Seasons Beatings!!!

Gory greetings! This special stocking stuffer holiday-themed edition of BRAIN HAMMER’S PICKS FROM THE CRYPT features six of my favorite festive fright flicks. It’s a ho-ho-holiday holocaust!

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

 

SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT (1974)

In an appropriately unusual beginning, this truly bizarre little horror film starts with a young woman named Diane Adams (Mary Woronov of Rock ‘N’ Roll High School & Eating Raoul legend!) sharing her memories of the notorious Butler mansion, a house of horrors in a small New England town with more than a few dark secrets. The Mansion’s reclusive owner, the profoundly disturbed Wilfred Butler briefly returns to the mansion on Christmas Eve 1950 after several years spent living in exile and then promptly dies in a mysterious fire.

The heir to the Butler mansion is Wilfred’s grandson Jeffrey. In December 1971 Jeffrey finally inherits the mansion and immediately decides to sell it. His big city lawyer John Carter arranges a meeting with the local city council and quickly negotiates a cash sale of $50,000. The town mayor, sheriff, switchboard operator, and newspaper publisher (John Carradine) all seem strangely desperate to purchase the Butler mansion, if only to see it burnt to the ground.

As the sale is being finalized a deranged lunatic escapes from a nearby asylum and tears a path to the mansion, hacking apart any man or beast that gets in the way. Carter and his mistress Ingrid are already at the mansion when the killer arrives, and in the film’s most memorable scene the unseen slasher violently hacks them to pieces with a hatchet inside the master bedroom. Once alone within the large dark house, the killer begins making creepy phone calls to the city council members. One by one, the madman lures the townsfolk to their doom inside the mansion. As the body count rises it becomes clear that all of the victims had a past history with their slayer.

In the middle of all this madness Jeffrey (James Patterson) shows up in town and meets Diane. He convinces her to give him a ride to the mansion to get to the bottom of things, and she hesitatingly agrees after her father (the mayor) turns up missing. As the story reaches it’s incredible conclusion the twisted secrets of the Butler family are finally unearthed, much to the viewers shock, horror, and confusion. Graphic tales of incest and murder are revealed via sepia-toned flashbacks that are quite disturbing. The odd, dreamlike quality of the film is further enhanced by the offbeat ending – which finally wraps up this extended flashback within a flashback.

I really enjoy this 1972 effort from the late great writer/director Theodore Gershundy. This murky and morbid film is one of the darkest horror flicks I’ve ever seen, both in terms of image quality and content. The combination of the grainy pitch black photography and the lurid and incredibly complicated plot gives this film an unbeatable dreamlike quality. The sepia-toned flashback scenes are incredible, eye popping stuff and provide the majority of the film’s shocks. Any nagging complaints about the pace of the film or the confusing storyline can usually be ignored after repeat viewings, and trust me – you’ll most likely need a few viewings to sort it all out.

SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT was filmed in 1972, but didn’t see a release until 1974. Sadly, the film’s star James Patterson passed away shortly after filming wrapped. Bob Clark’s 1974 clas-sick “Black Christmas” is often called the “original” slasher film, but many people have argued (correctly, I’d say) that “Silent Night Bloody Night” proceeded it by a few years, and that it features more than a few elements that would later appear in Clark’s film. The frenzied POV shots of the killer in action, the creepy phone calls, and the fact that the killer is never seen are all details presented here first. How much influence, if any this film had on “Black Christmas” is debatable, but there should be no debate that SNBN is a very important old school horror film.

There’s no excuse for not checking this one out. It’s public domain, so multiple “budget” dvd companies have already released this. All of the usual suspects, including the fine folks at Diamond Entertainment, Mill Creek, Platinum, and Alpha Video have released this on dvd – either by itself or included in one of those dvd collectors sets. There seems to be some confusion as to which release is truly uncut, but I can assure you all the versions I’ve seen have ran about the same length and they all look like shit. A pristine, digitally remastered dvd print would be much appreciated. This is a true cult clas-sick, much deserving of a larger audience.

 

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas” is the definition of slasher simplicity. A group of sorority sisters are harassed by disturbing phone calls from a maniac threatening to do awful things to their pretty pink cunts.  The girls are then stalked and slain by a faceless, unknown killer named “Billy” who sneaks inside their sorority house on the eve of Christmas break. Can detective John Saxon trace the calls before the killer strikes again? And what stinks in the attic?

