Christmas Movies: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

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The ISCFC begins its Christmas season based on when the Magic Tree in Columbia, MO, USA, has its lighting ceremony (why? Because), and although we covered a heck of a lot of Christmas classics last year, there’s plenty more for us to do. “Silent Night, Bloody Night” is a curious film – made years before even the earliest “slasher” films, a supporting cast made up of former Andy Warhol associates and hangers-on (most famous among them is future star Mary Woronov), made in 1970 but not released til 1972…

 

One of our recent reviews was “The Disco Exorcist”, which filled the screen with digital “noise”, to make it look like it was a real old 70s grindhouse movie. This, on the other hand, is the real deal. It looks like it was filmed on whatever cheap scrag-ends of film they could find and then left in a box in a mouldy cellar for a few years – in other words, exactly what you want from a 70s horror.

 

A large amount of this film is done in voiceover, mostly by Woronov (although there are others). It reminds you of Sissy Spacek’s amazing work on “Badlands”, until you remember that this predates that – Woronov tells us half a story, basically. The Butler house has stood empty for 20 years because Wilford Butler died by accidentally setting himself on fire; he left the house to his grandson on condition that he leave it exactly as it was. That covenant is now presumably done and grandson Jeffrey is coming to town to sell the house to the townspeople, for cash, at a huge discount.

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We also see an escaped mental patient, the implication being it’s the person who killed Wilford those years ago, sensing people are moving back in. And thanks to the younger Butler’s lawyer, we meet the town’s leaders, including John Carradine as the local newspaper editor, who never utters a word (all sounds from his mouth being added in post), and seems to run off the movie about halfway through, only to have a double get killed in his place near the end. I assumed this was towards the end of his career and his alcoholism rendered him unable to learn lines; but he was still working 15 years after this movie, so who knows? Maybe they hired him at the last minute and “wrote” a part with no words just for him (the story of one of his sons pouring half a bottle of scotch down his throat as he lay in his coffin indicates he certainly liked a drink, though).

 

It’s a well-crafted slow burner of a movie. The lawyer and his mistress go to the house to spend the night and wait for the younger Butler; they are brutally murdered and from then on, a mysterious voice, claiming to be the daughter of Wilford, phones people up from the house, asking them to come there, and then murdering them too. One particularly superb performance comes from stage actress Fran Stevens (making one of her only two on-screen appearances) as the town’s switchboard operator Tess, whose face tells of a lifetime of secrets.

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With the voiceover, the flashbacks (that tell a slightly different story) and the twist, which is one of the ballsiest ones I can remember, what could have been just another cheap horror movie becomes something altogether more interesting. The atmosphere hangs heavy over everyone and the central performances are all superb. Perhaps this is all post facto rationalisation and I wouldn’t have given this movie a second thought if it had been the work of some hack with no involvement from the Warhol people (as well as Woronov, Candy Darling, Ondine and Lewis Love appear, among many others); but what we have is lovely dark little non-Christmas Christmas movie, worth your time.

 

There’s fascinating and sad trivia related to this movie too. Director Theodore Gershuny was married to Woronov at the time, and after a few movies in the early 70s and then a divorce, didn’t work again for over a decade (and then wrote and directed a few episodes of “Tales From The Darkside”). Star James Patterson, the younger Butler, died of cancer shortly after the end of principal photography, so all his lines were dubbed by another actor. Thanks to some contractual oddity, the film fell into the public domain in the 80s, which means if you’ve ever bought one of those “50 Horror Movies on 12 DVDs!” box sets, chances are this is in it.

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That public domain-ness has had bad as well as good repercussions. You may remember our review of “Night Of The Living Dead: Resurrection”, made by British indie company North Bank Films as the original had also not done its copyright work correctly. They appear to specialise in being bottom-feeding scum, making cheap awful horror that they hope reminds you enough of stuff you like that you’ll give them a few quid. So it is with “Silent Night, Bloody Night: Homecoming”, from 2013, which I think I’d need to be paid to see. Then, to confuse us all, some other low-budget company has made “Silent Night, Bloody Night 2: Revival” in 2015. We’ve got time before Christmas, so I might give that one a go.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Terror Vision (1986)

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This particular review series has been dormant for so long that I forgot about it when I was writing about our long-dormant review series the other day! But, much like my dog keeps going back to the spot he found a cheese sandwich once, so the ISCFC will keep going back to Charles Band and Full Moon (although this was produced under his “Empire Pictures” name, when they were getting major studio distribution).

 

This is very much Charles Band and his crew – in this case, his dad Albert as producer, brother Richard as composer, and regular director Ted Nicolaou – in their classic mode.  What is “classic” Full Moon, I hear you ask? Well, there are a couple of criteria that need to be matched.

 

  • Strong cast, top to bottom (kids don’t count)
  • Monster of some sort, created using practical effects
  • Very light tone, a whisker away from being a full-blown comedy
  • Great use of sets for what I presume is a limited budget
  • The poster was designed first, the movie later

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When you think of 80s B-movies, chances are at least some of what you think about will be Full Moon-related. And you can watch em all for a low monthly price these days! Go to www.fullmoonstreaming.com and knock yourself out. But never mind that, on with the review!

 

The Putterman family are just your average, wholesome, good old fashioned American family. Mum and Dad (Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham, B-movie royalty) are swingers and have decorated their home in spectacularly hideous 80s pornographic “art” fashion, complete with gaudy lighting, a massive indoor Jacuzzi, and so on. Daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin, “Better Off Dead”) is a punk with a boyfriend called OD (Jon Gries, super “That Guy” actor). Grandpa (Bert Remsen) is a survivalist who’s built a bomb shelter underneath the house, and happily watches gory horror movies with his grandson. You know, like all families!

