All I Want for Christmas is Calamity Jane… (Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974))

As any horror fan will tell you, there’s only one film that should be watched on Christmas Eve. Forget A Christmas Story, it’s overdone. Once they’re shilling imitation lamps in your honor, your 15 minutes are up. Great movie or not. Forget How the Grinch Stole Christmas too. Once they’re shilling a piss-poor rehash of a genuinely loved holiday cartoon, your 15 minutes are up too. Leaving us with a true Christmas classic that’s not Gremlins, Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Gremlins may have Phoebe Cates, but Silent Night, Deadly Night stars Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000)! Calamity Jane back on your screen, all for the sake of Christmas!

Also, Silent Night…’s opening shot has a man running through the snow, on fire. Yes, the film opens with a stunt most modern Hollywood stuntmen refuse to do on principal. Yet here it’s brazenly thrown away like a cheap gag.

Thrown out as a cheap thrill, but still vitally important. The immolated man was Wilfred Butler (Phillip Bruns), who’s death is ruled self-inflicted. His house is left to his only surviving relative, a Jeffrey Butler (James Patterson), under the strict instructions that Jeffrey is to retain the house as long as he promises to “never change it.” It is to stand as a monument against the world’s immorality.

All goes well until Jeffrey hires a big city lawyer, John Carter (Patrick O’Neal), to finally sell the house. John offers it to the town for $50,000 cash; an offer the township is eager to accept as the now abandoned, yet well cared for, house is a magnet for, according to the chief of police, “prowlers, burglars, kids, they’re the worst!”

Naturally, one stipulation in John selling the house is that he’s also allowed to stay there while the sale is going through. (Stay with his mistress, Ingrid (Astrid Heeren). ‘Cuz really, why would you want to stay in a modern hotel when you could be staying in a mansion that’s been sitting abandoned for 20-30 years. Who needs heating or electricity?

John’s the film’s second victim; meeting a gruesome end courtesy of an axe, along with his girlfriend/secretary. One nice touch is the killer leaves a crucifix in John’s bloody hand; to really driving home the fact that this is happening on Christmas Eve. The killer then picks up the phone to alert both the police and the mayor that trouble’s afoot at the old Butler place.

While all these scenes are being manically intercut, we also learn that there’s recently been an escape from the local insane asylum. Creating just the right amount of tension in the audience, as it’s truly hard to figure out whether the newly returned Jeffrey Butler is the killer or not.

Like Superman, Jeffrey’s never around when the killing’s going down. Though I’d guess that starting a massacre while your house is up for sale could only drive the asking price down. Though if Jeffrey is the killer, then he’s also certified insane, which would make his plan plausible in a “well, he’s crazy enough to believe it would work” kind of way.

Talk about having a bad night. Jeffrey spends the movie trying to visit his inherited house. Yet every time he makes an attempt, something happens. First he, along with traveling companion/mayor’s daughter, Diane Adams (Mary Woronov), runs across Wilfred’s grave, now decorated with a cop’s corpse. Hours later, he tries again, only to clip and kill a pedestrian while driving down an unlit road.

Which effectively makes poor Jeffrey a killer, even if he’s not the killer.

Have you ever seen the film Hollywood Babylon? When Jeffrey finds his grandfather’s hidden journal explaining his family’s shameful history, it’s visualized using sepia-toned footage. Which brings to mind the Fatty Arbuckle rape sequence for some strange reason.

Adding to the creepiness is the lead inmate’s Manson-esque likeness. A nice touch, even if, coming 70 minutes into the film, it arrives way too late.

It turns out that Jeffrey’s, Mary Anne, had been institutionalized. Wilfred then had second thoughts about locking up his flesh and blood, so he freed all the patients in order to make up for it. Inmates who, unsurprisingly, go on the warpath and slaughter everyone. All to the tune of “Silent Night;” Merry Christmas!

In all fairness, the journal does claim that Mary Anne was mistreated by the doctors. However all we can see in the blurry and poorly lit footage shown is the doctors drinking wine at a dining table; which I believe even medical experts are still allowed to do.

Somehow in his haste to escape, Wilfred left Mary Anne in the hands of the inmates, who slaughtered her too. Driving him insane, so insane that he created a crazy sounding will, faked his own death by setting a squatter on fire, and travelled the countryside as a batshit insane murderer. All while the other, real, inmates grew up to become prominent community figures such as newspaperman Bill Towman (John Carradine), and the mayor.

Towman steals every scene he’s in, only communicating via a bell. Any time he feels the need to interject in a conversation, he just rings the bell! Everyone then stares at him in disgust, before continuing on with whatever they were arguing about prior to the interruption.

Sadly the filmmakers don’t capitalize on this stunning portrayal by filling every scene with crazily inspired performances. Instead we’re stuck with tons of shots too dark to make out any action, and characters wondering why no one’s returning from the Butler estate? Perhaps they should go there alone to find out?

Painfully bad. If you ever find yourself unable to sleep Christmas Eve, this film will provide you with a natural, cinematic cure to your insomnia.

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