Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas With the Combustible Covens

After the debacle that was Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (from a non cheese lover’s point of view, of course) and the bore that was Part III: You Better Watch O ut,  along came the ‘90s and with it, a new take on the yuletide slaughter series determined to start fresh. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation, takes the Halloween III approach by having absolutely nothing to do with its forebearers (although a fantasy sequence from the previous film does get a Clint Howard approved cameo). Directed by genre B+ student Brian Yuzna (The ReAnimator sequels, Return of the Living Dead III), this is an interesting and imperfect little movie that embraces all the fun trappings of the lesser decade it was made in.

Quick Plot: Homeless Clint Howard shambles his way down a dark LA alleyway as a woman falls to her death before his eyes, her lower half spontaneously combusting with no human explanation. We’re then introduced to our lead Kim (Neith Hunter), a wannabe journalist doing everything she can to move up from editing the classifieds. Surprisingly enough, she’s learning the hard way that publicly sleeping with a head reporter one month after being hired is not earning her the respect she so craves. That glass ceiling sure is hard to crack, sister.

Frustrated that her snazzily dressed boyfriend won’t pester the boss for her promotion, Kim decides to take matters into her own hands by investigating the mysterious death and writing its story. Research begins at the scene of the crime, where Kim meets an Asian American butcher speaking like an idiot, even though he clearly has perfectly apt English pronunciation skills. Next stop is a New Age shop where the ill-mannered Kim acts like an ignorant snob while somehow charming Fima, the owner, into getting invited to a picnic. Who knew that the way into a hippie shopkeeper’s heart was by accepting her candy, then spitting it out and handing the inside back?

The next day, Kim meets up with Fima and friends for a midday picnic where within 45 seconds, she becomes the center of a toast and gets tipsy off of half a glass of wine. Something is clearly off, since no way would someone with the bad attitude of Kim make friends so quickly. 

To quote another female centered horror film with “Christmas” in the IMDB keywords, all of them witches. It’s not spoiling anything to hint at Fima’s intentions towards Kim, none of which involve girl talk over cosmos. The actual direction of their relationship is interesting, if rather underdeveloped in an extremely brisk film. Strange things begin to happen when Kim hangs out with her new gang: cockroaches invade her apartment, her head spins with flashes of the film’s previous scenes, spaghetti swirls itself into symbolic spirals, and Clint Howard dons a Kubrickian Pinnocchio nose to romance the baffled redhead and get his bare chest oiled up by senior citizenettes.

It's even more disturbing than it sounds.
High Points
A major character’s death is quite well executed, with a few nasty stabs that feel drawn out and mean
Director Yuzna earns a few extra points simply for naming his son (who plays a key character in the film) Conan

Not surprisingly, the practical effects are quite impressive in a richly gooey way. There's a touch of Cronenberg in some of the semen-ish fluids sprawled throughout Kim's after hours adventures, as well as plenty of good old fashioned ickiness

Low Points
Much like myself, Neith Hunter has apparently never been touch to develop an indoor voice, making a good deal of her passionate arguing in the early scenes make us wonder how we’ll be able to survive another 90 minutes when it always feels like our lead is just yelling at us

We never really learn the nature of Fima’s spells, or religion, or hobby or whatever. The imagery and basic atmosphere is interesting enough to follow, but it’s an odd choice to leave so much of the film’s villainess a mystery
Lessons Learned
Upon discovering a body engulfed in flames, feel free to touch it

To make your multi-zipper leather jacket really pop, pair it with a tight black turtleneck. Especially if you’re a man.
Books about spontaneous combustion are classified in the occult section of your local  pagan bookstore
LA is a very windy city, but also safe enough for picnickers to leave their car windows wide open as they roam around public parks

When you put Reggie Bannister in a sweater, he has a striking resemblance to Lisa Simpson’s band conductor, Mr. Largo

Winning Line
“Kim’s Jewish.” 
“Oh Jesus!”
Familiar Face
Chipmunk voiced Allyce Beasley, once again taking on the best friend role she chirped her way through in Rumplestiltskin, and once again not receiving a death worthy of her cloying character
Much like some of Yuzna chum Stuart Gordon’s film, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 is a pleasant ride during its run time, but quite forgettable when it’s done. The effects are neat and the actual premise is different enough to warrant a watch, but the overall product isn't quite smart enough to earn a place in body horror and not the joyous time that makes something like Jack Frost 2 an annual yuletide viewing. Completists considering the new boxed set should seek it out without worry, as it is a film that merits rewatching somewhere down the line. For others, a rental should suffice.


  1. Fair enough. I like this entire series of movies. This is definitely a mixed bag, though.

    I can't believe you pointed out the director on this one. I didn't think anyone else would appreciate his B+ efforts! LOL!

    Have a great Christmas!


  2. Thanks JM! Yuzna is an interesting guy for being behind a lot of *good* B films, so I think B+ is an apt description.

    I love Part 1, get way too much enjoyment out of 2, didn't care one bit for 3, and liked 4 well enough. I recall part 5 being better-than-average, so hopefully I'll get to it in the middle of this too-busy week.

    Merry Xmas to you and the whole Tower Farm!

  3. I love Yuzna's first film, Society - which that photo between you high and low points kinda reminds me of! He is a mixed bag as far as the films he does with some solid B genre offerings and some complete shit.

    I have never seen past the second film...maybe I have seen the third one when I was younger, but that was when I was younger, so I don't recall! This one sounds pretty good and it came out right around Bride of Re-Animator and Return 3, both films I love.

    With that new box set out, I would love to try and get my hands on it (for the right price, of course!) someday and catch up with the entire series.

    Great review and I'm going to make a stained shirt that just says semen-ish on it!

  4. I thought of Society as well when I saw that photo. I love Society. I want to see SNDL 4! Actually, I want to see all of them. Now, I'm kicking myself for letting the cover of the first movie scare me away from seeing any of these movies as a kid. Yes, it effected me that much.

  5. Kookiebish: you were one of those kids whose parents paraded around the movie theater with an oaktag sign, weren't you?

    Matt: When Chuck Norris returns to your blog heading, please photoshop him a Semen-ish t-shirt.

    SNDN is a really odd franchise. The first is a good old fashioned hard R 80s slasher, the second is a terribly wonderful piece of delicious and highly edible poop, the third is dull, and 4 & 5 have nothing to do with the rest of the films. 3-5 are definitely worth watchig (although I say that having not watched 5 since I was a kid), but if money is tight, then you definitely shouldn't put down big bucks for the new set (although the price is decent at $14.99). Part 4 is a good time, but nothing overly special.

    To my knowledge, I've never seen Society. It's going on the list, although Netflix doesn't have it in stock at the moment. Grr to that. I've also never watched the Reanimator sequels as an adult, but they've been steadily climbing up my list and queue and once the holidays are over, I'm definitely bumping them up.

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Emily, nah, my parents never parade.

  7. Okay then. We can still be virtual friends.

    Close one.