Directed by: David Hess
Written By: Alex Rebar
Starring: Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, and Linda Gentile
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“Lock your door, too. I want you to be safe, Nancy. There’s evil here, I can feel it. The devil’s here.”
For horror filmmakers, the challenge of making a movie set around Christmas is often “how can we make the holiday scary?” The answer is often to corrupt Christmas and have the film go against everything Christmas stands for. A meaningful, peaceful holiday like Christmas is then filled with images of bloodshed and carnage. The easiest and most common target in Christmas horror… the killer Santa Claus. First seen in a segment of 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, the “killer Santa” gimmick would actually not be used again until 1980, when Last House on the Left actor David Hess made a little yuletide slasher film called To All a Good Night his directorial debut.
It’s Christmas break at the Calvin Finishing School for Girls and the girls who share this particular house have only one thing on their minds: Sex. They drug their housemother and invite a group of boys over, to fulfill their needs. Of course, at this particular house, Christmas has always been a bit of a controversy. It was on Christmas break years earlier that a girl was accidentally killed in an initiation gone wrong. And now, with images of studs dancing in their beds fresh on their minds, someone has shown up dressed as ol’ Saint Nick to exact a bloody revenge upon the house. One by one, the girls and their gentleman callers are subjected to a series of grisly, vengeance-fueled murders. Will someone save them or will the girls experience a silent night…forever?
So a killer Santa Claus might not be the most original Christmas horror movie idea ever, but here, it was only employed for the second time. It would be used in Christmas Evil and then again in Silent Night, Deadly Night. Both of those films are much better known to the horror film world than To All a Good Night, although I do think the killer Santa in this one is much scarier than in both of those. For one thing, like all the best slasher killers, it uses an actual mask… a very creepy, rosy cheeked, friendly faced mask of Santa. Most other killer Santas merely slap on a fake beard and hat, using their own face to scare victims. The Santa mask here, though, is quite effective in the few scenes that you can actually see it (more on this later). The problem is, the rest of the movie isn’t quite as effective. In fact, all around, it just feels a bit generic. I’m all for style over substance if the style is good enough, but here, it’s just kind of plain and with a threadbare script, there really isn’t much to cling to.
For the most part, the kills are good and mean. We get a decapitation, throat slashings, an arrow through the back of the head and out an open mouth, and what might be the signature death scene of the movie… death by airplane propeller. The nudity present in the film isn’t something to write home about. There are a few beauties in this film, but the only ones that appear nude are the ones I would hope to never see nude again. The killer, as I’ve said, is pretty effective in the scenes where you do see the mask. The problem is that, it is gravely underused. Of course, this could’ve been due to the dark transfer of the Media VHS that I watched the film on. It’s hard to say, but I do think in any case, Hess could’ve gotten much more mileage out of the mask had he shown it a bit more (and a bit earlier). I didn’t even know the killer Santa was wearing a mask until nearly halfway through the film.
As I said, though, the script is completely weak. It delivers the same kind of slasher shenanigans that other films do. While that’s sometimes not a bad thing, here, there is nothing at all to liven things up. Want a “Crazy Ralph” type character to warn the kids of something bad going on… you get that here in a crazy, mentally challenged gardener. The opening of the film was very reminiscent of the opening in Prom Night. The little girl’s death in that film is the exact same as the death of the girl during her initiation in this one. We have the usual red herrings set up as to who the killer might be, then one by one they are dispatched of. We also get the kind of over-the-top cheesy romance lines that prevailed in not just 80s horror, but comedy as well. For instance, one girl says to a potential beau… “Time for your advanced course in… relativity.” You just never hear stuff like that anymore. It’s probably no shock as to why, of course. It doesn't help lines like these that the actors and actresses delivering them are strictly amateurs when it comes to talent.
The Christmas mood of the film is minimal, but we do see lights occasionally. The music of the film is the standard 80s synth job. While it has a few nice touches here and there, I was mostly bored with it. Still, it’s a moderately interesting composition for 80s synth buffs. To me, the biggest surprise of the film is that actor David Hess didn’t make an appearance at all. With such a recognizable face on the US and International horror scenes, you’d think he’d wanna be able to slap his pic on posters even if all he did was make a cameo. I guess this time out, he simply wanted to conduct duties behind the camera as opposed to in front of it. While that is commendable, I guarantee that had he appeared in the film somewhere, it would've seen a DVD release by now. Hess' direction isn’t bad. In fact, it’s quite competent. It’s just not particularly memorable or flashy. Take his name off the film, and you could’ve substituted it with any other director of slasher movie ripoffs of the time and no one would be any the wiser.
To All A Good Night has yet to see a DVD release, and the last news I heard was that somehow MGM owned it in their vast library now. It’s a shame, as the film could definitely use a modern restoration. Released by Media Home Entertainment, the film suffered on VHS from what many other horror films released by Media suffered from…horribly dark transfers. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Terror on Tour, Fatal Games, and other releases by Media have some scenes so dark that it’s nearly impossible to tell what is going on in them. To All A Good Night is no different. Many scenes look like the viewer is simply staring at black carpet, while a horror sound FX CD is playing in the background. The darkness does provide a good contrast for the Christmas lights and holiday mood, though. All this said, I do moderately recommend the film for slasher fans. It’s not the best or most original, but I think fans will enjoy the cookie-cutter nature of the formula going full speed ahead, the mean, inventive kills, and the creepy Santa killer. Not the best by a long shot, but certainly worth seeing once. At the very least, it's passable holiday horror fare, but only if you’ve already seen essential flicks like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas. Rent it!
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