Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989)

Author: Wes R.
Submitted by: Wes R.   Date : 2008-12-18 10:00

Directed by: Monte Hellman
Written By: Steven Gaydos, Richard N. Gladstein, Monte Hellman, and Carlos Lazlo
Starring: Samantha Scully, Bill Moseley, Laura Harring, and Robert Culp

Reviewed by: Wes R.

“Is it live or is it Memorex?”

During the mid-80s, franchise horror was the hot fad. If your studio didn’t have a popular franchise, all you had to do was make one. Lengthy direct-to-video franchises like that of the Amityville Horror sequels, Puppet Master, Mirror Mirror, and Witchcraft series' were born and nurtured through this period. You’d think as iconic of a look as the killer in Silent Night, Deadly Night had (though it wasn’t the first to utilize the gimmick), they would’ve made about 8 or 9 killer Santa movies. Sadly, this was not the case. The first sequel, Part 2 only featured the killer Santa toward the end. The rest of the sequels abandoned this concept altogether. But, with producers wishing to make more than just a quickie cash-in like Part 2 was, could the Billy/Ricky mythology be expanded to realize a full-blown franchise in the emerging direct-to-video market? Let’s check it out.

The killer in the original Silent Night, Deadly Night’s brother Ricky sought revenge in Part 2 but was put to a bitter end…or was he? Apparently, he wasn’t. At the start of this one, he’s lying comatose with an exposed brain inside a protective dome (clear, of course, so everyone can see his brain and gooey brainwater sloshing around inside). The doctor that rebuilt his brain after Part 2 (yeah) is also conducting an experiment on Laura, a girl who may have a psychic link to Ricky. When she sleeps, she sees his memories and possibly…what he might do next. Laura’s brother (who looks like a roadie for Dokken circa 1988) comes to visit with his girlfriend (played by Laura Harring) and of course, Ricky somehow wakes from his coma, escapes his detainment and goes on a murderous spree looking for the girl who has been inside his mind the past few months. How’s that for holiday cheer?

It’s bad enough that they ditch the gimmick of the killer wearing Santa suit, but did they have to include pointless nightmare scenes just to add echoes of the Nightmare on Elm Street series that were popular at the time? Seriously, the film’s wacky subplots go very obviously into both Dream Warriors and Dream Master territory. The film was kind of hard to follow and ultimately, I gave up caring and merely settled for “can this movie at least entertain me?” The answer was, no. I was surprised to realize that I’d had a great deal more fun with Part 2. That film at least had more than one pretty interesting death as well as many good unintentional chuckles. Here, there aren’t even any good signature “so good its bad moments.” When you see blocking tape fully visible on the floor marking where an actor is supposed to stop walking, you don't laugh, really. I mainly thought to myself, "Wow, how sad." The closest thing to glorious camp would be the line delivered by a character whom Ricky left for dead earlier, that now stands aiming at him with a shotgun... “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” No doubt, this line will be lost on those too young to remember the famous Memorex commercials of the 80s, but the implications of the line are hilarious.

You can tell from the story that they at least tried to inject a franchise type mythology to the series, but the film never overcomes its technical and creative shortcomings. And as I mentioned, because they added more story, they made it much harder to follow. The film poses questions that never quite get answered. Poorly conceived, poorly written, and poorly executed. Nothing about the movie makes sense, and the contrivances are too many to ignore. Why does the driver pick up Ricky hitchhiking, despite the fact that Ricky’s wearing a hospital gown and has an exposed brain encased in a plastic and metal dome? I’ve seen many a scary-looking hitchhiker that I’d much rather have picked up before I’d give someone like that a ride. They even try to throw in a Michael Myers/Dr. Loomis type dynamic between the doctor who repaired Ricky’s brain and Ricky, but it just doesn’t work. A lengthy sequence in a car mirrors that of Loomis and the Sheriff in Halloween, except the scene here drags, and drags, and lasts for about thirty minutes worth of being cut back and forth to. A truly baffling piece of choppy editing seems to (accidentally?) implicate Laura and her brother having an incestuous relationship. One scene, the brother and his girlfriend are going outside, the next, Laura is wearing nothing but a bra, putting on a shirt all while talking to her brother.

In order for a horror film to work, you have to fear the killer, at least somewhat. You have to have enough fear invested to allow the suspense sequences to work. Otherwise, you’re just making a body count movie…which is fine, except in this movie, the body count doesn’t move past 3 or 4. Plus, seeing Ricky stumbling about with his brain water sloshing around in the protective dome he wears on his head was quite silly in execution. It looked more like something out of a 50s or 60s sci-fi movie than a late-80s slasher. For what should’ve been the film’s strong point, the kills were incredibly weak and uninspired. None of them achieve the creative audacity that the umbrella scene in Part 2 achieved. Nudity is present from the very lovely Laura Harring, proving that she has apparently had a couple of surgical enhancements since the filming of this movie. Her chest, while still stunning here, was very noticeably larger during her nude sequences in David Lynch's masterpiece enigma, Mulholland Drive. She is all wet and soapy here, however. The film’s sole worthwhile scene.

The acting is pretty paltry all around. The lead girl does okay. You do buy that she’s blind for the most part, but she may be among the worst screamers in horror history. Ricky kind of lame this time out as well, as Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 star Bill Moseley steps in to give him a more monstrous appearance. Gone is the prettyboy of Part 2. This is a Ricky that just has "deranged" written all over him. If not for that wacky brain bowl on his head, Moseley might have been somewhat effective in the role. This would not be the last time that character actor Robert Culp would encounter a holiday horror. He also appeared in the 2005 Bill Goldberg vehicle, Santa’s Slay. Laura Harring does okay here, although she is not given much to do here. At least she's nice to look at. A lot can be said about good direction, and nothing in the film seems to indicate that Monte Hellman (who also helmed the cheapie Beast From Haunted Cave) has any talent behind the lens. Take for instance, the scene right after Laura Harring is attacked. She and the character Laura are standing downstairs in the foyer (very close to where the attack happened, mind you) and are looking upstairs for Harring’s boyfriend (who has gone for a shotgun). They don’t act like they’ve just been attacked by an escaped mental patient. No. They are more cavalier and aggravated... like they would be if someone were taking too long in the shower or something. At the very least, I wish I could say there was some type of crazy 80s synth score to enjoy but sadly, the composer took the minimalist approach. That is to say, many major scenes and deaths occur completely devoid of music at all. I realize that sometimes no music is the best music for a particularly tense or dramatic scene, but the director goes overkill with this concept here. As for Christmas theming…ha! I won’t even go there since they didn’t even bother to give Ricky his Santa suit this time out.

Like parts 4 and 5, this film has never seen a R1 DVD release and may never. I was amazed at how inept this film was. A lot of people say that Part 2 is the low point in this series, but I beg to differ. Part 2, for all its many, many shortcomings, is one of those “so bad it’s good” types of films. A film you can watch with a group of buddies while downing egg nog and other choice holiday beverages. At no point during Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 did I stop and say “Wow, this would make a great party flick”. If someone brought this film to a party that I ever hosted, that would be the very last time I would invite that guy. It’s dull, badly made, badly acted, poorly conceived, and truly the kind of film that gave direct-to-video movies a bad reputation. They do try hard to inject more meat into the franchise but it's all for not. I can't think of a single good reason to recommend this one (and if you just want to see Laura Harring nude, rent Mulholland Drive) so surprisingly, I'm going to have to say Trash it!

*Now available on DVD through Lionsgate Entertainment.

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