Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
On Christmas Eve 1950, the only thing roasting at the Wilfred Butler mansion was Wilfred Butler himself! Mysteriously dying by fire, he left his estate to his only surviving family member, grandson Jeffrey (James Patterson, In the Heat of the Night) with explicit instructions to leave the house untouched. Twenty years later, Jeffrey and his attorney (Patrick O’Neal, The Stepford Wives) — neither of whom has stepped foot inside the place — come to town to negotiate its sale.
Coinciding with their yuletide arrival, the sleepy small town is terrorized by an escaped lunatic out for revenge, citing the ol’ crimes-commited-years-earlier reason. What director Theodore Gershuny (Sugar Cookies) attempts to pass off as suspense is actually poor story structure. By not revealing pertinent facts until the second half, viewers are left to wonder just what the holy hell is going on.
That’s why the back half of this mouse-quiet shocker is better, if not gorier. The extended asylum-revolution flashback is genuinely disturbing, as is the finale. Alternately stylish and amateurish, Silent Night, Bloody Night is often slow-moving, but effective in building atmosphere that’s palpable even in the shoddy public-domain prints.
Over the years, I’ve found it’s a movie that improves a bit with each viewing — all but its gratuitous Mary Woronov voiceover — once you come to peace with what it is and what it is not. And it is most definitely not Silent Night, Deadly Night, so don’t confuse the two. —Rod Lott