The holidays are a crazy time. They are often filled with joy and stress in equal measure, so it’s no surprise that Christmas films run the genre gamut. I love the Christmas classics as much as anyone else. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Home Alone, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, etc. All see annual play in our home.
I also love to shake my viewings up, however. For every “proper” Christmas classic that I watch, one a bit more improper is also given a spin. Christmas horror? Love it. Christmas action? Hell yes. Christmas sci-fi? You bet. The more violent the better. After all, you’ve got to release your holiday stress somehow!
So with all of that in mind, it’s time to take a non-traditional Christmas cinematic journey this month and I’m beginning with none other than Silent Night, Bloody Night!
Not to be confused with the more popular Silent Night, Deadly Night, this particular gem hails from 1972. Why is that special? I’m glad you asked! I’d never heard much good about this movie. Not that I’d ever heard a lot of bad things about it either (other than “excessive voiceover”), but I’d spent the past 25 years or so under the impression that it just wasn’t worth my time.
I was wrong.
This film honestly floored me a bit. That’s not to say that it is some unsung masterpiece, but it is way better than I expected a nearly-forgotten public domain early ’70s horror flick to be. I’m not exactly sure what I expected to find when I decided to watch it, but a proto-slasher with heavy gialli influences wasn’t it. This is 100% a stalk & slash mystery where an axe-wielding black-gloved killer who speaks in hushed tones spies on the would-be victims and whom we frequently watch travel about via POV camera shots. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was a riff on Bob Clark’s seminal Black Christmas. Problem is, that film came out two years after this was released (and four total after it was shot)! Not to take anything away from Mr. Clark or his masterpiece, but there’s simply no way in hell that he hadn’t seen this before making Black Christmas. The influence is that evident.
The particular holiday-set tale being told here is that of a house in Massachusetts, one that has been unoccupied for decades due to horrific tragedies that had previously occurred there. When the current owner (James Patterson) decides that he needs money more than an old (cursed?) piece of ancestral property, he sends a lawyer (Patrick O’Neal) to the nearby town to set a sale in motion. The town leadership, who seem to have a secret connection to the house, are cagey about the idea of it being sold, but ultimately agree to help facilitate it.
Unfortunately for all parties involved, this sets in motion a chain of murders. You see, someone not only doesn’t want the house to be sold, but they’d also like to see vengeance brought down up all they deem guilty of a past transgression that we’ll learn about as the film goes on. Caught in the middle of all of this is Diane (Mary Woronov), who is the mayor’s daughter. Will she survive the slaughter to come? Only one way to find out!
Pretty standard stuff, really. What makes it intriguing to me is the execution. The film has an insanely bleak tone. Part of that is brought on by the harshly drab look of it all, but there’s also an eerie and oppressive score laced with haunting versions of Christmas carols draped throughout. It’s like the literal black-gloved hand of Catholicism is choking the air out of you as you watch it.
Then there’s the bizarre chunks of voiceover peppered throughout; some by Woronov’s Diane and some by others. I haven’t delved too deeply into the back history of the production, but I know that it was a troubled film that was found in the edit. It honestly doesn’t matter much whether the weird voiceover sequences were intentional from the get-go or not. Part of me wonders if they were, if only because of the involvement of Jeffrey Konvitz (The Sentinel), but who knows? All that matters is that they add to the unsettling feel of the film. I can see why they’d grate on some, but for me, they’re an added bonus.
Then, of course, we have the POV stalking sequences and a few brutal axe murders. I’ve always been a fan of both slashers and gialli, so adding those aesthetics atop an already off-kilter recipe was quite enticing. The filmmakers have done stuff here that aren’t “supposed” to be done. They’ve ignored the traditional “rules” of moviemaking, instead delivering a tasty concoction that *shouldn’t* work, but nonetheless does. I love it when that happens! It’s a massive part of why I adore indie exploitation cinema. Rules were meant to be broken, so it’s always a pleasure to see them being tossed out the window in unexpectedly unhinged ways. Plus it has the great Mary Woronov in a leading role!
This is going to be an annual Christmas viewing for me from here on out. I was originally planning on watching the sequel and the remake (both of which were bizarrely made within the last decade), but I don’t think I want to potentially spoil my love of this one like that just yet. I think I’ll save those for next year’s run of Jingle Bell Schlock and make room for some other titles this year.
Silent Night, Bloody Night is an original horror movie. It was directed by Theodore Gershuny, from a screenplay by Jeffrey Konvitz, Ira Teller, and Theodore Gershuny. The film was produced by Ami Artzi, Jeffrey Konvitz, Lloyd Kaufman, and Frank Vitale. It stars Mary Woronov, James Patterson, Walter Abel, John Carradine, Fran Stevens, Walter Klavun, Patrick O’Neal, Astrid Heeren, Staats Cotsworth, Philip Bruns, Donelda Dunne, Jay Garner, Lisa Blake Richards, and Grant Code.