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Silent Night, Bloody Night

Silent Night, Bloody Night, 1972

One day in 1950, a man dies horrifically burned alive in his own home. Twenty years later, the man’s grandson, Jeffrey (James Patterson) decides to sell the mansion he inherited. But things are not quite as they seem in the small town. When Jeffrey arrives to complete the sale, he finds that his agent has disappeared and he must team up with the mayor’s daughter, Diane (Mary Woronov) to figure out what happened and how it connects to dark events from decades earlier.

An intriguing premise gets buried under slow-moving scenes and a nonsensical conclusion.

Curse that interesting poster art! Despite middling scores and reviews any time the film has come up, something about the movie’s poster has always drawn me in. I have a decent tolerance for a low-key 70s horror thriller, but this one just can’t find its mojo until far too late in the game.

Oodles of horror movies trade on the idea of a small town where things just aren’t right. It’s tried and true because it can be a very effective set-up. An outsider wanders in with no clue about the hidden histories and long-buried secrets. The movie sets up quite a few intriguing dynamics. Jeffrey’s lawyer---and the lawyer’s mistress--is gruesomely dispatched by an unseen killer. A mysterious person calls the sheriff, identifying themselves as “Marianne”.

I liked the dynamic of Jeffrey and Diane trying to figure out the history of the house. The movie frequently shows flashbacks as sepia-toned montages of still photographs. I quite liked this effect and thought it added an eerie element that elevates the movie from looking low-budget, which it surely would have if it had just done black-and-white flashbacks. There’s an actress who plays a person who lived in the house who is part of the flashbacks, and I thought she did a great job of bringing emotion to her photographs.

It’s only in the last act that the movie really gets some traction, mainly because it finally gets into the outlandish history of the house and its occupants. I was very mixed on this final act, because on the one hand, it is probably the most engaging part of the film. On the other hand, the last act leans heavily into stereotypes about people with mental illness. There are also about three different things we are told that simply don’t make any sense, and retroactively make a lot of the film non-sensical.

As for the ultimate ending . . . . oof. I found it pretty underwhelming and limp. This is a case of a movie holding its cards close to its chest, then playing them all at once in a frenzy, but by the time those cards land, we just don’t have enough emotional investment in the characters for it to hit.

Great poster, middling movie.