It’s Christmas Eve in a small New England town where the owner of the long-abandoned Butler Estate, Jeremy Butler (James Patterson), is looking to unload his property and the many horrific secrets it contains, which include deception, sexual abuse and murder.
Directed by Theodore Gershuny, Silent Night, Bloody Night is a holiday themed slasher film that employs many of the traits that would come to be standard fare for the genre in the years following its release. You have a secluded location, a mysterious killer who stalks potential victims (sometimes by way of menacing phone calls) before going in for the kill, and while not overly violent by any means, there is certainly some effective bloodletting to be had by way of various types of murder weapons. Point-of-view is impressively utilized to show the world from the unknown killer’s perspective, something that would go on to become a slasher standard after the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween.
Of course, slasher films in general were greatly inspired by the Giallo films from Italy, and regardless of being the earliest example of a proper holiday slasher film – even predating Black Christmas by a few years – Silent Night, Bloody Night certainly owes a huge debt to the Gialli that came before it. This comes specifically with the tactic of featuring an unknown assailant adorned with black leather gloves as well as the attempts to misdirect the viewer with a handful of mostly ineffective red herrings.
When it comes to the actual story, it’s fair to say that Silent Night, Bloody Night has a lot going on. My brief description from the start of this post barely scratches the surface, as the film is so plot heavy that nearly 50% of the movie requires narration, much of which is provided by the movie’s lead character, Diane (played by a lovely Mary Woronov). Using voice over for expositional purposes is, for all intents and purposes, a cheap tactic; however, Silent Night, Bloody Night has such an ambitious plot that narration is quite necessary. Furthermore, the narration is used well and actually adds to the overall atmosphere that the film gives off.
What sets Silent Night, Bloody Night apart from many holiday slasher films is the creepy tone it so perfectly exudes. Despite its incredibly low-budget, there lies a tangible layer of Gothic ambience that is quite similar to films such as Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls. Silent Night, Bloody Night has a cold feeling about it, and not just in the physical sense. There’s a somberness about all aspects of the film, as it emanates a feeling of complete and utter despair, something of which comes through in everything from the locations, the set design, the music, the pace, and of course the exceptional cinematography by Adam Giffard.
Where everything seems to come together both in terms of plot and filmmaking technique is best portrayed in the film’s final act with a flashback sequence that runs nearly 13 minutes long. This sequence reveals the dark and demented history of the Butler Estate that has plagued the residents of the surrounding community for over 20 years. Blanketed beneath a hauntingly effective rendition of “Silent Night,” the surreal sepia tone photography hypnotically entrances the viewer into a world where a foreboding sense of madness is imminent. What is revealed in these moments is both fascinating and frightening, and these elements are greatly elevated in the way the segment is technically put together.
I’ve had the opportunity to see Silent Night, Bloody Night on a handful of occasions over the years – even reviewing it back in 2009 – and it’s come to be one of my favorite holiday set horror films. Film Chest recently released restored the film for DVD, and the difference between their restoration and any copy I have seen on YouTube or from a Mill Creek set is quite incredible. However, that’s not to say the film looks amazing, as this release is still filled with many imperfections, all of which can be forgiven considering Film Chest likely cannot afford to do extensive cleanup.
Silent Night, Bloody Night is a fine example of that rare perfect storm where a low-budget and artistry come together to concoct a film that is vastly more brilliant than its hokey, yet evocative title would ever allude to. If you are a fan of the movie, then the Film Chest upgrade is worth the money in my opinion. On the other hand, if you are curious about the film and aren’t quite ready to drop some cash on a DVD release, the full movie is available all over YouTube. Just be aware that the quality is going to be pretty shoddy.