An unknown stranger is inviting townsfolk over to a mysterious mansion where they are viciously and gruesomely murdered. The secret to the killer’s shocking identity is revealed in an ancient diary.
Now the madman must be captured before more lives are lost.
eyelights: Mary Wonovow. its eerie vibe. the realistic bloodletting. its unusual visual style.
eyesores: John Carradine. the terrible audio recording. its unusual visual style.
“I have wandered in bitterness until all seasons have become as one. And that is a season of vengeance.”
‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ is a low-budget horror film set on Christmas Eve. Filmed in 1970 but only released two years later, after its short drive-in run, it fell into obscurity for a number of years until it was later revived on television. The picture is essentially one of the first slasher type films on record, and revolves around a large disused mansion in a small town.
The Butler house has a terrible reputation: following the fiery death of the family patriarch in 1950, the place was abandoned by his heir, his grandson Jeffrey, but left intact at his grandfather’s wishes as a tribute to the evil that lies inside it. Naturally, the townsfolk are none too pleased as it draws all manners of weirdos to it and their town. They would like to tear it down.
Especially since it has a secret history.
That history will return to haunt them in 1970, on Christmas Eve, following the escape of a few inmates in a local asylum. One by one, a number of important townsfolk are being murdered by a mysterious stalker who makes creepy calls to their homes and calls him/herself “Marianne”. Who is this person, and why is it that each of his/her victim seems to know something about him/her?
God, I still remember how bored I was watching ‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ for the first time: I just couldn’t believe how bad it was. In all fairness, I was watching it on a cheap-@$$ DVD copy, which was likely sourced from a VHS (the film fell into the public domain many years ago and has been repackaged by various hacks since), so my experience was extremely underwhelming.
This time, however, I actually appreciated it to some degree. Vinegar Syndrome, a company that specializes in b-movies and cult fare, remastered it and made it available in 720p – and I snagged it to give it a shot. While the print was in terrible shape (as can be expected from a low grade horror film that’s been around as much as this one has), it was possible to get into it this time.
From a technical standpoint, ‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ (which was shot as ‘Night of the Dark Full Moon’, but was also released as ‘Death House’ – as Vinegar Syndrome’s print confirms) is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination: it’s shot in myriad ways, perhaps even on different film stock (hard to say due to the print), is poorly re-recorded, and is pieced together haphazardly.
But it’s hard to say if many of these problems are the director’s fault or just a the mark of a crap production. The film was made on very little money, featuring a cast of actors known mostly for extremely low-budget films, with absolutely terrible sets (the few times they weren’t shooting on location), so perhaps the filmmakers cobbled together a picture the best that they could.
‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ doesn’t appear to be a D.I.Y. picture so much as a make-do one.
Personally, I enjoyed the vibe of it. Right from the start, the tone is set with the inexplicable death of Wilfred Butler, followed by dark opening credits backed by children singing “Holy Night”. Brrr. The fact that it’s set in a large mansion in a remote location helps because anything could happen in a place like this; it gets all manners of paranoiac delusions flowing freely.
Its awkwardness feeds into the atmosphere: the fact that some of the performances (notably from John Carradine who, for some reason, doesn’t talk, only croaks) are peculiar, that the camera goes out of focus, and that the staging is unconventional, creates a sort of discomfort that actually helps the film because it puts us off center, if not on edge; it’s somewhat akin to being stricken with dementia.
Further fueling that impression is just how disjointed the storytelling is, with some parts narrated by the ever-splendid Mary Woronov as Diane, and others narrated by William Butler. The film begins in the present, goes back to 1950, then to Christmas Eve, then back to 1935 (in a long third act sequence), then back to Christmas Eve, then back to present. And yet it mostly works.
The violence is spread across the picture and isn’t especially gory. But it’s grisly enough, with copious amounts of surprisingly real-looking blood filling the frame. In this day and age, especially after the so-called “torture porn” phase, which was disturbingly vile, it’s nothing shocking. It must have been horrific, however, at a time when paint was still used in lieu of blood.
Between the hodge-podge aspect of the picture and its visceral quality, ‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ creates an uneasy feeling that lingers. Granted, it’s an imperfect picture on too many fronts to count, but it does its job of creeping out the audience arguably well. It’s not surprising, then, that it’s become a minor cult classic over the years; it’s quite the Christmas counter-programming.
Date of viewing: November 18, 2015