 

Dad installs a satellite dish in the back yard – perhaps the fakest looking “outside” set ever – to get tons of bootleg TV, but it has an unfortunate extra bonus. On the far side of the galaxy is an alien race who’s figured out an easy way to get rid of their rubbish, and it’s to turn it into energy and just fire it out into the universe. Two problems manifest themselves, and the first is that a garbage monster was accidentally beamed away with the rest of it. Second, of course, is that a slight miscalculation leads the energy beam to find the Putterman’s satellite dish, and materialise in their back yard (it has the power to beam itself in and out of TVs, because of course it does).

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The Grampa and grandson see the alien first  – well, the satellite repair guy really sees it first, but he gets eaten immediately afterwards – and then it’s sort of a cat-and-mouse game, with time spent trying to convince the rest of the cast that the alien is real, including a Medusa-dressed local midnight movie TV host, and the swinging couple that the parents bring back. OD even briefly pacifies the alien, a nice touch. The alien garbage man who made the mistake even beams himself to Earth to try and help the humans, and his story arc is hilarious.

 

So, there’s lots of fun little touches in this movie (including the information that the director and production designer did a tour of swingers’ homes to get some visual ideas. I wish I could have seen those photos) and the central performances from Graham, Woronov and Gries are all hilarious. Band and co know how to make a tight, light monster movie, and if I’d seen this at the time I’d have loved it even more. But…there’s that problem again, where Full Moon seem unable to fill the middle part of their movies with anything particularly exciting. The swingers were given an enormous amount of screen time, considering their fate and how central they were to the plot, and it felt like Grampa chased that damn alien round the house for about three hours. The beginning – fantastic; the ending – stupid and very good fun; that middle bit – *shrug*.

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Still, if you see Charles Band’s name attached to anything before about 1997, you can watch it, safe in the knowledge you’ll get some good cheap gory fun.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Eating Raoul (1982)

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Directed by: Paul Bartel

Frigging Peter Biskind, I was reading his second book, the one about Sundance and the Weinsteins and early on he rattles off a few indie titles that surpassed all expectations and made a profit at the box office. I’ve scribbled down a list, a few films that I’m curious to watch based on title alone, and I plan to watch them all, beginning with ‘Eating Raoul’.

The meaning behind ‘Eating Raoul’ is given away in the opening sequence. Set in Hollywood, the relationship between sex and hunger is reflected in everyday life; from vice on the streets to provocative advertising, the barrier between sex and food has dissolved. People’s minds have become warped; they are sexual predators soliciting sex wherever they go. We are told this is the story of Hollywood today.

We meet the Bland’s, a couple called Paul (Paul Bartel) and Mary (Mary Woronov). Paul is a wine expert, who gets the boot from his off license job for daring to have taste. He dresses like a Harvard intellectual and appears very stuffy, living up to his surname. Mary, his beautiful wife is a nurse who toils away at the local hospital. The couple live a sex free life existence, and sleep in separate beds. They are frequently disturbed by the Swingers parties that take place in their apartment complex and long to escape their sordid surroundings by opening up their own restaurant.

Money trouble forces them to act in desperate ways and when a live action version of Quagmire from ‘Family Guy’ comes around and tries to force himself upon Mary, Paul smacks him over the head with a frying pan and kills him. After showing a miniscule amount of concern they sift through the man’s wallet and discover he’s got a lot of dosh. After disposing of the body the couple decide that the only way they can quickly earn money is to lure Swingers to their apartment and bump them off. They seek advice from a single Mother who by night goes under the alias Doris the Dominatrix, she educates them about the Swingers lifestyle.

Paul and Mary have great success murdering Swingers who have fantasies that veer from the Oedipal to something involving a Nazi officer and a milkmaid. The situation is complicated when a Chicano red blooded locksmith named Raoul who discovers what they are up to and wants a slice of the lucrative pie. The couple work alongside Raoul after he saves Mary from getting raped by a randy Hippie played by Ed Begley Jr.

‘Eating Raoul’ is a true indie success story, as Bartel scraped together all the cash to finance the movie, shooting it whenever he had enough money to do so. All in all the whole thing took a couple of years to film. Despite this, each scene flows quite nicely, there is a good sense of continuity. Bartel is able to present the awkward relationship between middle class old fashioned American values and the sexually free hedonistic Hollywood lifestyle. The Bland’s don’t fit in with their environment, and this causes tension, a tension which grows from their own repressions, and leads to them committing acts of murder without being overly concerned with the consequences.

The murder is cartoonish, beginning with a gang member who gets shot in the off licence by Paul’s boss to the Hippie who gets strangled by his own love beads by Raoul. The film tries to show how Hollywood has made light of murder on screen, with people getting bumped off without any feeling, but it does so in a way akin to ‘The Ladykillers’ or more recently Tim Burton’s ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’. The uneasy, hard to swallow parts of the film tend to involve Mary, as men with uncontrollable sexual urges force themselves upon her in alarmingly regular ‘Carry On’ meets Benny Hill fashion. The word ‘rape’ is casually thrown around during these moments, and I think the director was deliberately highlighting this point – In Hollywood women are still treated like meat.

‘Eating Raoul’ is a dark comedy with a little bit of charm, it is similar to a John Waters flick, with quirky extreme personalities who jar with Mr and Mrs Normal. It is a subversive satire that lacks strong performances. The characters like everything else in the film are deliberately presented in a way that causes us not to be take them seriously, because they are too two dimensional. The sexually frustrated banker, the creepy Hippie, the uptight suburban couple; it is really only Mary who has any depth to her character, but even she conforms to the bored housewife stereotype who jumps on the first hunk who shows her a hint of interest.

– RJW
5/10

Eating Raoul at IMDB
Buy Eating Raoul [1982] [DVD]