It's Christmas Eve in a small New England town, where a battle over the rights to an infamous psychiatric hospital with a storied and disturbing history has been going on. The hospital's owner has no interest in this long time abandoned building and is trying to strike a quick deal to get rid of it for good. Besides the mysterious horrifying history behind the asylum that is plaguing the community, there is also the threat of an escaped serial killer running around knocking off the town's bigwigs. For the record, that always makes things worse.
That's the best your getting out of me as far as a plot goes, because Theodore Gershuny's Silent Night, Bloody Night has an obnoxious plot filled with a lot of depth - and a lot of holes that go just as deep. Very confusing at times and told through voice over for at least 40% of the film, this 1972-or-3-or-4 holiday Slasher film is incredibly tedious with its overly complicated story. HOWEVER, there is a story to be had and one that has some smarts to it in many ways. Dealing with intense family trauma, cover-ups and themes of incest, there is something interesting to take from this film's story, convoluted or not.
Silent Night, Bloody Night was made almost two years before Black Christmas, but wasn't released until '74, the same year as Bob Clark's holiday Slasher classic (which I will be posting a review for very soon!). So it's an easy case to make that Silent Night is the first Slasher film and there is no way in hell that "someone " didn't see, or hear about, or even know someone that worked on this film and used it some capacity as inspiration for Black Christmas. Not to take anything away from Black Christmas, which is an inspirational film that paved the way for Halloween to pave the way for the Slasher genre as we know it, but this film's inspiration should certainly be noted.
Silent Night, Bloody Night is filled to the rim with promise and great ideas, only to be hindered by the low budget and cheapness of it all. Doesn't help that most transfers of this film are utter shit too. This first use of a Slasher POV is competent-to-very well done and there are some odd, yet intriguing technical and stylistic choices that work and hurt the movie. Shot in a sort of low light, the film has a very nice looking, almost Gothic quality to it (and the old New England setting helps too), there are some shots that are only lit by a lantern, which had a great old look and feeling...kinda reminded me of Old Sturbridge Village!
With that, kinda neat, kinda cool low light effect comes a wickedly dark film that is made even darker by a terrible transfer of an older low budget movie. There are moments where you can almost see nothing on screen. Not entirely the fault of the filmmakers, but there are some very dark scenes in Silent Night, Bloody Night, bad transfer or not. There are even a few decent kills in this holiday horror with one of them really being a surprise in a Psycho sort of way, as in, I was not expecting it to happen when it did. Or I am naive, which could be the case too.
As I mentioned before, there is a lot of voice over, and while voice over is often used as a crutch for the untalented, it is much needed in such a complex story. Most of the voice over work in the opening of the film is set to old photos of the past, as the history of the mental institution and the town is gone over. Almost the entire last 20 minutes of Silent Night, Bloody Night is told through voice over, but instead of being done to photos, it is done to old sepia tone footage of the past horrors that occurred. It is surprisingly inventive and while being a bit off putting at first, it really starts to draw you into what is happening with how it's done...which is well I might add.
At one long moment, the voice over to this old footage is fittingly replaced by an instrumental version of the Christmas song, Silent Night, Holy Night and it is a very creepy and nicely created scene that had me at full attention as to what was happening on screen. What unfolds in the story during this final act is another captivating aspect too and something that keeps the wild plot above water with its incestuous cover up scheme and other equally awful happenings at the mental institution resulting in the current issue of the escaped lunatic that is taking people out in present times.
Silent Night, Bloody Night has cult status written all over it, with its proto-Slasher sensibilities and to top it off, there are a few nice genre surprises to be found with a mute played by John Carradine and the presence of cult starlet, Mary Woronov. While this film is a bit of a mess and extremely cheap looking, there is a lot to be seen in this little known gem and it is worth the time of any fan of Slasher films and anyone looking for a decent Christmas horror movie. Silent Night is a public domain film, so it is easy to find on many multi pack sets and it is available to watch on sites like YouTube, so you have no reason not to give this one a try!