I won’t waste my time trying to explain the importance of “Black Christmas” in depth. What can be said about this all time clas-sick, prototype slasher flick that hasn’t been said already? The obvious influence this flick had on other genre clas-sicks like “Halloween” and “When A Stranger Calls” is plainly apparent. Watching this film for the first time can be amusing, because if you’ve already seen “When A Stranger Calls” you’ll see the ending coming a mile away.  It’s important to remember that “Black Christmas” came first, and was the film that set the standards for other 70’s slashers to follow. This flick still packs a punch many years later, it has more than a few classic creepy and shocking moments within its running time, and it also has one of the all time great endings.

This film is a perfect example of “less is more” film making. The less we know about the killer or his motivations, the more engrossed we can become in the suspense of the proceedings. The less we see of the deaths, the more gore we can envision in our heads. The death scenes are all tightly edited for maximum impact. We only see the briefest glimpses of the killer in action, but everything that is shown is brutal and memorable stuff. This one more than lives up to it’s immortal tagline, “If this film doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!”

It’s nice to see this clas-sick horror flick finally getting some well deserved attention, thanks to both the 2006 Glen Morgan remake “Black X-mas” (which I thought sucked, but was personally approved by Bob Clark himself) and the recent special edition dvd releases. All fans of the horror and slasher genres should consider BLACK CHRISTMAS a must see. I highly recommend the Critical Mass special sedition dvd, which features an incredible two hours of bonus material, including two lost scenes, an all new documentary, and a midnight screening Q&A session with John Saxon & Bob Clark.

 

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

This off the wall 1980 horror film from writer/director Lewis Jackson begins on Christmas Eve, 1947. Naughty little Harry Stadling sneaks down the stairs after his bedtime and catches Santa Claus nibbling on Mommy’s Christmas cookie. Harry is horrified by the sexy sight and runs upstairs to do what any kid in his situation would do – take comfort in a little self mutilation with a broken snow globe.

We then flash forward thirty years and find little Harry (Brandon Maggart) all grown up with more then a few screws loose. He works as the manager of a toy factory and is now completely consumed by all things Christmas. He applies shaving cream to his face while staring into a mirror and hallucinates that he IS Santa Claus. He then begins to snoop and spy on the neighborhood children and rushes home to feverishly take notes about who’s been naughty and nice in his big red book.

His madness reaches a peak on Christmas Eve. Harry dresses up as Santa and delivers stolen presents to all the good little boys and girls at the local children’s hospital. He also delivers death to a few naughty adults that had done him wrong via toy soldier sword impalements and lethal toy axe head splitting! He then attempts to break into a home and gets stuck inside a chimney in the process. He awakens the family in his struggle and while the children are delighted to see Saint Nick, Mother and Father are none too pleased to find a fat jolly lunatic in their fireplace. Santa slays the Scrooge-like parents with a little help from the razor sharp star from the top of the Christmas tree and then winds up on the run from a lynch mob out for his blood.

Legendary director and pervert John Waters not only calls CHRISTMAS EVIL “the best seasonal film of all time,” he also declares it “a true cinematic classic.” I wouldn’t go that far in praising the film, but it’s certainly a unique viewing experience. Hardly a hack ’em up holiday slasher, this plays out as more of a character study – exploring in depth the twisted mind state and motivations of the eventual psycho killer. Brandon Maggart (the real life father of Fiona Apple!) does a great job playing the demented lead. My only complaint is that he never comes across as menacing or scary. He plays the role so broadly, its hard to see him as anything but odd and comical.

There’s a lot more characterization (and black humor) than carnage – so hardcore gore junkies might want to look elsewhere, but I highly recommend this to people looking for an unusual holiday horror flick. Synapse Films released a beautifully remastered director’s cut of CHRISTMAS EVIL that sports several stocking stuffing bonus features including deleted scenes, audition footage, storyboards, and best of all – a commentary track with writer/director Lewis and none other than John Waters himself!

 

TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT (1980)

This one begins “two years ago” inside the exclusive Calvin Finishing School For Girls. A Christmas vacation sorority hazing prank involving a Santa suit and an axe turns deadly when the pledge being tormented accidentally falls from the second floor (?) of the sorority house and inexplicably dies. We then flash forward two years and meet a gaggle of well off sorority sluts (including the lovely Jennifer Runyon of “Master Ninja II” and “Up The Creek” legend) who decide to stay at the school for the holiday.

