Silent Night Bloody Night (1974)
SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT
WRITERS: Screenplay by Theodore Gershuny, Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller
Based on an original story by Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller
DIRECTOR: Theodore Gershuny
STARRING: Patrick O'Neal as John Carter
James Patterson as Jeffrey Butler
Mary Woronov as Diane Adams
Astrid Heeren as Ingrid
John Carradine as Towman
Walter Abel as Mayor Adams
Fran Stevens as Tess
Walter Klavun as Sheriff Mason
Phillip Bruns as Wilfred Butler 1929
Staats Cotsworth as Voice of Wilfred Butler
QUICK CUT: Jeffrey returns home to deal with his grandfather's demise and sell off the family house. Along the way, he meets the local town council and learns a lot about himself.
Jeffrey Butler - A mysterious stranger with connections to a local bit of folklore, and the 'haunted' house everyone is warned away from. He's distant, but seems like a good person...if he didn't escape from a mental institution.
Diane Butler - Daughter of the town's Mayor, and a very inquisitive young woman. She does most of the legwork to solve the mystery.
THE GUTS: Merry Triskmas, Triskelions! I hope everyone had a good holiday, and is all set to join me on a journey through this week's movie; Silent Night, Bloody Night. This dates back to '74, but was made in 1972, and stars Mary Woronov. Watching this is how I spent my Christmas.
Speaking of which, the movie opens up with her wandering the grounds of the Butler estate, reminiscing, and eventually flashes back to fill us in on the story of the house, starting with being built by Wilfred Butler.
But Wilfred's story is cut short, as he comes bursting out of the house in the 1950s ON FIRE. And they somehow assumed this was an accident. AN ACCIDENT.
The house gets left to his grandson Jeffrey, with the statement that he should leave the house. Well hey, gramps, you could just NOT leave it to him, and he'd have no choice.
But now here we are 20 years later, with the house finally being up for sale, and someone escaping from an asylum because they're not happy about that news.
We dive into the story of the lawyer trying to sell the house on Jeffrey's behalf, as he and his mistress arrive to assess the property, before John Carter heads for Mars...er, before he goes to meet with the city about selling them the property.
He meets the city counsel, and they seem willing to buy the property, but even at the rock bottom price Jeffrey is asking for it, they don't know if they can scrape the cash together, but they're willing to try.
Most notable amongst the council is John Carradine as Towman, who literally has zero lines in this movie, and instead grunts and dings a bell. It's like they begged him to be in this thing, and he agreed on the condition he wouldn't actually say anything.
So while the mayor, and Mary's dad, tries to get the money, Carter heads to the Butler house to spend the night. Now, this movie could be considered slow and plodding, because of the time it was made, but while they get comfortable in the house, we have a lurking figure, and that keeps things interesting.
It's also a good chance to get to know Carter and his girlfriend, who are clearly going to be the stars of this mov...oh. Huh. That's an almost Hitchcockian swerve to have them offed a half hour into the movie. Moving on...I guess Diane Adams and Jeffrey Butler are the stars now. I admire the balls it takes to do that.
The murderer calls the police to tease them in a raspy voice, and to lure the sheriff there. Well I'm sure that will end well. Oop, he dead.
The switchboard operator (Wow THAT dates the movie, huh?) talks to the Voice after the sheriff hangs up, and tells her that they know each other, and that he is Marianne, and he sure don't sound like one. But whatever.
For some reason as yet unclear, this disturbs Tess and she too rushes to the Butler house. I'm sure this too will end w...Okay, guys, stop going to this house!
Jeff finally shows up 40 minutes late to the movie with Starbucks, and enters the mayor's home, only to find he's not there, and Diane's got a gun. She's not one to assume he is who he says he is, what with all the murder and someone escaping from the institution.
Butler is trying to get into his house, but no one seems to have a key, or be available. The door is locked, so he borrowed his lawyer's car to 'keep it warm'. The deputy who should have a key is off, probably with family for the holidays, and the mayor is off at the bank.
The new stars of the movie head off to the house, since Diane remembers someone keeps calling from there, supposedly. When they arrive, they find the sheriff's car, and his glasses. Um, dude got axed up right by that grave, the snow should be running red? I'd let it slide, if it was snowing, but it's NOT. Also, no body, so that was moved, and should leave a trail?
Diane takes Jeff around to try and find that pesky deputy, but he's still who knows where. But they do find Towman. He doesn't have much to say though...
Towman and Jeff head up to the house, also armed with the knowledge that Tess should be up there too. Back and forth, back and forth...
While they're off doing their thing, Diane gets another call, and before she can threaten something about seven days, Marianne just tells her to check some dates and hangs up.
Tess finally arrives at her death, wandering through the Butler house, and meeting Marianne in the shadows. Marianne tells her to take her hand, and when Tess does...a severed hand falls to the ground.
Which might be the BEST JOKE EVER. Especially for the early early 70s.
