5 stars

"The mansion...the madness...the escape"

directed by: Theodore Gershuny
starring: Mary Woronov, Patrick O'Neil, James Patterson, Astrid Heeren, Ondine, Candy Darling, John Carradine

(back of video blurb):

       "A juicy, macabre story of a family in which incest and insanity prevail, and the ancestral mansion where bizarre happenings are commonplace"

choice dialogue:

"Nothing you could tell me about my past or future would be for my own good."

slash with panache?

       (review by The Blue Iris)

       What can I say about this lost classic except: what a certainly doesn't deserve to be lost. This movie has it all--it's ambitious, gothic, disturbing, atmospheric, scary, twisty, a whole lot of fun to watch--oh, and well acted, written, and directed...If NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD set the standard for zombie flicks to come, SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT set the standard for approximately every slasher flick that followed. Nearly every scene (and plot device and technique) is ripped off by later films, even by classics of the genre. Even BLACK CHRISTMAS, who was the victim of a fair amount of grand theft by John Carpenter in HALLOWEEN, is guilty of the most flagrant plagiarism by director Bob Clark.(I shall go into more detail about this later, so you Clarkophiles can put away your knives--or unicorns--for the time being) If any film deserves restoration and a re-release, this has my vote.

       This isn't also to say that this film doesn't borrow from other films/directors--but it certainly predates the majority of slasher flicks and set in place the soon-to-be cliches of all of them. Also, the films this one is influenced by are nothing to sneeze at--there are elements from Hitchcock, Bava, even Welles! Its influences never overpower it though, as they can in, say, a Brian DePalma movie. They are merely predecessors--this film puts them all together in one masterful blend that will leave you shaken and wanting more.

       Let's start with everything they did right:

       First of all, they have a really weird, creepy plot that starts off by taking us all the way back to 1920. I know, Fulci did that too. But instead of just putting up a subtitle at the bottom of the screen, we are transported back to that time with the help of authentic newspaper clippings, old looking photos, lavish costumes, sets, and eventually the, literally, Grand Guignol climactic flashback to 1935 that is every bit as frightening as anything set forth by Wes Craven & Co. As in most of the Italian giallo I've seen, I had trouble keeping up with all the plot twists in this one...then again, my brain just doesn't store all the little pieces of information as well as I would like to, so I'm usually the one asking "What just happened??" (It's genetic...I take after my mother. At least I stay awake through them...)

       The very cool plot is rather long and complicated (and surprisingly reminiscent of another Yuletide-inspired slasher of the 70's...), but basically it starts off with an escapee from a mental hospital who claims to be part of the Butler family, a wealthy but troubled New England family who has lots of twisted and disturbing things in their closet. Did I mention it's just a few days before Christmas? On the eve that the family house is to be sold by the grandson of the patriarch, Wilfred Butler, the escaped mad member of the family comes home to visit--by sneaking into the house and hiding upstairs. Where he terrorizes the townspeople by calling them and speaking in a strange hushed tone of voice. Sounding familiar yet?

       The narrator, Diane Adams, is the daughter of the town sheriff who is connected in some way to the Butler family--along with several of the townspeople. Among the townspeople is horror film staple John Carradine. As he was criminally wasted in THE BOOGEYMAN, here is given even less to do or say in this one. Still, he maintains enough dignity and theatricality to portray a man who can not speak yet must tell the main characters what exactly they're dealing with. His inability to communicate adds to the suspense, as the killer leads his victims to their deaths over the phone.

       Ok, so there are a few elements that seem to have been lifted by Bob Clark for BLACK CHRISTMAS. Do I hold that against him? Hell no! (I mean, I can tolerate Tori Amos music, even though I was already a Kate Bush fan...) Actually, Clark took the "insane escapee terrorizing people over the phone" in a completely different direction entirely. In SN,BN, the killer never speaks above a whisper. He never sounds insane--you can almost not tell if it's a man or a woman at times. The killer knows something about the townspeople and he uses it to terrify them. In BC, the killer preys on the unsuspecting strangers in the girls' boarding house by sounding completely off-his-rocker insane. He yells, he cackles, he curses, using different and disturbing voices to throw the girls into a terrifying nightmare. And having seen both, I have to say the scarier of the two is the SN,BN killer. His calm, modulated tones on their own aren't frightening--combine them with the absolute quiet surrounding us as he speaks, the darkness surrounding the characters, the gothic atmosphere, and the incredible violence with which he kills...well, it gave this reviewer chills and a sudden desire to watch something Disney-related. There's something incredibly scary about scenes of the operator trying in vain to reach the various victims of the phone tormenter as he lures them, one by one, to the Butler house and, presumably, their doom...