The sneaky and sex starved girls plan a Christmas bash with a pack of wealthy stud fucks who arrive via private plane and land at the conveniently located neighboring airstrip. The gals dupe their dimwitted house cook into drinking drug laced milk and knock her out for the evening before settling in for a cozy night of romance with the boys. That’s when a masked killer in a Santa suit with an axe to grind decides to crash the party and spread a little holiday fear. The carols turn to corpses and the girls scream ’till dawn.

The one and only David Hess of “Last House On The Left” infamy directed this holiday horror in the proud tradition of “Halloween.” This was the first in a series of one movie that David would direct over the years. This is a very dark movie, and I don’t mean in terms of tone. Apparently there wasn’t any budget for lights as most of the movie is set in deep impenetrable blackness. The choppy editing is also sometimes unintentionally hilarious.

Alex Rebar (aka The Incredible Melting Man!) provided the script which certainly owes a debt to Bob Clark’s clas-sick “Black Christmas.” Pretty young school girls are stalked and slain inside their dormitory over the holiday break by a murderer. Not exactly original stuff, but the wacky double-twist ending was a nice creative touch. The only major flaw is the fact the kids discover that there’s a killer in their midst about half way through the film, which makes the second half of film feel boring and pointless.

The most interesting aspect of the film is easily that the killer dresses as Santa Claus – sporting both the trademark red suit and a creepy looking Santa mask. At the time, this had only been done in a horror film once before – and that was back in 1972 in the “Tales From The Crypt” movie segment “And All Through The House.” This is a considerably more brutal and bloodthirsty effort than “And All Through The House,” or “Halloween” and “Black Christmas” for that matter.

The mad slasher Santa in TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT cleaves through the student body with a vengeance and racks up an impressive body count. Fans of violent slasher flicks should certainly enjoy this, as it features plenty of stabbings, throat slittings, axe murders, skull bashing, crossbow carnage, and splashy propeller blade disembowelment! There’s also an incredibly gory shower scene that has to be seen to be believed.

This one seems to have slipped into slasher obscurity which is too bad really. It’s not exactly a great movie, but I think it deserves a larger audience for sure. A proper dvd release is long overdue and would make a great X-mas present for hardcore slasher enthusiasts.

 

DON’T OPEN ‘TIL CHRISTMAS (1984)

A bit of a change of pace from the other killer Santa flicks, “Don’t Open ‘Til Chirstmas” is about a masked madman with a smoldering hatred for Christmas who goes on a holiday killing spree throughout London targeting people dressed up as the jolly old fat man. The maniac crashes a Christmas party being thrown by a pair of young lovers named Cliff and Kate and hurls a spear into the skull of Kate’s father. Edmond Purdom (Pieces!) and Mark Jones (Secrets Of A Superstud) play Harris and Powell – the dumbfounded detectives in charge of the investigation. Harris himself claims to be a victim of “another Santa murder” and spends most of his time wandering around looking bored.

The killer wastes no time snuffing as many Santa impersonators as he can. His ho-ho-hoing victims are shot, stabbed, castrated (great scene!), and have their faces roasted on a open fire like chestnuts. Most of the imitation Santa’s are portrayed as drunks and perverts, and the opportunistic killer even strikes inside a peepshow! Powell eventually becomes frustrated and suspicious of his inept partner and arranges a stakeout that turns deadly when the killer shows up wielding his deadly boot knife and swiftly plants it into a cop’s crotch! Another cop attempts to wrestle the lunatic to the ground and winds up losing an eye in the process.

The killer returns to the peepshow and takes a stripper named Cherry hostage. He brings her into his basement where he keeps her captive and berates her for “selling her soul.” He also reveals the reason for his hatred of Christmas – as a wee impressionable youth he discovered his Daddy having sex with a whore while he was dressed as Santa. And then instead of seeing Mommy kissing Santa Claus he saw Santa Claus throw Mommy down a flight of stairs. The madman then vows make Cherry his “supreme sacrifice to all the EVIL that Christmas is!”