After that, we cut back to Diane, doing some research at the newspaper where Towman left her to lock up. The Voice gave her a date to look into, which she does, to give us all the backstory in a lengthy series of images.
We learn that Marianne is Wilfred's daughter, who was raped when she was 15, and gave birth to Jeffrey. And because of the trauma, Marianne was committed to the local asylum.
Towman has wandered off, not wanting to deal with any of this, Jeff returns to the paper to get Diane. She clues him in on his own past like a good Little Miss Infodump.
Jeff has just become more curious about his home, and how everyone is inside it but himself, and takes Diane up there. Again. No more side trips. For reals.
As they drive along, they see Towman walking down the street, and accidentally run him down. Pffff. That was random and sudden. CARRADINE OUT! Did he not show up for work one day, and they decided to write him out?
Jeff finally comes home, and while he does that, the Mysterious Voice gives a call to the Mayor, finally gets ahold of him, and now he's rushing to the house as well. At least it feels like we're drawing towards a conclusion.
Butler the Younger finds his grandfather's diary and kicks back to do some reading, because what this movie needs in the final twenty minutes is a thrilling READING scene. Woo.
It is yet another infodump, this one done in Wilfred's own voice, and he spills all the beans. He reveals he turned his home into an asylum to try and cure his daughter, inviting doctors to treat her, and other patients to live there.
BECAUSE THAT CAN'T END BADLY.
Wilfred got fed up with the lack of progress fixing his daughter and how it seemed like they were just enjoying his hospitality, and money, and house, and food. So one day he ups and frees all the inmates out of frustration.
They rush the house, slaughtering the staff, and eventually drift off...revealing that the town is run by those who were once patients in the asylum. Talk about your town secrets.
Oh, and that little rape thing? Yeah, that was with her dad, and so Jeffrey is the child of incest. This is one sick, twisted revelation after another.
And the journal wraps up with the revelation that Wilf has spent his years living in prisons and hospitals, hoping to one day seek vengeance on the people who killed his daughter. Oh, and the guy who burned was someone else entirely.
Diane gets fed up sitting in the car waiting for the lengthy flashback to get over with, and heads inside to check on Jeffrey.
The mayor finally arrives too, armed with a shotgun, because he knows who Marianne is, or was, and when he walks in, Jeff is armed as well. They both assume the other guy is the bad guy, shooting first to ask no questions later.
And that's when Wilfred finally reveals himself, and mistakes Diane for Marianne. She HOWLS as he comes after her, but she eventually gets Jeffrey's gun, and kills the last of the Butlers. Heck, the last of anyone in this movie. She's not just a final girl, she's the final person, period.
She's lost her father, a man she was coming to know and maybe care about, plus has murdered a person all in the span of five minutes. So she takes the night to cry it out, and we cut to a year later as the bulldozers come up to finally destroy this house of death.
Video: Ooof. This is off a 50 pack set, and it's even pretty rough for that. The copy they used is in bad shape, and when people are driving through the darkness, I'm not sure if its snowing, or scratched up film. Look at that shot of the hand, and you'll see all the white flecks and scratches.
Audio: It certainly could've been worse.
Sound Bite: "Everyone's in my house but me."
Body Count: I will say this for the movie, it doesn't have a large cast, but it sure has a high death percentage.
1 - A mere 90 seconds in, and we already got a man on fire? SOLD.
2 - John Carter gets hacked up
3 - Along with his mistress, Ingrid.
4 - Sheriff gets beheaded I think
5 - Towman dies accidentally, hit by a car driven by Jeff.
6 - Dinner party massacre
7 - Marianne gets killed as collateral damage in flashback.
8 - Jack Butler gets shot by the mayor.
9 - As the mayor gets shot by him.
10 - Wilfred Butler gets shot by the mayor's daughter.
Best Corpse: It's a two-fer with Carter and Ingrid. It's SO refreshingly out of nowhere, and pretty gruesome for the time.
Blood Type - D: It's startlingly bloodless. But there's some good bloody bits when the couple dies.
Sex Appeal: Nada, all stay clothed. Too cold for nudity!
Drink Up! Down your entire drink if Carradine says a line/
Video Nasties: I gotta go with the tense horror of the 'take my hand' scene.
Movie Review: This is a surprisingly dense movie for the 70s. There is a LOT going on. I didn't really fully grok the plot until the third time I'd seen it. In fairness, the first time I watched it was like half watching it five years ago. The pacing is a bit wonky, as the first half hour sits around talking a lot, then replaced the characters but the pace kinda rockets along as people uncover the truth. It feels low budget, and if it had more money behind it, this could really be something. Three out of five hands.
Entertainment Value: It's a little too staid and calm and slow to really be truly entertaining, but there's enough bizarreness scattered through to make you tilt your head and wonder what they were thinking. John Carradine is an example, to be sure. It's not quite campy, not quite great, but thoroughly average, and well worth seeing for being a pretty interesting and twisty little story. Three out of five house keys.