Wednesday
Dec252013

Merry Christmas! TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980) Review

 

As I’ve said before in my review of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, I’m a total sucker for a good Santa slasher movie. Hell, not even a good one; if there’s a movie with some sort of villain in a Santa suit, I’ll always enjoy it to some extent. The “And All Through the House” segment of 1972’s Tales from the Crypt anthology is probably the first example of this, and Silent Night, Deadly Night is definitely the most infamous, but one that gets swept under the rug the most is the low-budget, sleazetastic…

TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980) Review

 

It’s Christmas break at the Calvin Finishing School For Girls, everyone at the sorority is leaving to spend time with family and old acquaintances. Everyone except a few girls, who’ve decided to stay at the sorority house, along with the housemother and the quintessential creepy gardener. But things shouldn’t be too boring, because not only have a group of boys flown in to spend time with the isolated babes, but someone has donned a Santa costume and is eager for bloodshed. Will anyone make it through the night, and does this murder spree have anything to do with the sorority sister that died several years ago during a horrific prank?

Appreciate the little things in life. You do that and you’ll be much happier. That’s common knowledge, so why isn’t it common knowledge that everyone should enjoy To All A Goodnight? Okay, I can certainly think of a few reasons, but it’s the little things that make this effort noteworthy. For starters, this was indeed one of the pioneers in the killer Santa sub-subgenre. 1980’s Christmas Evil also featured one, but that was more of a “one-man’s-descent-into-madness” movie than a slasher (*Sidenote* Where were all those bitter housewives that protested Silent Night, Deadly Night for using a murderous St. Nick when these two movies were released? Hmmm…). The second noteworthy fact is that this is the sole directing effort by the late David Hess (Hitch-Hike, Last House on the Left), one of exploitation’s greatest villains. Unfortunately, this flick didn’t launch him into a successful career in a new frontier, and he soon returned to what he did best.

I sure am glad those two details took up an entire paragraph, because there really isn’t a lot to discuss here. Those two are the main draws to the film, because the rest of this movie is almost as straightforward as they come. To All A Goodnight is one of those movies that has a lot of things in it that I truly enjoy (the kills, the end twist, the score) but it has almost an equal amount of things I dislike (the direction, the setting, the characters), so it’s a very bipolar (or bi-North-polar) viewing experience. The kills, which are the main draw for pretty much every slasher film, are great, especially considering it’s only 1980 (very early in the slasher game). They’re not as gory as a Friday the 13th movie, but that doesn’t stop them from being pretty nasty. Death by crossbow, battle axe, airplane propellor (the real standout), and a vicious garroting (my favorite); writer Alex Rebar (The Incredible Melting Man!) may have been new to the slasher film, but it’s obvious he knew what his audience was looking for. The killer is actually really cool, because this is the first Santa slasher to feature a Santa killer sporting an actual Santa mask, and it looks really creepy! The end twist shouldn’t pull the rug out from any seasoned slasher fanatics, but for its time, it’s pretty original, so props for that. The score is destined to turn some people off with its madcap synth rhythms and drumset beats, but I thought it worked and added some much-needed atmosphere to the proceedings.

But as much as I loved all that, I really can’t get over more technical aspects of the production, like the way it was filmed. The first problem is that there wasn’t any creativity put into the camerawork. All the shots feel very staticy, and end up making To All A Goodnight feel like a TV movie, with that illusion only shattered by some full-frontal nudity and gore. The second problem is that it’s way, way too dark. The only way to see this movie is on a VHS that was released towards the beginning of the VHS boom, so the picture quality is pretty damn terrible. It’s often hard to tell exactly what’s going on in night scenes, and that’s if you have a good copy. Also, for a movie set at Christmas, there’s a disturbing lack of snow. I know it takes place in California (I think), but just tossing some powder on the ground would’ve gone a long way and made the atmosphere levels skyrocket. Now...the characters. I know the standards for characters in slasher movies has always been pretty low, but at least give them some fun dialogue and not just constant sexual references. I found myself rooting for Ralph, the creepy gardener, because he had to put up with these people! And then there’s the final girl, who’s just too clean. I enjoy nice final girls, but at least give them some sort of badass edge so that they can kick some tail when they eventually become the killer’s prime target!

I can dig To All A Goodnight. It’s clunky, sure, but it has an earnest charm to it that fits well within the holiday season. This is very familiar territory we're in, so it all plays out exactly the way you expect it to. It even features one of my favorite horror cliches: the old "severed head winding up in an random location" gag, and it's a hoot! If you have never seen a killer Santa movie, don’t start with this one. Start with Silent Night, Deadly Night or Christmas Evil, and once you’ve acquired a taste for them, swing by this one and give it a shot. The problem is that this hasn’t, and likely will not, receive a DVD release. A shame, because a cleaned up transfer and some interviews with the people behind the film would be great to see. The closest we’ve come to getting full insight behind the scenes was an interview with David Hess about the film from 2004 (link at the bottom). Hess reveals that the film definitely had a troubled production, and it shows in the actual film. But that doesn’t stop it from being a serviceable holiday timewaster for the whole family...or just the cool members of your family.

The Verdict: To All A Goodnight is a real oddity in the Christmas horror subgenre, but it’s strangely appealing with its great kills, bizarre score, and brief splashes of originality within a very generic flick.

Rating: 6/10

David Hess To All A Goodnight interview:                                                                       http://retroslashers.net/to-all-a-good-krug-the-david-hess-interview-2004/

P.S. Can we talk about that cover art up there? I have no idea what/who that face is supposed to be, but that artwork is gorgeous! They sure don't make 'em like they used to.

 

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