DON’T OPEN ‘TIL CHRISTMAS was a notoriously troubled and delayed production. The dreaded duo of Dick Randall (Pieces) and Steve Minasian (Slaughter High) produced and lined up the film’s star Edmond Purdom to direct. Unfortunately Purdom proved mostly inept and a director with a background in sex films named Derek Ford was brought in to replace him. Unbelievably, this replacement director was eventually fired from the production and the editor Ray Selfe had to finish the job. It’s not surprising that the end result is more than a little uneven and confusing. Most of the characters seem to pop in and out of the film at random and more than a few plot points are unresolved. The new footage shot by Selfe includes a murder inside the famous London Dungeon wax museum and a hilarious cameo from Carloline Munro (Maniac, Slaughter High) – who shows up to belt out a fucking hideous disco number called “I’m The Warrior Of Love!”

Lovers of cheese and sleaze should certainly enjoy this often overlooked holiday horror flick that features bad dubbing, cheap looking costumes and a cringe worthy score. It’s currently available on dvd in vhs quality in several of those cheap-o 50 Movie Packs from the good folks at Mill Creek Entertainment.

 

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This family favorite begins on Christmas Eve 1971. The Chapman family – Jim, his wife Ellie, and their two young sons Billy and infant Ricky are making a pilgrimage to visit Jim’s institutionalized Father. Along the way Billy asks Mommy if he can stay up to see Santa Claus but she tells him that it would be naughty to stay up past his bed time. She tells her son that Santa doesn’t bring presents to naughty children, and that Santa has a “big surprise” for him that night.

When they get to the hospital the family is saddened to find Jim’s Father in a state of catatonia. He sits in silence, dazed and staring into space. When the Doctors and Billy’s parents leave the room to discuss his Grandfather’s condition they leave Billy alone with the “harmless” old man. That’s when the twisted old fruit (played by Will Hare of “Enter The Ninja” legend!) suddenly snaps to life to warn Billy about the dangers of Santy Claus. He asks Billy if he’s scared, and then tells the wide eyed boy that he should be because Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the whole year. He then informs the terrified tot that Santa only brings presents to boys and girls that have been good all year – the rest he PUNISHES! When Billy sheepishly tells his Grandpa he hasn’t been good all year the mean old bastard tells Billy if he sees Santa tonight he’d better run for his life!

When the rest of the Chapman clan returns Grandpa goes back to staring into space as if nothing happened. The family leaves, and Billy promises to his Grandpa that he will be good from now on. On the long car ride home Billy reveals to his Mommy what Grandpa said about Santa Claus wanting to punish him. Mommy gets angry and calls Grandpa a “crazy old fool.” This causes Billy to gasp and warn Mommy that it’s naughty to say bad things about old people. Billy then warns his Mommy that Santa will want to punish her too.

We then meet a two bit thief in a Santa outfit. After filling up his tank at a gas station the evil impostor Santa pulls an armed robbery that ends in murder and earns him a lousy 31 dollars. Scumbag Santa’s car later breaks down and The Chapman’s have the misfortune of running into him on their way home. Jim pulls over to offer a little roadside assistance and gets a bullet in the head. Then the very bad Santa pulls Ellie out of the car so he can expose her breasts before slitting her throat. Little Billy runs away and watches all of this transpire as he hides in some bushes across the road.

We then flash forward three years and find the two boys attempting to adjust to life inside the Saint Mary’s Home For Orphaned Children. Billy has a profound hatred and fear of Christmas that gets worse every year. The sensitive Sister Margaret wants to get the boy professional help, but the domineering and abusive Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) prefers more brutal means of keeping Billy in line. Bad little Billy gets an eyeful of sex when he sneaks a peek at a pair of orphans fucking upstairs. Mother Superior catches the kids in the act and proceeds to beat “the devils” with her large leather belt! She then turns her attention towards Billy and informs him that “when we do something naughty we must be punished. Punishment is necessary. Punishment is absolute. Punishment is good.”

Mother Superior practices what she preaches and routinely beats Billy silly and ties him to his bed at night. Her brutal methods seem to have a calming effect on the boy, but it all unravels at the big Christmas Day bash when Mother Superior attempts to force Billy to sit on Santa’s lap. Billy freaks out and unleashes a devastating left hook that knocks the jolly old fat man on his ass! Billy runs upstairs and cowers in his room, where he awaits his inevitable punishment from Mother Superior.

