Thursday, July 7, 2016

Christmas In July: O Unholy Night

Year: 1990
Director: Brian Yuzna
Cast: Clint Howard, Neith Hunter, Tommy Hinkley
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Happy July, everybody! Now that the fireworks have fizzled out and your stomachs are comfortably plump with barbecued foodstuffs, isn’t summer getting a little draining? Let’s beat the heat and dream of a white Christmas in July!

Two Christmases ago, I reviewed the first three Silent Night, Deadly Night films. Little did you know, but I stopped halfway through. That’s right, we’ve got three more Christmas crackerjacks to review, starting with Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation. As you may remember, SNDN’s 1 through 3 covered the continuing story of Billy and Ricky, two brothers who donned Santa suits to go on holiday rampages, punishing the naughty. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter if you remember, because Initiation has heck-all to do with them. Hell, it’s not even a slasher. Or a Christmas film, come to think of it. Oh sure, there are occasionally decorations in the background, but the Christmas in this movie looks exactly as festive as the sweltering view outside my window right now.

Although, now that you mention it, SNDN4 probably WAS shot in SoCal in July.

So, what the Hell is Silent Night Deadly Night IV: Initiation about, if it’s not about a psycho Santa with a bag of coal and an axe? Well… You tell me. I can’t make heads or tails of it, but here’s the basic plot. Kim (Neith Hunter) is a reporter for the calendar section of an LA newspaper who wants to cut her teeth on a real story like, say, that woman who just jumped of an apartment’s roof after spontaneously combusting. Her boyfriend Hank (Tommy Hinkley) is a hotshot reporter who doesn’t stand up for her and takes the story for himself, because their editor Eli (Reggie Bannister of Phantasm) runs his office like it’s a spinoff of Mad Men.

Frustrated, Kim decides to go rogue and investigate anyway, which leads her to Fima (Maud Adams, Octopussy herself), who lives up to her name, causing a disaster when she invited Kim into her group of friends that may or may not be a coven of witches. Spoiler: They super duper are and they Rosemary’s Baby her with drugs that make her hallucinate giant bugs as the first part of her initiation into their circle. The witches abhor men but for some reason they keep a Renfield-esque helper hobo named – inscrutably but perhaps inevitably – Ricky (Clint Howard of Evilspeak). Will Kim succumb to their vaguely lesbian seduction? Or will she… Oh, who cares?

If the screenwriter doesn’t, then neither shall I.

I don’t mean to damn SNDN4 with faint praise when I say that my single favorite thing about it is its opening credits, but it’s true. The Saul Bass-inspired sequence is a cheesy delight, stretching the titles into oblivion or squashing them out of existence. The credits form a colorful dance, leaping in and out of frame, spinning in on spirals, and interlocking with constant motion. It’s stylish, it’s engrossing, and it promises a fun, clever, maybe even Hitchcockian movie that unfortunately we never get. Well, at least we’ll always have each other, Title Cards.

The second best thing about SNDN 4 – by a mile – is the special effects. Makeup guru Screaming mad George is credited for “surrealistic visual design,” which could hardly be a more accurate, if fanciful, pronouncement. His effects, which crop up fairly frequently, are some of the best work of the early 90’s; a last gasp of the gooey, rubbery madness that haunted 80’s horror. We get giant bugs, twisted hands melting into a slavering beaklike mouth, living spaghetti, and a woman vomiting up a giant Fear Centipede. It’s gross, unforgettable stuff that clamps onto your brain and burrows directly into your fear center. Without a lick of research, I could have told you it was he who designed the infamous cockroach kill from Nightmare on Elm Street 4.

If all this feels like a repeat of director Brian Yuzna’s earlier FX flick Society, well… you would be right. Basically, SNDN 4 takes all those crumpled paper balls from under Society’s brainstorming desk, soothes them out, staples them together, and calls it a movie. The effects might be tremendous, but they have as much to do with the plot as Initiation has to do with the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise at large.

This scatterbrained sense of composition spreads across the entire film like a rot, shriveling everything good that attempts to blossom. This film is just plain clumsily assembled. It cuts from medium close-ups to other medium close-ups without context (or warning). There are pauses in the dialogue that stretch into massive chasms between words. The acting is shrill pantomime at best, blissed-out Xanax mumbling at worst. It just reeks of an utter and total lack of coverage. This is a movie that wasn’t cared for by anybody or anything without “George” in their name, left naked, and shivering behind a dumpster to perish.

Maybe they should have sent it to that orphanage from the first movie.

As amateurish as most of the film is, the director who made Society does show up to set every now and again. One shot that uses a pan up a building to disguise a time jump is chillingly surreal, and there’s a kill viewed from the perspective of Kim hiding under the bed that’s a masterpiece of suggested brutality. The script also feints toward social commentary with a scene discussing religious holidays and Biblical allegory, and the overall undercurrent of pushing back against sexism, but it squeaks and sputters like a leaking balloon around the midpoint, whereupon it devolves into a Ballbusting Lesbians romp without the commitment. Or the fun.

For the most part SNDN 4 is just a wisp of a film, flitting in and out of tired subgenres (it briefly flirts with being a slasher, but it has to grotesquely contort Clint Howard’s character to do so), arbitrarily tossing out totally disconnected dialogue and plot points because it seemed like a good idea at the time. The parts that aren’t packed to the gills with bugs and rubber are deathly dull, with a stifling pace that plods through the motions of about twenty different horror films. Kim gets knocked unconscious once every twenty minutes or so, a fate I fervently yearned for while slogging through theses segments.

Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation is a film that has no sense of identity. It’s not connected to its franchise, its holiday, or even itself. There are some truly spectacular moments that can be panned out of the silt of this movie, but there’s not enough gold to be worth rushing out to see it.

TL;DR: Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation is a wholly unfulfilling, inconsistent jumble redeemed only by some gonzo special effects.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1155
Reviews In This Series
Silent Night, Deadly Night (Sellier Jr., 1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation (Yuzna, 1990)
Silent Night (Miller, 2012)

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