My horror lovin' mind has been blown by what I thought was another throw-a-way holiday slasher film. I am so impressed not because the film is genius... but because it predates and possibly influences Black Christmas, Halloween, When a Stranger Calls, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I had never heard of Silent Night, Bloody Night, and now I feel like it is my duty to spread the gospel!
Let me try to explain the plot: give me a little leeway here because there is an awful lot going on. The film opens on a man who has just set himself of fire. At least, that is what we think until the camera pulls back and we see a mysterious figure playing the organ while the man burns. The burning man is supposedly Wilfred Butler, a rich tycoon. Butler leaves his mansion to his grandson Jeffrey, with the provision that he never sell or change it. Cut to twenty years later. Jeffrey sends his slick lawyer, John Carter (sleaze-a-rific Patrick O'Neal) to negotiate the sale of the house to the town leaders.
Why do the town leaders want to buy the house? Because it is cursed of course! They want to buy it to tear it down. None of this bothers Jeffrey in the least bit: he has never seen the house nor been to the small Massachusetts town where he was born and this tale takes place.
By the way, this poster tells you nothing about the film. When I saw the cover art I thought this might be about a religious cult and the young girl fighting to get away from it. Not so.
So these are the town leaders. You might recognize one of them as John Carradine, awesome old-timey actor who spawned countless other awesome Carradines. Carradine plays a mute newspaper reporter. Didn't make sense to me either, but one of the many reasons this weird film is so endearing.
Back to the crazy plot. The Lawyer seems more interested in banging his hot mistress (played by Astrid Heeren, with all the charisma of a store mannequin) than doing any real work. Carter and the mistress spend the night at the Butler mansion and wouldn't you know it... things don't turn out so well....
Jeffrey shows up and cannot find Carter anywhere. Instead, he finds Diane Adams, daughter of the Mayor and chick from Night of the Comet (Mary Woronov). Diane, like every woman in this film, is not the brightest girl you have ever met. She almost shoots Jeffrey when she first meets him, then spends the rest of the film trying to get him in bed.
Jeffrey and Diane head to the mansion, but keep getting distracted by mute Carradines, abandoned police cars, creepy cemeteries, and revelations about the history of the Butler mansion. Diane discovers that at one point the Butler mansion was an insane asylum, run by Wilfred Butler. Butler's daughter, who is also Jeffrey's mother, was insane. Jeffrey knew none of this, thinking his mother died when he was young. It kind of explains why Jeffrey is so creepy. At one point he kills a bird. Seriously. He kills it just for shits and giggles.
Things get even more goofy when we go to a sepia colored flashback that explains what went down in the house when it was an insane asylum. This long sequence is not to be missed: it is probably the best part of the film.
Back to present time. Turns out a lunatic has escaped from another nearby insane asylum (what is with all the crazies in this town?). One by one the town leaders receive mysterious phone calls from a woman identifying herself as Jeffrey's mother asking them to come to the mansion. One by one the town leaders go missing. Jeffrey gets weirder and weirder and Diane discovers the truth about his lineage. If this is beginning to sound a bit like a V.C.Andrews book then you are on the right track! By the end of this film we have been exposed to betrayal, rape, incest, insanity, bird killing, mysterious phone calls, elder abuse, mute Carradines, death by wine class, possible cannibalism, and gross sex between O'Neal and Heeren. It's a Gothic Christmas insane killer-polooza!
Many elements of this film pop up in Halloween, When a Stranger Calls, and especially Black Christmas. Killers hiding in the house, menacing phone calls, the holiday setting, the house with the past, the prodigal son returning: all chapters taken from Silent Night, Bloody Night. So why isn't this film more well known? Filmed in 1972, it wasn't released until 74, and only then on the drive-in circuit. Now a public domain film, Silent Night, Bloody Night can be found on many horror compilations. Even Elvira has tackled it! It is not as good as Black Christmas or Halloween, but definitely worth checking out if you love those films.