Monday, December 28, 2009

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1973)

Silent Night, Bloody Night

USA 1973 colour

aka Death House, Night Of The Dark Full Moon

Director Theodore Gershuny Writers Theodore Gershuny, Jeffrey Konvitz

Cast Patrick O'Neal (John Carter), James Patterson (Jeffrey Butler), Mary Woronov (Diane Adams), Astrid Heeren (Ingrid), John Carradine (Charlie Towman), Ondine (Chief Inmate), Tally Brown (Inmate), Candy Darling (Guest)

"It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, 'cos of the axe embedded in their skulls."

There was a fantastic black comedy from 1982 called Eating Raoul starring Mary Woronov and its director Paul Bartel as a couple of clean-cut middle class cannibal serial killers. Its trailer promised a comedy..."but not the kind you're used to." The same can be said about this Black Christmas tale from 1973, also starring Woronov: it's a slasher film, but definitely NOT the kind you're used to. The maniacs truly have taken over the asylum for an odd, arty and at times unpleasant seasonal horror, Silent Night Bloody Night.

Top-billed actor Patrick O'Neal was an A-list actor who occasionally slummed it in genre pics like Chamber Of Horrors (1966). Here he plays Paul Butler, a lawyer charged with selling the house of a country psychiatrist who died in a mysterious fire twenty years before. He arrives in town the night before Christmas at the same time as a psycho on the loose, and before you can say "Donna und Blitzen!", he and his gorgeous mistress are dispatched in brutal fashion with an axe. The film then cuts (pardon the expression) to Diane, played by statuesque Mary Woronov, in a rare straight role between her go-go dancing days for the Velvet Underground and bit roles in Warhol films, and her camp cartoon protagonists in Roger Corman-produced New World classics such as Death Race 2000 (1975) and Hollywood Boulevard (1976). She too has also headed to the Butler mansion to discover the local townsfolk - and this includes another gratuitously billed John Carradine as the mute publisher of the town's paper - are being knocked off, cut off and stuffed off one by one. It's not a question of WHO, it becomes abundantly clear, but WHY, and the revelations from the Butler mansion's history take some ghastly twists and turns, captured with some magnificent sepia-tinted footage and fish-eye lenses.

Silent Night Bloody Night was one of a trio of films Woronov made with director (and husband) Ted Gershuny: there's also the psychedelic thriller Kemek aka For Love Or Murder (1970) and the bizarre Sugar Cookies (1972), described by one critic as a lesbian tweaking of Vertigo. Given Woronov's previous whip-wielding gig in the Velvet Underground, there's an understandable Warhol connection; Factory superstars Ondine (also in Sugar Cookies) plays a bottle-wielding psychotic in the flashback sequences, and bleached transvestite Candy Darling is his victim. There's also fellow underground filmmaker Jack Smith (director of Flaming Creatures and Normal Love) and Warhol regular Tally Brown both proudly drooling and rolling their eyes in Ondine's mob.

Despite its pretensions and esteemed players, however, this is trash, albeit a mutant, idiosyncratic kind. Murky, muddled, and at times a little kinky, its blurring of underground and overground ambitions make for a VERY strange - not to mention bloody - ride. Deck the hall with bowels of Holly: it's time for Silent Night, Bloody Night. (Andrew Leavold)

No comments: