I think that expecting continuity from low-budget horror and sci-fi franchises is a fool’s errand. Writing about the ways they fail to follow on from their own predecessors is getting “samey”, and I presume anyone reading this feels the same way. So, from now on, getting exasperated about this particular tactic of the scumbag movie producer will be kept to a minimum.
So, the news that, aside from one scene where Gentle Ben* watches part 3 on a TV, this isn’t a sequel at all, should just wash over us like a cool mountain stream. Who cares? They’re the idiots who thought putting “Silent Night Deadly Night 4” in front of a film which is not only not a sequel to the first three films, but isn’t remotely about Christmas either, was a good idea. No skin off our noses! I would have enjoyed if these people had released “Lethal Weapon”, though, as they’d have definitely called it “Christmas Cops”.
After the disaster that was the name director attached to part 3, part 4 gets Brian Yuzna. His first film was the truly amazing “Society”, as clever a satire of capitalism and class as you’ll ever see disguised as a body horror movie; and he’s also been heavily involved in the “Re-Animator” and “Return of the Living Dead” franchises, as well as producing some of the Lovecraft movies we’ve covered recently. So what’s he going to do with the fourth instalment of a slasher franchise? As well as Yuzna, this film shares a screenwriter with “Society”, and this film uses some ideas and scenes that he wrote for that movie but were never used.
Turn it into a feminist psychological thriller with heavy body-horror overtones, that’s what. Kim works for the LA Eye newspaper, surely one of the most sexist workplaces ever portrayed on film, and is sleeping with one of the senior reporters. I’m not sure if it was a matter of their set dresser being a closet radical, or them borrowing the office of a radical newspaper to film in, because there are huge posters of Lenin and Mao Tse-Tung on the wall. As a socialist myself, it makes me sad to think of radicals treating women so badly, but as they seem to be more of a gutter tabloid, I’ll mark it up to a coincidence or an inside joke. She feels weirdly drawn to the story of a woman who fell from the roof of a building and then burned to death on the street, from “spontaneous combustion”, and this compulsion draws her into the orbit of Fima, the mysterious woman who runs the bookshop in that same building – although she’s initially refused permission to investigate it by her editor, Eli, this is possibly a good thing as her journalistic instincts are garbage. Seriously, infants could tell those women are in a coven!
Kim’s descent into the world of witchcraft is curious – at some points she seems willing, due to the appalling men in her life, at others she fights to get away from them, and there’s no real rhyme or reason to the way it’s laid out, that I can tell. This oddness translates to the casting, too: main actress Neith Hunter, as Kim, is very beautiful but can’t act worth a damn, going shrill at all times. Fima is former model Maud Adams, so her chops aren’t all that choppy too; but then on the other hand there’s the fantastic Allyce Beasley (from “Moonlighting”) as Kim’s best friend, and Eli is Reggie Bannister, first ballot ISCFC Hall of Famer.
There’s quite a lot of sex in this film, too. I feel a bit weird reviewing it, but as Kim gets closer to the witches, her attitudes and desires change, and it’s well-handled, I think, at least advancing the plot a little along with the titillation. And then there’s Yuzna’s trademark grotesquerie, which bleeds into the erotic stuff – such as the initiation ceremony, which is superb and way over the top, with fluids and weird parasites and all sorts.
This is an good film in search of a plot and a lead actress. The imagery and “feel” of the film is superb, with that dark world operating in a brightly lit modern LA, in parks and office buildings. But I never really felt the journey of the central character, while acknowledging it’d have been helped if they’d had someone a bit better in the role. The idea of constantly being buffered by forces beyond your control as a metaphor for modern sexism is there, too, but it’s all jumbled…it really feels like a black magic panic film of the 60s and 70s (like “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Touch Of Satan”) more than it does a 90s horror movie.
Call this film “The Initiation”, strip out the irrelevant Christmas details, and with a just a few plot tweaks you’ve got yourself an excellent, serious, feminist horror film. Sadly, all we’ve got is the fourth instalment in a now straight-to-video franchise, disappeared largely without trace.
Rating: thumbs in the middle
* I know his name’s Clint Howard, and Gentle Ben was the bear, but I’ve been calling him that for 20 years now so it’s not going to change.