       The rather soap-operish proceedings are very involved, but suffice it to say, there's more than enough bodies to please the slasher purists while entertaining those of us who enjoy a classic macabre tale as well. The twists and turns are top notch--there's even a Psycho homage in that they kill off one of the leads violently and gorily, near the beginning of the film. I was shocked, no small feat after all the gore I've seen. In this is a lesson Fulci never learned...sometimes less is more. The rest of the revelations in the film will have you wishing it were longer, although this, of all movies, never got a sequel as far as I know. Perhaps there could be a SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT REVISTED someday?

       Plot outline...sorry about that, I don't really have the space I would need to tell you all the plot details. Fortunately, it's more than "killer on the loose kills teeny boppers in the woods". Ok, so the plot's intricate and intense. That's not all to love about this movie. The dialogue is incredibly well-written, even intelligent, considering the films it would eventually's amazing how directors forget to come up with a decent script before they set out to make a horror film. While cheesy dialogue certainly has a place in our hearts (you wouldn't be here otherwise, would you?) it's nice to find a movie that had some thought put into it also. The writing is (there's that word again) Gothic, intelligent, somber, witty, campy at times and quite memorable. It's campiness is evident, starting with the Edward Gorey-inspired motifs and the late Wilfred Butler narrating his last will and testament, which begins: "I, Wilfred Butler, being of sound mind and body--at least what the world considers sound..." He says it with such a straight face, I nearly missed the humor. There are a lot of very subtle lines like that throughout. You have to pay attention or you'll miss them..."That drivel about, no, no...IN-humanity. What the hell is that?" "Yes, well, he was a bitter man..."

       But wait, the camp factor is significantly raised by the presence of several Warhol Factory performers. The star is none other than beautiful cult-film staple, Mary Woronov, who can portray gutsiness, vulnerability, terror, and near-madness, with just the slightest change of expression. She's exotic, solemn, gorgeous and predates Jamie Lee Curtis's scream queen by about 4 years. But wait! That's none other than Candy Darling in that flashback, portraying a glamorous guest in the ill-fated party of 1935. Here she's right at home playing a blonde bombshell living the high life, only to be done away with like the rest of the guests. There's something very sad about seeing her in this role, probably the role she was born to play. Not as a man portraying a woman, just a woman at a party. She would die shortly after, although she certainly left her mark on the world in the short time she was alive. Yet another Warhol star, Ondine, portrays a murderous mental patient. Ondine has no lines and has barely any screen time, but his part is certainly one of the most terrifying in the film. As I said, this flashback climax is truly Grand Guignol, and it looks like it was filmed in the 30's. The zombified mental patients are released by the guilt-ridden Wilfred Butler from their locked rooms. They overrun the main house, where several of the party guests have passed out, drunk. The patients shuffle in slowly and quietly. They surround the sleeping guests at the dinner table. Ondine picks up a crystal glass, smashes it on the table, places it around a sleeping doctor's eye and...yeah, it's pretty gross. Pretty creative and unique too...we get a "Doctor's eye" view of the broken glass, right before's even grosser than it sounds. That's the gruesome climax of a gruesome story. There's a final confrontation among the main characters, but I felt a little confused and unsatisfied at the ending. Hey, but it's a small complaint for a film that deserves some sort of cult status and at least a little reverence from us, who keep the art of the slasher flick alive and well. Here's how it all started, friends. Seek this film out, enjoy it, recommend it to friends. I can't say enough about it.

       Happy holidays and...don't answer the phone.

BODYCOUNT 12   bodycount! female:2 / male:9
(and 1 dog!)

       1) Male burned alive
       2) Doggy stabbed (off screen)
       3) Male hacked with ax
       4) Female hacked with ax
       5) Male beaten/hacked with shovel
       6) Female hacked with ax
       7) Male run over with car
       8) Male has eye gouged out with broken bottle
       9) Male killed (off camera)
      10) Male shot
      11) Male shot
      12) Male shot

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