With the remake of Black Christmas due to hit theaters on Christmas day, here's another yuletide horror flick from the early 70s that deserves to be rediscovered. Silent Night, Bloody Night doesn't play up the holiday connection nearly as much as the aforementioned Black Christmas, or the killer Santa movie Silent Night, Deadly Night, but it is a grim little grade-z body count movie with some great atmosphere, genuine suspense, and above-average acting. If the feel-good holiday stuff is getting to be too much for you, then this movie should help you gain some perspective. Also, since Silent Night, Bloody Night was released in 1973 (according to The Overlook Film Encyclopedia horror edition, which contradicts IMDb), and the film itself sports a 1972 copyright, it looks like this film beat Black Christmas to the horror holiday game by at least a year.
It's interesting how well the song "Silent Night" lends itself to a horror film. A child sings the hymn a Capella as the opening credits begin. The song soon gives way to an instrumental version which plays like a funeral dirge, setting the tone nicely.
The Butler house has a bad history. The last time the owner Wilfred Butler entered the house was the day before Christmas in 1950. When he left the building he was on fire and died in the snow outside. The coroner ruled it an accidental death, but this being a horror movie, there are no accidents. The house remains empty for twenty years, until rumor begins to spread that it is finally to be sold. When the news spreads to a nearby hospital for the criminally insane, it inspires one of the residents to make a break for it. Meanwhile, attorney John Carter with his fiancee Ingrid in tow, arrives to meet with the Town Council. Carter represents Jeffrey Butler, Wilfred's nephew, and he's willing to sell the house to the town for a ridiculously small sum. The Council, a cantankerous bunch of senior citizens, seem to want the house very badly for some reason, and once they've purchased it, the building will be torn down. People start making their way to the Butler house, and the bodies begin to pile up. It's difficult to say much more without giving away too much. I will say, though, that a certain plot point swiped from Psycho would have been downright aggravating if it hadn't been used so effectively.
One of the things that makes the production work so well is the cast. B-movie icon Mary Woronov stars as Diane Adams, the Mayor's daughter and narrator of the film. I remember her best from 1982's Eating Raoul -- a hilarious black comedy that paired her with her now late husband Paul Bartel -- as well as 1984's Night of the Comet and 2005's The Devil's Rejects. Horror film veteran John Carradine, who plays newspaper publisher Charlie Towman, must have been suffering from a throat ailment during the shooting. Bizarrely, his character usually communicates by means of a bell, and somehow the other characters understand what he's saying. The one time he actually speaks, the words come out in a raspy croak that may well have been spoken by someone else entirely. Patrick O'Neal, who plays attorney John Carter, did a huge number of TV guest appearances in the 60s and 70s, and Carter's scandalously young fiancee is played fetchingly by model Astrid Heeren.
You're not going to find a remastered, widescreen version of Silent Night, Bloody Night; the grainy and scratched full-screen print you see reproduced above is probably the best you're going to do. Because of the film's public domain status there are several DVD versions available from different companies; none are pristine, but they are inexpensive. The copy I viewed came from Mill Creek Entertainment's Chilling Classics 50 Movie Pack. This is a film worthy of restoration, and a company like Dark Sky Films or Anchor Bay Entertainment should look into picking this up. If they start now, a special edition DVD could be ready for next Christmas. I've already started my letter to Santa.