This year your Unkle Lancifer decided to give himself the ultimate holiday present by plopping down on the couch and watching all five SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT movies in a row. Did he survive? Did he go mad? You be the judge….
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT may have been controversial upon its release, but the years have definitely softened its edges. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting too upset over what today feels more like a dark satiric comedy. Mad mothers may have took umbrage to television spots depicting a vengeful Saint Nick but let’s face it folks, scaring kids into behaving well is a Christmas tradition as old as the holiday itself. As tongue in cheek as much of SILENT is, it does indeed earn its stripes as an eighties slasher. Scream queen LINNEA QUIGLEY’s demise is a classic kill all the way and a featured slay ride beheading of a bully truly satisfies. It’s all much more sleek and compact then you’d be lead to expect and it’s far cleverer as well. LILYAN CHAUVIN, as an intimidating Mother Superior, takes her role seriously and makes a much more frightening impression than the psychologically damaged Billy who dresses up as Santa to dispose of those who have been “naughty.” Mother Superior is no match for Grandpa (WILL HARE) though, a phony mute who steals his few scenes with a memorable, twisted Popeye grimace. You’d really have to be a Scrooge not to enjoy what SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT has to offer. It might not have the class of something like BLACK CHRISTMAS, but it’s perfect for those who prefer beer to spiked eggnog.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 is a scam but, as far as scams go, it’s hard to stay mad at. Focusing on the younger brother of the original film’s killer we are presented with flashback after flashback of the first film. Ricky can even recall the horrible death of his parents by a mad man in a Santa Claus suit even though he was but an infant at the time! There is some interesting editing between the two films, but it’s pretty obvious that we are being presented with about half of an original movie. What we do see of Ricky’s life is that it mirrors his brother’s closely. He too is a tall drink of water that tends to go ballistic when he sees the color red or a nun’s habit. Whether the two brothers were more damaged by witnessing the horrible rape and murder of their parents or by their stay at a nun run orphanage is up for debate. Once we get all the filler out of the way, S.N.D.N.2 earns trash classic status. Actor ERIC FREEMAN’s interpretation of Ricky is sort of ROWDY RODDY PIPER meets JOAN CRAWFORD, and his mid-day rampage on a suburban street is intoxicatingly postal. He too gets to eventually have a show down with the now inexplicably facially scared Mother Superior, but not before he gets to belch out the immortal line, “It’s garbage day!” right before shooting a man for taking out his trash.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT! pushes our tale to its limits. Ricky (now played by BILL MOSELEY) we learn did not actually die in the last installment and is now a Frankenstein-ish medical oddity with a glass salad bowl dome over his head that exposes his brain. Stranger still, he now has a psychic connection to a blind woman. Directed by the usually respectable MONTE HELLMAN, S.N.D.N.3’s biggest sin is not its ludicrous plot or even its ponderous dialogue, but it’s slow as molasses on Christmas morning pacing. Even still, it does have one of the more interesting casts in the series; besides the aforementioned MOSELEY, there’s ROBERT CULP and a troika of DAVID LYNCH alum: ERIC DA RE and RICHARD BEYMER from TWIN PEAKS and future MULHOLLAND DRIVE star LAURA HARRING. None are given much to do in this sadly gore-less third outing, which turns out to be the last gasp of the original’s story line.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: THE INITIATION is considered by most people to be the low point in the series, but your Unkle Lancifer is not most people. Directed by BRIAN YUZNA, and featuring such notables as MAUD ADAMS, REGGIE BANNISTER, CLINT HOWARD and even more amazingly, ALLYCE BEASLEY, Part 4 is a topsy-turvy fever dream of feminist cults, trippy body distortion and squishy jumbo insects care of SCREAMING MAD GEORGE. It has little to do with the earlier installments, outside a brief glimpse of Part 3 on a television screen and it’s Christmastime backdrop (it actually would work as a better sequel to YUZNA’s SOCIETY). Released in the U.K. as BUGS, this movie is a lunatic collage that really deserves to be taken on it’s own terms. It may leave killer Santa fans on the side of the road waving their fists in the air, but this is just the type of funky late-eighties, straight-to-video fare that yours truly lives for.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER saves the big guns for last and by big guns, I mean MICKEY ROONEY. Maybe I saw the television movie BILL at a far too young age, but ROONEY has always scared the living daylights out of me. His work in the film THE MANIPULATOR still sends shivers down my spine. As someone who requires a certain amount of personal space to be content, something about ROONEY’s demeanor makes me think he would not deliver it to me. He comes off as a close talker who’s always gotta shove his donkey-braying, elfin mug way too close. In this movie he seems a bit more sober than usual, but he does do a lot of screaming and eventually beats the crap out of his son. Strangely I kind of preferred this evil ROONEY over his usual more jovial-than-thou persona. ROONEY plays Joe Petto, the titular toymaker, and his son is “Pino.” Wacky Pinocchio references aside, this is kind of your standard killer toy movie, but the toys are a bit lamer than usual. The one exception is the SCREAMING MAD GEORGE creation “Larry the Larvae” who gets to tunnel through a man’s head by way of his mouth and then pops out of his eye. Folks wondering about the fate of Part 4’s main character will find her here as a friendly neighbor offering advice learned from experience.
All in all, the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT series certainly has its weak moments but every once in a while, it delivers in bloody spades. Nothing really touches upon the first film’s simple brilliance, but that is usually the case in most horror franchises. Ironically by the end, the series achieves just what JOHN CARPENTER had in mind with HALLOWEEN 3, a selection of loosely interlocking tales centered on a specific holiday. They might not be the most expensive toys in the sack, but at least they are dependably entertaining. I was convinced that after watching all five in a row I would be crying Unkle, but instead I find myself itching for a Part 6!!!