After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
Time to suck on a candy cane and pull your Santa suit out of mothballs. We’re over halfway through the year and it’s time for a phenomenon known as Christmas in July. Personally, I abhor most anything Christmas related outside of the designated time period between the day after Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. At one point in my life I would go around and unplug people’s Christmas lights when they were on before last week of November. That was a while ago and I’ve grown – a little. I can even make an exception now and again. When that exception involves a Yule season themed slasher at Horror Movie Night it’s hard to say no. Especially when you’re talking about a girl’s dormitory/sorority-ish house getting the killer Santa treatment over the holidays. To All a Good Night is a fun entry into the season’s genre offerings, at least for the parts you can actually see.
The film opens with a girl dying during an initiation stunt at a girl’s boarding school. Now that we have that out of the way we can flash forward two years later. It’s Christmas break again and people are leaving for the holiday with only a few straggling students behind along with the house’s cook and handyman. These rich girls have had enough goody-goody actions for the semester and they invite some boys to the place for a couple of days. Soon they will wish they stayed home as someone in a Santa suit is inexplicably taking out anyone who gets in his way. Could it possibly have something to do with the prologue? What do you think?
Right off the bat during the credits you will notice a rather famous name in the horror community billed as the film’s director. David Hess is someone you might recognize from his turn as nasty characters in such films as The Last House on the Left (1972) or Ruggero Deodato’s similarly themed House on the Edge of the Park (1980). You may also know him as a songwriter for Elvis in the late 50s through the 60s. I’m not sure to what side of things it speaks that this is Hess’ only directorial credit for a feature film, probably not good, though there is some real fun to be had here. Sure he and screenwriter Alex Rebar don’t stray too far from the standard slasher template, but a healthy body count and some shirtless ladies help to keep your attention on the screen.
To All a Good Night also does a few things from which many other slashers tend to stray, all of which are quite confusing. The only location to speak of is a secluded home where the girls live and where these killings take place over a couple of days. After the first night they find at least one body (there are a few others gone as well) but they remain in the house. Sure, some cops are sent over to watch but why wouldn’t you get the hell out? It is Christmas break and these boarding school girls have at least some money, you would think they could find somewhere else to stay to keep from becoming ground beef.
Then there is the killer – a very clean psycho if ever there was one. His body count rises but the bodies themselves don’t stack up anywhere. Instead of leaving them lying around, or placing them in a room in some sort of doll-like scenario like certain villains are known to do, Killer Claus takes the time to bury many of them along the way. Talk about a risky method. On one hand this might show some semblance of heart as the dead are respected enough to be buried, but on the other hand what the hell kind of killer would waste time and energy digging graves?
One of the most puzzling aspects of the movie is the school where this all takes place. To the best of my recollection nothing is ever really said as to its physical location and there are many factors that play with your mind. They appear to be in the middle of nowhere, so much so that the guys who come for a weekend of debauchery have to arrive via plane! It appears to be a heavily forested and hilly region but even though it’s December there is no snow or apparent sign of cold weather. There is, however, an abundance of palm trees in front of the huge house where they live. This is fine, plenty of places have warmer weather during the holiday season, but why do the cops who come around all sound like they just drove in from the Brooklyn Bridge? Maybe this is supposed to be set in one of those Anytown, USA type of places like Springfield on The Simpsons. I also never realized that finishing schools had sororities, but in the prologue one of the girls inexplicably shouts “sorority!” as they chase the soon-to-be-dead girl around. Who knows, the majority of the girls don’t seem to be learning anything in the way of proper social skills.
Girl: “You were faking it!”
Guy: “That’s what my high school coach used to tell me.”
These guys who show up must really want it bad. I guess they knew some of the girls ahead of time, but to fly all the way to Stabsville Forrest for some action is a bit excessive, especially when you see the quality of ladies. They might be well connected, wealthy and special but they can’t flirt for shit. Around every corner there is another horrible attempt at sexual innuendo (“Come on Einstein, it’s time for your advanced course in relativity.”) or weird twirl dancing whilst howling out some semblance of an operatic number. Luckily it doesn’t take much to put guys in the mood. These girls are all ready to go and that’s pretty much all the young men need. Let them get the awkward mating ritual out of the way and then it’s on to the good stuff. A couple of the guys and girls even swap around ladies after the first night of passion.
There is one resident of the house who is not throwing herself at any of the guys. Nancy (Jennifer Runyon) is the good girl of the group, which we can tell by her choice to drink milk over alcohol, and she’s quiet, innocent and sensitive – basically the exact opposite of her housemates. Leia (Judith Bridges) is one of the particularly nasty girls. From the beginning she establishes herself as the bitch of the crew when she has a rather catty conversation with the cook and her friend. Then later, once a couple members of the group have gone missing and they have found the handyman’s axed body, she does nothing but complain with no worry in her voice, only anger. She really puts the audience on the killer’s side just to shut her up but, alas, we get no vindication. Leia is one of the few to make it, but in one of the film’s biggest “what the fuck” moments she ends up with some sort of broken mind that sees her mumbling to herself and dancing in a daze.
Speaking of the good girl, she and one of the smaller roles in this film amount to something very interesting about To All a Good Night that I never knew. This film makes its mark as the one degree of separation between the amazing 80s sitcom Charles in Charge and porn masterpiece Deep Throat. Runyon played Charles’ main squeeze Gwendolyn Pierce for the first couple of seasons and in the small role of the pilot in this film is Harry Reems (credited as Dan Stryker) who is the dirty doctor in one of the most famous adult films of all time. This is an interesting tidbit of trivia with which to impress your friends. Though, if they’re like my friends they will probably just gaze at your amount of Charles in Charge knowledge with loads of pity and shame. They’re just jealous!
The deaths in the film are interesting at times – a decapitation here, an axe splitting body parts there – it’s just too bad that you can’t see any of them. Hess may have made a decent slasher but his cinematographer, gaffer and lighting technician must have come to set without a light meter. Some moments of this film are so dark you can barely make out human figures on the screen. This is not just relegated to the version I watched but after looking online and talking to friends about the film everyone has the same complaint. It would be nice to see a special edition DVD release of this someday, but whoever is in charge of the transfer’s restoration better retain some sort of superpower.
In the lexicon of Christmas themed horror films this is definitely not the worst (that honor probably goes to 1996’s Santa Claus, though it’s been years since I’ve seen it) but it’s not the best either. There are even at least a few other holiday season slashers set in a school dormitory over the break, like The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982) and the amazing Black Christmas (1974). This film has much more in common with Dorm and is probably slightly better but the two together could make a rather entertaining seasonal double feature if you feel so inclined. The only real draw with this film is the infamous name in the director’s seat, which turns out to not make much of a difference – unless you want to change the title to something like Last Stocking on the Left (credit to @ReelDistraction for that awesome new fan title).
Until next week – sharpen your candy canes, there’s only four months until the jolly fat man will be on the hunt again.
Body Count: 15
Best Death: Lover’s on a bearskin rug taken out by crossbow and axe!
Number of Successful Sexual Encounters: 4
Number of Sexual Encounters Thwarted by Someone Being Hanged via Fishing Line: 1
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-8/3/11: Death Spa (1988)
-8/10/11: Hide and Go Shriek (1988)
-8/17/11: The Curse 2: The Bite (1988)
-8/31/11: The Boogens (1981)