Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1974)

One of the great things about having a network of fellow Video Junkies is you can usually get your fix pretty quick.  Last month I reviewed the underappreciated Christmas slasher SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1974) and mentioned the pitch black Paragon VHS transfer and the online chatter that the print of the film in the Chilling Classics horror set looked far better. Almost as quickly as I posted it, fellow movie buff (and amazing people locator) Bill Picard hooked me up with a copy of that print.  Sure enough, the quality is a million times better. Now, keep in mind this is still a scratchy print and not the optimum release, but at least you could make out the important details in stuff like this.

Paragon VHS transfer:

Chilling Classics DVD transfer:

And, of course, my favorite bit is where Mr. Towman (John Carradine) is killed.  The Paragon tape was nothing but a swarm of black with the occasional white blip.  Here, you can actually see Jeffrey Butler looking at the body and there is even a visible tiny waterfall in the background (it is still pretty dark in the DVD print).

What the hell is going on here?

Ah, somewhat better:

Also, the less dark print gives more details in stuff like when Tess is killed and audiences get a quick glimpse at her severed hand on the floor.  With the print not as dark, you can see the blood on the stump.  Important stuff, I tell ya!

Even more exciting than a watchable print is the fact that the Chilling Classics version actually runs longer than the Paragon version (1 hour, 24 minutes and 57 seconds for the Chilling Classics versus 1 hour, 22 minutes and 34 seconds for the Paragon tape).  Discussions found online chalk it up an edited ax killing (not true; both versions are identical) to a difference in NTSC vs. PAL transfers (possible, but not entirely).  What I did find when comparing the Chilling Classics DVD version to the Paragon VHS version was that the better looking print also had three extra scenes in it.

The first and longest extra scene occurs after lawyer John Carter meets with the town folk about selling the house.  In the Chilling Classics print, there is a 50 second segment of him and his paramour driving back to the house. Interestingly, this drive back to the house repeats two shots (passing a “no trespassing” sign and going over a bridge) from their first drive to the house earlier in the film.  They arrive and John gets out of the car.  The film cuts away to the inside to the killer rushing out of a room in the house, establishing they were already in the house watching them when the couple arrived.  John then gets his girlfriend out of her side and she walks up to the house to unlock the door.  The Paragon version starts with her already at the door.

The couple arrives:

John gets out of the car:

Killer's POV as they run through the house:

John helps his girlfriend out:

She walks to the door to unlock it:

The second extra scene involves the sheriff heading out the Butler house after receiving the creepy phone call.  We get a POV shot of the car driving down a dirt road (very rough looking even in this print).  The sheriff tells the dispatcher, “Sheriff to 301.  I'm heading west on route 5 to Butler house. You'll hear from me.”  The film then cuts to a shot of the killer with a shovel in the cemetery putting dirt on the ground.  We then cut back to the driving POV and the sheriff sees the killer’s lantern and says, “What the hell? What is that light out there?”  We get another shot of the dirt being tended to by the killer.  We then get a shot of the sheriff’s lights illuminating the cemetery’s wooden fence and then a shot of the car’s headlights as he pulls up (looking like something out of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS due to the darkness of the scene). The Paragon tape features none of the aforementioned bits and begins with a shot of the killer’s feet as they run away (from the same shot as the earlier digging shots) and then the cop car pulling into frame.  This 33 second bit is important as it establishes exactly why the sheriff stopped at the cemetery on his way to the house.

Driving down the road:

Killer throwing dirt on buried bodies:

Sheriff sees the killer's light:

Sheriff's car illuminates the cemetery fence:

Sheriff pulls up to the cemetery (or UFO sighting):

The last extra bit I noticed occurred after the killer has called Diane (Mary Woronov).  Both versions have the killer shutting the police car trunk with the body inside and then shutting off the squawking CB radio (this scene itself creates an interesting continuity error as how did the killer call Diane if they were still at the graveyard).  The Chilling Classics version then has a tiny 12 second bit of the killer returning to the house.  It is just one shot of the killer bringing the lantern past and inside the front door (established earlier with a shot of the killer closing that door after killing the dog). This tiny scene is nothing major, but still interesting in showing the killer’s return.

In total, these three new scenes account for 1 minute and 35 seconds of new material.  With a difference of 2 minutes and 23 seconds between the Chilling Classics DVD and Paragon VHS, I’m not sure what accounts for the other 48 seconds, although it is entirely possible that it is a transfer issue.  I’ve compared them both and the three scenes mentioned above appear to be the only differences I can find.  These definitely aren’t cuts due to censorship and just the result of different print being transferred for both releases.  And, yes, to answer your question, I truly have no life.

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