If you watch enough trasher-slashers from the 1970s, every now & then there'll be one that seems quite good. But if you'd only seen that one & had nothing even worse to compare it to, it would never have risen from the turdpile as being less smelly.
Such is the case with Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974); aka, Death House or Night of the Dark Full Moon. It has an awful yet appealingly disgusting performance from John Carradine as a sickly, decrepit, half-deaf geezer nearly unable to talk but liking to get attention by smacking a bell interrupting others' conversations. When his character is hit by a car, a rather spry stunt man failed utterly to convey the possibility that that was actually Carradine.
There are a few other almost-registering character performances such as Tess (Fran Stevens) the birdkeeping chubby old victim. Certainly this film can't be accused of the usual misogynous desire to off mainly beautiful girls, or the chubby old birder would've been a gorgeous teen or over made-up hooker.
It also has an effective soundtrack which turns a Christmas carol into horror music. The soundtrack is about the only reminder that this horror tale takes place over the holidays, as it otherwise appears to be a town wherein nobody celebrates Christmas. And perhaps it's proper that they shouldn't, given the local history of what Christmas means in a place of incest & madness.
An heir to the Butler estate (James Patterson as Jeffrey) has not returned to the old manse in many a year, but has now shown up along with a real estate attorney to sell the place. Someone who resides in the state mental asylum (& it isn't revealed who until the end) somehow finds out that the mansion is about to be sold & escapes on a mission of revenge.
A convoluted mystery plot unfolds, punctuated with moments of slaughter, centering around a nasty bit of history to the Butler mansion which had itself once been a madhouse, until one Christmas eve of extreme brutality pits the inmates against the decadent, jaded, cruel, & drunken staff.
Much of the film is shot in shadow & darkness so that almost nothing can be seen on the screen, & seems sometimes to have been shot with a toy camera. This must've been even more annoying in the heyday of drive-in movies when the film would've started at dusk & the dark imagery would've been washed out by a still glowing sky.
But to enjoy such old junk one has to also enjoy such failed attempts at atmosphere. If you continuously give the film all benefit of doubt, it sometimes feels unexpectedly arty, most especially during eerily unfocused sepia tone flashbacks. Indeed the main flashback sequence is so intense & timeless, it comes off as something from the silent film era that might have been filmed by actual patients in an insane asylum. For this extreme footage the rest of the movie is worth all patience.
Six minutes & three corpses into Don't Open 'Till Christmas (1984), including getting to see a Santa Claus get a spear through his head, we can be pretty certain we're once again in Slasherville for the holidays.
To interrupt the tediousness, more Santas get offed at regular intervals in various grisly ways. But because guys in Santa suits aren't that sexy to show on a screen getting whacked, the Santa killer also likes to kill attractive women.
The campiness of the piece is borderline. Sometimes it seems like the filmmakers were totally serious about this, which makes it all the more foolish. Other times lines like "He was a victim of another Santa murder" or when someone down at Scotland Yard asks "Do you think we might have a psychopath on our hands?" do seem intentionally ridiculous.
When the "pleasantly" masked psycho's identity is revealed, there's a bit of a "so what" feeling about it. There's a last-ditch childhood flashback so we can see psychosis set in from seeing dad dressed up like Santa cheating on mom, which is a pretty damned stupid "explanation," although ignorantly enough the same explanation was offered up in the dreadful remake of Black Christmas (2006), proving that unimaginative minds think alike.
Finally, in the tradition of Halloween (1978), a woman stands up to the psycho & turns the tables, all pretty much by the numbers.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl