Friday, December 26, 2014

Census Bloodbath: Creep In Heavenly Peace

Year: 1987
Director: Lee Harry
Cast: Eric Freeman, James Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I know it's December 26th, but why let the Christmas spirit die so soon? Just like the implacable killers of yore, let the festive activities return to life as we explore the improbable sequel to one of the most notorious slasher films ever created: Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.

The mere existence of this film is a fluke. After a massive controversy got Silent Night, Deadly Night pulled from theaters, a studio bought the film negative and took to a team of editors, asking them to create a new film from the existing material. The editors asserted that this was pretty much impossible and suggested that they instead create a new framework storyline and use the existing footage as flashback material. They were given the studio's blessing along with a modest sum of money and thus Part 2 was born.

It is not, as you can imagine, a masterpiece.

This film was not the first film to use this gimmick, nor was it the last, but the fact remains that the first 45 minutes are just a parade of recycled material given the framework of Ricky (Eric Freeman), the younger brother from the first film, telling a psychiatrist (James L. Newman) about his older brother's killer Santa exploits. In a way, it kind of works. This sequence is just a TL;DR Cliff's Notes version of the original film full of rapid-fire kills, trimming the fat away from the pacing. Because of this hack and slash approach, much of the rapey nastiness of several sequences is also toned down, and you will never hear me complaining about a deficit of rapey nastiness.

The problem is that people who haven't seen SNDN won't really be able to make sense of the mishmash storytelling - the doctor himself doesn't even seem to completely follow. Given the fact that the character of Ricky is only in like twelve seconds of the first film, there's far too much time devoted to moments he couldn't possibly have known about and a lot of the character development is thrown out the window. Some names are changed too, but I'm not going to fly into a nerd rage about a Christmas slasher franchise, I'm really not. It's bad for the heart. But the flashback material inadequately coheres with the rest of the film, let me just give you that.

The other problem (you'll soon find out that this film is comprised of almost nothing but problems) is that those who have seen the film won't need to see these moments again. No new context is given for the recut footage other than a slightly shifted perspective. But the difference between "I killed 9 people" and "my brother killed 9 people" is too subtle a distinction for a film so hamhanded as this. The pacing of these scenes occasionally improve upon the original, but my best suggestion for watching this sequel is to wait a year after the first one before you pop this baby in, so the events of Silent Night, Deadly Night have faded from your mind and you won't be bored to tears, but you'll have enough prior knowledge to fill in the gaps.

Once this segment ends and the film proper begins rev into gear, the film idles as it finds itself in the middle of an entirely new story about Ricky's murderous Christmas exploits avenging his brother (tossed in among copious murderous flashbacks in which the color red triggers Ricky like a yuletide bull). This reset throws a wrench into the already ropy pacing, but it's merely a brief catch. It's like blowing bubbles through a trumpet (don't ask). The soap has to twist and wind its way through the pipes, then it has to pause for a moment, building strength before it can bloom into a decadent, messy spectacle of iridescent beauty.

This is just the calm before the storm, buddy.

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is bad. Damn bad. Don't let anybody try to convince you otherwise.  But it's the kind of pristine, gaudy piece of crap that keeps me watching these things. Many people are familiar with the Garbage Day scene thanks to its popularity as a viral YouTube sensation, but not even the vile depths of the Internet can prepare one for the movie theater scene (in which Ricky and his girlfriend Jennifer - Friday the 13th Part VII's Elizabeth Kaitan - go to the movies to see Silent Night, Deadly Night) or the jumper cable scene. Or the doctor commenting on the flashbacks like he's watching a movie ("It's fairly obvious where he was going."). Or the evil Charlie Brown music, the aged Mother Superior (Jean Miller) covered in boils, and the car crash meet cute. Or the anything. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

But all of these treasures would be nothing without Eric Freeman as the centerpiece. His elaborate, eyebrow-wiggling, non-acting is essential viewing for the bad movie fanatic. He's the whole package. Freeman is built like a brick house, which beefs up his rather chaste lovemaking sequence considerably. His laugh is practically a paternity test proving that he is responsible for Tommy Wiseau. And when his eyebrows aren't smugly waggling with every syllable like they're in the process of being electrocuted and trying to escape from his face, he delivers his lines like a concrete slab spitting out granite pebbles.

