In the bleak midwinter…

blacksilent

On Tuesday, December 16th, the Grindhouse Film Festival at The New Beverly Cinema will present the perfect antidote to Yuletide schmaltz… a blood-soaked double bill of Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS (aka SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT 1974) and Theodore Gershuny’s SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972).  I reviewed both of these movies here in 2006, as part of my “Cruel Yule” review series of holiday-themed horror movies.  I quote myself in saying that I found BLACK CHRISTMAS had an eerie magic present in very few slashers new or old and that SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT was and remains an a resonant study of human disaffiliation taken to its logical and gory extreme.

christmasevil

Christmas is an easy target for the irreverent or those just out to piss on other people’s joy but these two movies are seminal entries in what has proven to be a long-lived subgenre.  A decade later,  SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) spawned four sequels (one of them directed by Monte Hellman!) and a 2008 remake.  The Edmund Purdom-directed  DON’T OPEN ‘TIL CHRISTMAS (1984) was an atypical British attempt at a killer Santa story and CHRISTMAS EVIL (aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT aka TERROR IN TOYLAND, 1980) boasted a cast of rising stars (HOME IMPROVEMENTS‘ Patricia Richardson) and dues-paying New York character actors (Jeffrey DeMunn, Raymond J. Barry, Peter Friedman, Mark Margolis ) in the rather sad story of a Kringle wannabe who dispensed considerably worse than lumps of coal to the bad-mannered.  A serial killer came back from the dead as a snowman in JACK FROST (1996) and in SANTA CLAWS (1996), a delusional young man in the guise of St. Nick stalked a softcore porn star.  More recently, the Brett Ratner-produced SANTA’S SLAY (2005) involved Fran Drescher, Dave Thomas, Robert Culp, Chris Kattan and an uncredited James Caan in a satirical reboot of the origins of Santa Claus… as the son of Satan whose murderous ways are put paid when he loses a bet with an angel and has to go about the world spreading peace and good will toward men.  I’ve skipped the majority of these (the exception being CHRISTMAS EVIL) because they all seem a bit obvious.  And I like Christmas!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSA1SsDJOpk]

Because I enjoy the holiday season in all its many candied shadings, I find value in BLACK CHRISTMAS and SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT. Admittedly, their crass, marquee-ready titles do an injustice to stories that, however brutal and frightening, are actually concerned with societal loneliness and alienation.  Using Christmas carols in ironic counterpoint to festering unhappiness and full-on madness, these stories focus on the people who get left behind in the rush towards success, modernity, comfort and affluence… the kind of people houses are torn down around and highways built over, people who cling to keepsakes of bygone days and happier times, signifiers of an innocence lost as they cross the line to commit homicide.  BLACK CHRISTMAS is a classic hider-in-the-house movie, a body count proto-slasher whose influence (on HALLOWEEN, on WHEN A STRANGER CALLS) cannot be overstated.  This film is literally the flipside of the holiday perennial,  A CHRISTMAS STORY (1982), having been directed and photographed by the same team.  Although the dead do pile up in SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT too, the film is more loose-knit and plays out like a fever dream suffered after too much nog and not enough egg.  Among its cast of red herrings and pulpy victims are Patrick O’Neal, James Patterson and Astrid Heeren (who had all been in Sydney Pollack’s winter-set war film CASTLE KEEP, 1968), old Hollywood timers John Carradine and Water Abel, and Andy Warhol “Factory” habituees Mary Woronov, Ondine, Jack Smith and Candy Darling.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lXj3xDGoys]

Both features will be projected from 35mm prints, which makes this occasion especially valuable for fans of SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT - for too long a public domain eyesore poorly served by a slew of gray market VHS and DVD dupes.  Writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz will introduce the film and answer questions from the audience.  Already released several times on DVD, BLACK CHRISTMAS is being shown in advance of its Blu-Ray debut.

This event starts at 7:30pm, and admission for the double feature plus a reel of rare exploitation trailers and a free raffle is only $8.00.

For additional information and schedules for upcoming events, visit the Grind House Film Festival’s MySpace page.

