26 December 2012

YEAR OF BLOOD: GLORIES SCREAM FROM HEAVEN AFAR

In an ironic twist that could only be seen coming by everybody, the film with the extravagantly notorious reputation - the film that was protested right out of theaters in one of the few times such a trick actually worked for the morally outraged protestors - ended up generating so much interest that, instead of being buried and forgotten, it kicked off a sequel to capitalise on the human animal's love of controversy. As surely as night follows the day, 1984's infamous killer Santa slasher flick Silent Night, Deadly Night would have to be followed by Silent Night, Deadly Night, Part 2, which came out in 1987, a year after the original film had been given a heavily-cut re-release by a new distributor. Really, you'd have to be a fool not to capitalise on the brand name, if you were the one in charge of it.

It would seem, however, that nobody was in charge of it, because SNDN2 is the single film ever released by the ingeniously named Silent Night Releasing Corporation, a company we meet in the absolute first seconds of the film, on the opening title card. As foreboding omens go, they don't come much more unforgiving.

From here, the movie launches into an inordinately laconic, slow-burn opening credits sequence, consisting of basically nothing but staring at the face of a young man with really big, glaring eyes, and in good time, we'll learn that this is Ricky (Eric Freeman), the younger brother of psychotic teen Billy from the first movie, who was set up in the final beat of that film as the new killer Santa on the block, hyper-Catholic moral bloodlust apparently running along genetic lines. This, too, is not a good omen, for it suggests a certain deliberate slowness to the rest of the proceedings, and even worse, an unsupported seriousness of intent, trying to give us a moody thought piece about the inner mind of a killer. The seriousness ends up being only a little irritant - though it is a far more sober and mirthless film than SNDN the first - but the slowness? Brother, you don't even know.

Ricky, when we meet him, is being interviewed by a police psychiatrist, on December 24th, naturally enough. That doctor, Henry Bloom (James Newman) is the latest in a long line of professionals trying to figure out what in the hell is with this strange and terrifying young man, and thus the first he does is ask Ricky to explain, in as much detail as possible, what happened to give him his warped view of Santa Claus as wrathful avenger of naughty behavior. And Ricky obliges, fiercely, in one of the absolute laziest pieces of filmmaking I have ever, ever seen, in a slasher film or anything else.

The first 39 minutes of the 88-minute feature consists, almost entirely, of footage from the original movie, condensed into something like a gag reel of the death scenes, with Ricky narrating the plot. Sometimes, we'll cut to him looking off into the middle distance, or to Dr. Bloom having a pensive, sad look on his face, like he's wondering why in the hell Ricky's autobiography consists of explaining what drove Billy mad. The explanation for this is that original, SNDN2 was going to be nothing but a new cut cobbled up from the original, with a couple scenes of Ricky in the asylum to add some kind of frame, but director Lee Harry was insufficiently shameless to attach himself to that kind of blatant act of audience-fucking, and on the pennies he had to work with, and barely any schedule, he was able to fling together something like a screenplay, in which Ricky's flashbacks continue on to a few moments in his late adolescence where he went all kill-crazy, culminating in the spree (a gun spree, which is just not okay for a slasher movie) that put him in prison. All he really wants is to get out and hunt down the Mother Superior (Jean Miller, who almost certainly appears less than Lilyan Chauvin does in re-used footage) who instilled in him and Billy the unyielding morality that has driven them both to kill.

Congrats to all involved for actually getting something made that resembles a movie, though the more I think about it, the more I believe that resemblance to be a mirage. What SNDN2 actually is, is a perfect embodiment of the thing anti-horror crusaders of the sort that put a dagger into SNDN1 truly believe all horror cinema to be, and the thing most noxious to the more thoughtful sort of horror fan for that same reason. It has exactly this much content:

"Here is an axe-crazy psychopath. Here are disjointed, arbitrary scenes of him killing people. The end."

I'm really, truly, not exaggerating. There are, of course, other reasons to watch the thing than joy at the sight of human death - in fact, given how coy the non-budget production is obliged to be about gore makeup, that's one of the last reasons a horror fan would want to bother with it - not least of which is its legend as a bad movie; this is the film in which Eric Freeman, who telegraphs "I'm crazy now" by lowering his voice to a gravelly bellow that would make Christian Bale's Batman blush, gleefully shoots a man taking out the trash while shouting "Garbage day!" and thereby creating an internet meme.

Camp is, in fact, the only way that any viewer, I expect, could drag even the tiniest shred of pleasure out of a movie that offers nothing else; but it does offer all sorts of ridiculous opportunities to mock it. Freeman's awesomely terrible performance is one; the ungainly, dumbfounding use of stock footage is obviously another (the film keeps acting like it's about to start, but then, no; and it does get a bit amusingly absurd toward the end); the transparently bad filmmaking is a third. And yet, I never found it "so bad it's good" in the least: partially because I feel sorry for the crew more than contemptuous of them - a fella needs to eat, and this was an impossible project - and the lingering memory of how SNDN came sort of close at times to be an actually decent slasher movie made it hard to stomach such a vile, useless sequel.

And that's honestly, just about all she wrote. It's hard to be prepared for how much of a nothing this movie is: devoid of any reason, no matter how tacky, to appreciate it sincerely, and the work of appreciating it ironically seems to be too much effort for a movie of such monstrous vacuity. All these years of reviewing cheap horror have taken me to many dark places, but never, I think, to a movie that feels this damn non-existent.

Body Count: 13, which equals the 13 deaths seen in stock footage from the first movie, a fact I will let stand without comment.

Reviews in this series
Silent Night, Deadly Night (Sellier, 1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night, Part 2 (Harry, 1987)
Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (Hellman, 1989)
Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (Yuzna, 1990)
Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (Kitrosser, 1991)

5 comments:

Brian said...

Oh lord, I was just looking at buying a 2-pack that has both this and the first movie, and now I'm glad I haven't yet.

Unrelated, but can I expect a Django Unchained review soon? Because after a Django/Les Mis double feature on Christmas day, I am bursting to talk about it on here.

Tim said...

I typically don't like to say "you must not see this", because I get that curiosity is a thing, and people have opinions, but I am genuinely glad you didn't buy this. I can't think of any reason to suggest that someone see it.

I still haven't seen Django! Yesterday got a bit screwed up around here, and I won't have time until tomorrow.

Friday Night Action Zone Team said...

If you think that's bad, keep in mind that until the recent re-release the long out of print SNDN/SNDN 2 double feature was a highly valued treasure that sold at inflated prices for years on the secondary market.

atheisthotel said...

Tim, what's the scariest thing you've ever read or seen? Genuinely. This tries too damn hard to be scary, so I have to ask.

This was an absolute smackdown, and although I've never seen the sequel, chances are the bar was not very high.

Tim said...

Friday- Good God. That would be an agonising surprise, to put that kind of effort into getting it, and have it turn out to be such a wreck of nothingness.

atheisthotel- There is a scene in Twin Peaks, the TV show, where a couch is in wide shot, and then a man who we know to be evil, but we don't know anything else about him, climbs over the back of the couch, right towards the camera.

That is the scariest thing I've ever seen.