reviews as a result, and if I had the time I'd go back and revisit more of these older films to see if my opinion changed, but that likely won't ever happen so just accept this one "apology" as a Christmas gift to you longtime HMADers.
One of the things I definitely didn't give the movie enough credit for the first time around is a genuinely good mystery/whodunit, which skirts on the edge of being a cheat without actually going into that territory (which, if you think about it, is something they should all do, otherwise it'll be too easy to solve). The ownership of a house is at the movie's center, and someone unseen is knocking off just about everyone involved with it (the lawyer handling the sale, the town's mayor, etc), with all signs pointing to the owner's grandson, who showed up in town just as A. the murders started occurring and B. someone escaped from the nearby mental institute. Of course, if it IS him it'd be way too easy, but picking who it is out of the other suspects isn't so easy. Again, it's a bit of a cheat, but as always I have to hint that movies are a visual medium and if you merely HEAR about something then it probably isn't as cut and dry as we've been led to believe.
But how the mystery is explained does leave something to be desired, as it's done both with clunkily inserted flashbacks and at least two narrators. I know someone sitting there reciting pages of exposition isn't exactly thrilling, but I'll take that over the feeling that you're suddenly watching a different movie, as major plot points are spelled out/explained via people we don't see in the main part of the movie. If the IMDb is to be trusted, and it never should be, the movie was shot over a period of 2 years, so perhaps this sort of thing is the result of losing actors/locations and having to smooth over plot holes with new stuff that wasn't intended to be there originally.
The funny thing is, if that WAS the case, then maybe that would explain the POV shots, completely rare at the time and, like the flashbacks, a bit erratically used here. Still, the movie is a proto-slasher, and whenever you credit Halloween with some of these techniques someone will correct you and say Black Christmas did it first, but this actually came before both of them! And with the movie involving creepy phone calls and, as the title suggests, Christmas, it's a bit suspicious at times - was Bob Clark and/or Roy Moore influenced by this little drive-in cheapie? It languished in obscurity until the 80s (apparently it took an Elvira airing to come back into what passes for its popularity), so it's possible no one of note would have noticed the similarities back then, and Black Christmas itself was kind of obscure for a while (it was not a big success, and had multiple titles - including Silent Night EVIL Night, hilariously enough - that made it harder to stake a claim to anything).
Like Black Christmas, the holiday isn't really important to the plot the same way it is for Silent Night Deadly Night (or even the Black Christmas remake). There's a poorly decorated tree in Mary Woronov's house, and I guess the holiday is why no one's around, but otherwise that's about it. There's some snow on the ground but most of the movie takes place inside anyway, so that's hardly a holiday trapping. But there's something about it that taps into that darker, lonelier side of Christmas, for the folks without families or spouses nearby to spend it with. I remember when I first moved to LA, my wife was still in Mass (where this movie takes place! Filmed in NY though) when Christmas rolled around, and so I spent it alone; I went to a depressing double feature (Munich and Wolf Creek) and ate takeout from Fatburger. I think that's when I started playing Final Fantasy VII again too (this was my 4th attempt, and the first successful one as I finished it this time!). In short, it was pretty dire, and that's the kind of Christmas presented in this movie - our hero arrives in town and knows no one, our heroine is waiting for her dad to come over for their annual meal together (just the two of them), and it's just dark and quiet and sad. Plus there's a guy axing people to death.
Speaking of Arlington, I was tickled all over again by the movie's depiction of the city. It's a pretty bustling suburb, bordering on regular city (its only a town over from Cambridge, so that sort of spills over), but the movie would have you believe it's a very sparse small town, where your neighbor is a mile away or whatever. Since it wasn't shot in MA I assume they just picked a random name from the Big Book Of Massachusetts City Names rather than check to see which ones looked like the town in their movie. If you're a MA resident, think more Western Mass, like Sunderland or something - that's what their "Arlington" is like here. It doesn't really matter to the plot or anything, but it amused me as a former resident who now lives in LA - if you're faking LA somewhere you'll get caught instantly, but I bet most Bloody Night viewers figured it was pretty accurate.
Due to its public domain status, the movie is a budget pack staple, and while I guess there's an edition from Film Chest that is pretty good (albeit still full frame), the odds of a proper special edition are slim. Director/writer Theodore Gershuny and most of the cast (Patrick O'Neal, John Carradine, James Patterson, Walter Abel, etc) are dead; Mary Woronov is the only one of note still around, and she divorced Gershuny sometime after this movie's completion so my guess is her memories of the experience aren't fond (then again, maybe they'll make for an amazing commentary). I just compared the one on Amazon Prime Instant to the one on Youtube and Amazon's is much better (the Youtube one matches up with my memory of the Chilling Classics version; I'd have to dig it out to be sure and I assure you I won't be bothering to do that), so if you're a Prime member you'll be fine with that rather than shelling out money for a DVD that's probably not much better, if at all (the reviews claim it's merely better than they've seen; no one's exactly calling it demo quality material). Either way, give it a look if you're not in the mood to rewatch Black Christmas this year. The proto slasher elements alone make it a must see for fans of the sub-genre, but unlike some others, it's got more value than merely being a curiosity. As busy as I am, I'm glad I gave it another chance.
What say you?