Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Theodore Gershuny, 1974
Starring: Patrick O’Neal, James Patterson, Mary Woronov, John Carradine

In a small town in New England, a man named Wilfred Butler ran out of his house on fire. After his death, this is believed to be accidental. Many years later, Charlie, a lawyer, arrives to try to sell the house and meets with the town’s most important citizens. He works for the heir, Jeffrey Butler, Wilfred’s grandson. Charlie, along with his assistant, is trying to unload the house for a quick $50,000. He and his assistant stay the night to work out the details and, against the advice of the locals, sleep in the abandoned Butler house. That night they are brutally murdered and the killer calls the police, claiming to be Marianne, Jeffrey’s deceased mother. 

Tess, one of the citizens hoping to buy the house and destroy it, gets a menacing phone call and goes to the Butler house to investigate, but she is murdered. The town Sheriff and Mayor both meet with similar fates. Jeffrey Butler arrives at the Mayor’s house and is greeted by his daughter, Diane, with suspicion, as a violent patient at a nearby mental institution has escaped. Jeffrey introduces himself and the two go in search of the missing townsfolk. This search will lead them inevitably towards Jeffrey’s ancestral home, the Butler mansion. 

Silent Night, Bloody Night is one of the many predecessors to the slasher film and even predated Black Christmas, my favorite early slasher. Though it isn’t quite as scary or quite as well made as Bob Clark’s first horror masterpiece, there is a grim tone, dark, claustrophobic quality, and some disturbing subject matter including incest, sexual abuse, madness, and murder. A nihilistic film that looks critically at small town America, in a certain sense this reminded me a little of Blue Velvet. That might seem like a stretch once you’ve actually seen the film, but both films work to expose the seedy underbelly and dark secrets of supposedly wholesome, small town America. Unlike Blue Velvet, Silent Night is a gloomy film with little color or daylight, cramped interiors, snowy, desolate exteriors, and sepia flashbacks, but I think these add to the overall effectiveness.

Star Mary Woronov (Rock’n Roll High School) was married to director and writer Theodore Gershuny at the time and was also part of the Andy Warhol group that largely makes up the cast of Silent Night. This includes Ondine, Candy Darling, and Kristen Steen, among many more actors, artists, and designers. There’s also a nice little cameo from horror legend John Carradine. The acting isn’t particularly strong, but the cast delivers their lines seriously and there is fortunately no unintentional humor at work. The script has a number of plot holes, but moves along rapidly enough that these moments aren’t a major distraction.

Though contemporary viewers will likely not be fooled by the now somewhat predictable plot, Silent Night still has a number of effective red herrings and scare scenes, including creepy phone calls and POV shots from the killer’s perspective that predate Black Christmas by four years and limited, but intense moments of violence. One of the things I love about obscure American ‘70s horror is the frequent use of voice over, which appears liberally throughout Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Messiah of Evil, and this film. In Silent Night it helps to keep the plot on track and, as with Messiah of Evil, mixes the narration with journal entries/newspapers articles and flashback scenes to tell the sordid tale of what went on in the house. There is a twist early on where characters we believe to be the protagonists are brutally killed, a la Psycho. That’s not the only allusion to Psycho, but I wouldn’t want to give anything else away. 

The atmosphere of doom and gloom, creepy “old dark house” setting, actually scary phone calls, and plenty of plot twists make this well worth watching and it comes highly recommended. The biggest drawback to Silent Night, Bloody Night is the quality of the print, which is frankly appalling. It’s in public domain, so there are a number of crappy DVDs available, including this one. I would recommend downloading it until someone comes along and finally restores the film. The film has been neglected for so long, because it only briefly played at drive-ins in the ‘70s. Elvira rescued it a decade later and showed it on Movie Macabre, introducing it to a new generation of horror fans, though there has been no definitive, well advertised DVD release. 
Don’t confuse this with the great ‘80s Christmas horror film Silent Night, Deadly Night

Edit: Apparently there is a restored double feature DVD from Code Red, which includes Invasion of the Blood Farmers

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