Before I was a horror fan, seeing the highly controversial Santa Claus-as-slasher movie “Silent Night, Deadly Night” in 1984 left quite an impression on me. In short, I was highly disturbed. Perhaps that’s why I never saw any of the sequels.
Twenty-five years later, I’m a much braver man with low expectations. Should you also harbor a love of silly scare sequels, pick up Lionsgate’s “Silent Night, Deadly Night” three-disc set. It contains neither the original, nor its 1987 follow-up, but it does have parts three through five, all making their DVD debuts.
From 1989, “Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!” picks up with the story of Ricky Caldwell, the crazed killer in a Santa suit from the first two flicks. Here — and now played by Rob Zombie favorite Bill Moseley — he awakes from a six-year coma to reboot his killing spree, despite the fact that the top half of his head is missing, leaving his brain exposed but tastefully encased under glass.
At the hospital where he’s been sawing logs, a doctor (“Twin Peaks” vet Richard Beymer) has been conducting experiments with blind girl Laura (Samantha Scully), in which she can “see” