Before Michael Myers ran rampant on Halloween night, and before Billy began picking off sorority sisters one Christmas weekend, there was another slasher film unleashed upon the world in which a mysterious killer wreaked havoc one dark Christmas Eve. Though Silent Night, Deadly Night gets all the (undue) love, it was the similarly titled Silent Night, Bloody Night (aka the oddly spelled Deathouse) that beat all these folks to the punch. It's a title that for one reason or another has eluded me for all the years of my horror-lovin' life. In my youth, the obscurity of the actors involved likely turned me off, and as I approached my "adult" years, bad word of mouth/reputation likely continued my disinterest.
So when I received this screener of Film Chest's upcoming restored edition of the film, I thought, "Yes, damn it - we're finally going to do this."
The film opens with a somewhat docudrama approach, complete with voice-over filling in the audience on the history of the Butler home. One Christmas Eve, an accidental (?) fire claims the life of Wilford Butler and the house is left silent and empty. Years later, the house is inherited by Wilford's grandson, Jeffrey, who is only interested in selling it. The townspeople aren't too keen with that, as they just know there's something not right about the old place, and they'd rather people just stay away. Jeffrey's lawyer takes up temporary residence in the house with his wife while he awaits the decision of the townspeople whether they want to outright buy the house to keep it unoccupied. And don't you know it? The house isn't as empty as everyone thought. And that's when the bodies start to drop.
Though Silent Night, Bloody Night is, if we're being honest, rather poorly made from a technical standpoint, it does get points for endeavoring to create a creepy tone established on mood, the harsh wintry conditions, and a disturbing mythology. It's worth watching for that reason alone. And it's interesting to see infamous horror tropes show up in cinema history far earlier than expected. Halloween gets a lot of credit for showing the killer's point of view, though that was previously explored in Black Christmas...which created a lot of tension by utilizing mysterious made by a whispering caller...which earlier appeared in this, Silent Night, Blood Night.
But sadly the film falls victim to so many other low budget film-making pitfalls. This is the kind of film where the musical score cuts-out the same time that the scene ends; where the audio track doesn't always match the action on-screen; where the direction relies almost exclusively on point-and-shoot techniques; and whose own rickety and inconsistently colored picture suggests that this was a film that wasn't really worth treasuring.
Which is kind of a shame, because Silent Night, Deadly Night had potential. It satisfied my own personal requirements for a quality horror film: an isolated location, a moody atmosphere, an intriguing mythology, and a cast of (gasp) adults! There is a chilly Hammer-esque approach using darkness and shadow, and at times an unnerving feeling...there's just not enough of it.
As the ad above boasts, this version released by Film Chest was harvested from an original 35mm negative. I don't know the history of the different releases this film has seen, but being that I believe it's in the public domain, there have been dozens. This particular version, impressive picture or not (and it's merely okay), might be the first time ever the film is appearing in widescreen on a home video format. That, alone, should warrant a purchase from fans of the film.
This Film Chest restored edition of Silent Night, Bloody Night streets December 10. Give it a whirl and see if I'm wrong.