2 Responses In the bleak midwinter…
Posted By Harvey Chartrand : December 13, 2008 11:02 am

Edmund Purdom discussed the sorry fate of “Don’t Open Till Christmas” in a 2004 interview for Shock Cinema Magazine:

SC: What was your original conception of “Don’t Open Till Christmas” (1984), which you directed? The film was taken out of your hands and recut. New scenes were added. What went wrong?

EP: We did that in London. I didn’t exactly direct the picture, even though I am credited as its director. (Producer) Dick Randall paid somebody or other to write a script — and it really was a very good script — and he asked me would I like to direct it. And I said, “Yes, very much. I think I’m a born director.” So I stayed in an apartment in Covent Garden and started work on the film, which I enjoyed no end. Unfortunately, Dick did a strange thing. He paid no tax, including the Value Added Tax on everything — on items sold, people’s work and so forth. Dick managed to pay everybody cash and get through it all, staying right away from any kind of tax burdens. What seems to have happened is that Dick was blackmailed by somebody in his organization, who forced him to rewrite at least half the script and then let this person direct it. And this guy (Derek Ford) was no director. He used to make 8-mm porn films (not even Super-8!). (Ford eventually graduated to directing porn films with bigger budgets, such as Sexplorers, What’s Up Nurse! and For Members Only. — Ed.)

The only scenes of mine that survived were the ones in which I appeared, as I played the leading role of the detective on the trail of a serial killer who is knocking off department store Santa Clauses. My scenes perforce remained intact, but everything else around me was rewritten, recast and reshot. And it was muck. I saw “Don’t Open Till Christmas” on television and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It must have cost Dick a lot of money to reshoot so much, but on the other hand, it was cheaper than going to jail, I suppose. (Laughs)

SC: Is there any trace of the original, pre-cut version of “Don’t Open Till Christmas”?

EP: I have no idea. I imagine the rest of the cut footage that I directed was all thrown away. And I did some very good stuff, very imaginative. If ever I’ve “switched off” on a film, this is the one, because there is barely half of my work on the screen. The other half is so atrocious, amateur, pointless, awful, that I just can’t be associated with it. In fact, I wish Dick hadn’t left my name on it. I would have asked to have my name removed, except I only found out about the tampering after the film was released.

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : December 13, 2008 11:02 am

Edmund Purdom discussed the sorry fate of “Don’t Open Till Christmas” in a 2004 interview for Shock Cinema Magazine:

SC: What was your original conception of “Don’t Open Till Christmas” (1984), which you directed? The film was taken out of your hands and recut. New scenes were added. What went wrong?

EP: We did that in London. I didn’t exactly direct the picture, even though I am credited as its director. (Producer) Dick Randall paid somebody or other to write a script — and it really was a very good script — and he asked me would I like to direct it. And I said, “Yes, very much. I think I’m a born director.” So I stayed in an apartment in Covent Garden and started work on the film, which I enjoyed no end. Unfortunately, Dick did a strange thing. He paid no tax, including the Value Added Tax on everything — on items sold, people’s work and so forth. Dick managed to pay everybody cash and get through it all, staying right away from any kind of tax burdens. What seems to have happened is that Dick was blackmailed by somebody in his organization, who forced him to rewrite at least half the script and then let this person direct it. And this guy (Derek Ford) was no director. He used to make 8-mm porn films (not even Super-8!). (Ford eventually graduated to directing porn films with bigger budgets, such as Sexplorers, What’s Up Nurse! and For Members Only. — Ed.)

The only scenes of mine that survived were the ones in which I appeared, as I played the leading role of the detective on the trail of a serial killer who is knocking off department store Santa Clauses. My scenes perforce remained intact, but everything else around me was rewritten, recast and reshot. And it was muck. I saw “Don’t Open Till Christmas” on television and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It must have cost Dick a lot of money to reshoot so much, but on the other hand, it was cheaper than going to jail, I suppose. (Laughs)

SC: Is there any trace of the original, pre-cut version of “Don’t Open Till Christmas”?

EP: I have no idea. I imagine the rest of the cut footage that I directed was all thrown away. And I did some very good stuff, very imaginative. If ever I’ve “switched off” on a film, this is the one, because there is barely half of my work on the screen. The other half is so atrocious, amateur, pointless, awful, that I just can’t be associated with it. In fact, I wish Dick hadn’t left my name on it. I would have asked to have my name removed, except I only found out about the tampering after the film was released.

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