Wednesday, January 2, 2013

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 4 & 5 (1990 / 1991)

I know Christmas was like, SO last year, but we are still full of the Yultide sprit... well, we're full of something anyway. So here is our final installment of this year's December to Dismember!


Back in the day this seemed like such mediocre DTV fodder that didn't even bother to have anything to do with the Santa slayer trilogy that it followed. Now, that seems like a really fine decision and makes for what I feel is a far better viewing experience.

While screwing her co-worker in a hotel room, wannabe journalist Kim (Neif Hunter) sees news coverage of an apparent suicide, in which a woman, on fire from the waist down, jumps to her death from a building. Deciding that this could be her big break and feeling some sort of weird kinship, Kim tackles the story in spite of her boss (Reggie Bannister) feeling that she is more valuable as a maker of coffee. This leads her into down the path to what might be madness, with bug infestations, weird faces in ordinary objects, a coven of lesbians, giant worms, murder and madness.

There are some really great little bits that most low-rent DTV sequels wouldn't even bother with shooting, such as the scene in which Kim questions the local Chinese butcher, who is caked in blood and struggling to maintain broken English. While asking him questions, she struggles with a candy machine. The butcher gives it a chop with his hand and scoops out all the candies. After offending Kim by gleefully commenting that the dead girl might have been a hooker, she walks away and is about to eat the candies when she notices they are covered in half-dried blood. They could have easily just made it a scene with Kim asking the butcher questions, but Yuzna actually takes the time to set up these neat little moments that add so much to something that could have easily been a major misfire.

Like the TALES FROM THE CRYPT sequels that came along after DEMON KNIGHT (1995), this obviously was derived from an unrelated script that simply had the SNDN brand slapped on top. Even the connection to Christmas is completely reliant on a Christmas tree being shoe-horned into a couple of scenes and Clint Howard flicking on the TV, which happens to be showing the opening nightmare scene from SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT III (1989). Twenty years ago this seemed like a cheap ploy to get video renters to part with their cash on a movie that would otherwise probably not even be made. That may still be true to a point, but that sting of deception removed from the equation, this is actually a really well made film that doesn't pander to expectations and really pushes the creepy, weird, paranoid atmosphere. Add Screaming Mad George's signature effects work and Clint Howard spouting lines like "Awwww, no fucking cheese!" when he finds a half eaten hamburger covered in ants, and you have something that is better now than it was 20 years ago.


I can't really fault Brian Yuzna from backing off of the whole santa-slasher thing for his sequels. Not to flog a dead santa, but PART 2 was the cheapest, dullest and I'd say most cynical piece of crap, but Anchor Bay seems to have stolen that demerit for their "remake". Did I mention how much PART 2 sucks? Revisiting it after having not seen it since it came out on video in '89 brought the complete lack of fun all back. For the next sequel SNDN III took the concept to a completely ludicrous place (I would say that I would love to be a fly on the wall for those script meetings, except they probably didn't have any), so where to go now? Skip the Santa, but lets still focus on Christmas and turn it into a twisted reworking of... wait!

Sorry, I have to say this - MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

Where was I? Oh yeah, a twisted reworking of Pinocchio! No seriously. An old fashioned toy maker named Joe Petto (played by a frantic Mickey Rooney, no less) has fallen on hard times and in between slugging back whiskey, he slugs his son Pino (Brian Bremer), who seems to be a bit touched in the head. At the same time a loner in a motel room has been buying Joe's toys and turning them into little killing machines, or is he? Things start getting creepy when Pino takes a shine to one of Joe's last customers, single mom Sarah (Jane Higginson) and takes to stalking her, culminating with a truly twisted final sequence where we discover that Pino is not quite who we think he is and has a homicidal Oedipal complex in spite of a lack of genitalia.

Ok, so maybe the first half hour is pretty dry and the toy killings should have been scarier and gorier (the first one initiates a car crash another is simply jet-powered roller skates), it feels at times a bit like Charles Band should be lurking somewhere behind the camera. On the other hand you have Rooney absolutely shredding the scenery, obviously relishing his role as a sweaty, maniacal drunk who beats his son and keeps him in a basement. You also have Clint Howard, who is always welcome and the smokin' hot Neif Hunter returning as Kim (damn, she should just lock herself in the house around the holidays). Screaming Mad George's effects may be a little bit more low key than usual here, but again, that last 20 minutes is a doozie. I grant you that Brian Yuzna has been an embarrassment to himself and others since the mid-1990s (I like to pretend that 2000s FAUST and 2003s BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR never existed), but dismissing these sequels off hand is doing them a disservice. On the whole THE TOY MAKER may not be as good as INITIATION, but both films are well worth a revisit.

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