We then flash forward yet again, this time several years. Sensitive Sister Margaret attempts to get the now 18 year old Billy a job at the local toy store around Halloween time. The store’s ambiguously gay owner Mr. Sims is reluctant to hire an orphan but quickly changes his mind when he gets a steaming eyeful of Billy – who has grown into a big buttery slab of blonde beefcake. Billy gets a job working in the stockroom, and we spend some quality time with him as he drinks milk, smiles, and stocks the store shelves during a delightful musical montage set to the tune of a blustery blues ballad entitled “The Warm Side Of The Door.”

We first get a glimpse of Billy’s inner torment when the sight of a Santa Claus banner makes him cower with disgust. Billy begins slacking off at work and staring into space like a moon goon. He wrestles with the memories of his parent’s violent murders, which he fuses with his own repressed feelings of sexuality. Things go from bad to worse when Mr. Sims forces Billy to dress up as Santa when the original store Santa breaks his leg while ice fishing. The sight of himself in a full Santa Claus outfit is enough to drive the already disturbed young man completely insane!

At first, Billy seems like a natural in the role. No one suspects that Billy’s secret to keeping the kids that sit on his lap quiet is that he whispers threats of punishment into their little ears. Later that night the after hours Christmas party turns deadly when Billy stumbles upon an attempted rape in the stockroom. Billy stops the attempted rapist from jamming his yule log into the girl’s stockings by strangling him with Christmas lights. When the girl fails to show Santa the proper gratitude and calls Billy a crazy bastard instead he proceeds to gut her with a box cutter. Mr. Sims investigates and gets a hammer in his brain for his efforts. That leaves this one haggard old skank (her name escaped me) alone to repeatedly yell “MISTER SIMS?!?” over and over again until Billy shows up to chase her down with an axe and then put her out of her misery with a bow and arrow.

We are then introduced to Denise – a sexy and short lived babysitter played by the one and only Linnea Quigley (Return Of The Living Dead). Denise is nice enough to spend some quality time wandering around in only a pair of cutoff shorts before Billy punishes her for being such a naughty little slut by impaling her on the antlers of a mounted deer head in the living room! Billy then has a brief run in with Denise’s Van Patten-esque and apparently deaf (he was downstairs while the front door was smashed in and his girlfriend was being slaughtered and didn’t hear a thing!) boyfriend before sending him crashing through a window. His next victim is an obnoxious sled stealing bully that gets swiftly beheaded. His freshly decapitated corpse is enough to make his partner in crime to break down into tears and unleash some of the best male screams in all of horror history!

As Billy’s body count increases, sensitive Sister Margaret and the cops try to track him down. An unfortunate officer shows up at the orphanage looking for Billy and accidentally shoots a deaf old man that was playing Santa for the children. The cop apologizes to Mother Superior for the mistake and warns her that a killer is on the way. He then pads out the final reel of the film by wandering around the grounds before Billy finally slams an axe into his chest. Billy then decapitates a snowman and heads inside the orphanage for a final showdown with Mother Superior.

I am a HUGE fan of this eternally controversial 1984 effort from director Charles E. Sellier Jr. I consider this to be one of the all time great slasher flicks. Exceedingly well made and disturbing from start to finish, it manages to be both polished and sleazy at the same time. This is easily one of the most infamous horror films of all time. When originally released in December 1984 it was met by numerous protests from angry parents. Critics like Siskel & Ebert also went out of their way to crusade against the film. The end result was some originally brisk box office before the film was quickly pulled from theaters and shelved until the spring of 1985 when it was briefly rereleased. Despite, or more likely because of the controversy, the film was a financial success. The unrated vhs release proved to be a big seller, and a series of increasingly ridiculous and unrelated sequels followed. This “franchise” assured “Silent Night Deadly Night” a permanent place in horror history.

Just in time for the holidays, the good folks at Anchor Bay have decided to rerelease their fantastic unrated dvd of SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT Like their previous release (a double feature dvd with Silent Night Deadly Part II that is now sadly out of print) it includes an audio interview with the director, a still gallery, and the hilarious “Santa’s Stocking Of Outrage” that consists of the film’s many bad reviews and angry letters from parents. This is a great purchase and essential holiday viewing.

 

HO! HO! HO! KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

2 Responses to “Seasons Beatings!!!”

  1. Man, great reviews. I wish I had all these on VHS !!!

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