And he's one of the better ones. While Eric Freeman is busy performing like he's overdosing on Botox, the sparse sets and too-showy supporting actors do nothing to convince that this isn't merely a very long, very festive porn intro.

That takes some very dark turns.

There are only two actively good elements of the film, and neither are particularly commendable outside of the slasher grading curve. First, the victim of sexual assault in this film is not punished for being assaulted, which instantly makes this film less nasty-minded than its predecessor. Second, the kills are a cornucopia of cheesy, campy fun. Umbrellas, jumper cables, magnetic tape, and just about every part of a car are used to destroy unwary wrongdoers. Even when Ricky gets a gun (typically the signal for the most boring part of a slasher film), the kills are strange and creative enough to deserve praise.

But in spite of its tentatively positive and bad-good elements, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is bogged down by an enormous lack of technical distinction. The editing is choppy, the camerawork is surprisingly ambitious but low quality, and the film as a whole suffers for it. It's not dissimilar enough from the legitimately quite good original film (it shares its atonal structure and lack of a traditional Final Girl - oh, and about 45 minutes of footage) to feel like its own being and the parts that aren't original are fun but can't be called "good" cinema under any circumstances, at least if I want to remain un-excommunicated from polite society.

It's a fun flick with some bat guano crazy moments, but it's a terrible double bill with the original film. But while it fails in its sequel duties, it's technically not even supposed to exist in the first place so I suppose it can be forgiven. Despite its problems, I'm glad we exist in a world where a film like this can happen.

Killer: Ricky Caldwell (Eric Freeman)
Final Girl: Sister Mary (Nadya Wynd), but not really
Best Kill: A vicious loan shark is impaled with an umbrella which then opens, covered in his guts.

Sign of the Times: Jennifer's ex-boyfriend, Chip (who stood her up, cheated on her, and ruined her best sweater), looks like Billy Idol got hit by a van full of yuppies in the middle of bleaching his hair.

Scariest Moment: While watching a movie, a man leans over to his friend (played by cameoing director Lee Harry) repeatedly to make comments, only to discover that Eric has taken his seat.
Weirdest Moment: Ricky sees a man taking out the trash, shouts "GARBAGE DAY?!" and shoots him to death.
Champion Dialogue: "You tend to get paranoid when everyone around you gets dead."
Body Count: 24; Not including Ricky, who is given a traditional "killer's still alive" shot, or the toy Santa, snowman, and televisions set that are unceremoniously axed. The kills that appear in footage from Silent Night, Deadly Night are in italics.
  1. Jim Chapman Caldwell is shot to death.
  2. Ellie Chapman Caldwell has her throat slit. 
  3. Andy is hung with Christmas lights.
  4. Pamela is gutted with a box cutter.
  5. Sims is hit in the head with the back of a claw hammer.
  6. Helen is shot in the back with a bow and arrow. 
  7. Denise is impaled on deer antlers.
  8. Tommy is thrown through a window and impaled on the glass. 
  9. Mac is beheaded with an axe while sledding.
  10. Father O'Brien Old Man Kelsey is shot to death.
  11. Officer Barnes is axed in the chest.
  12. Billy Chapman Caldwell is shot to death. 
  13. Eddie is run over repeatedly with his own car. 
  14. Rocko is impaled with an umbrella, which then opens.
  15. Loudmouth Moviegoer is killed offscreen.
  16. Chip is electrocuted with a jumper cable on his tongue and his eyes explode.
  17. Jennifer is strangled with a car antenna.
  18. Cop is shot in the head with his own gun.
  19. Complaining Neighbor is shot.
  20. Garbage Neighbor is shot.
  21. Driving Man crashes his car and it explodes.
  22. Doc Henry is strangled with magnetic tape. 
  23. Charity Santa is killed offscreen.
  24. Mother Superior is decapitated with an axe. 
TL;DR: Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is insane and inadequately differentiated from the first film, but full of fun campy moments like strange stocking stuffers.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1631
Reviews In This Series
Silent Night, Deadly Night (Sellier Jr., 1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (Harry, 1987)
Silent Night (Miller, 2012)

1 comment: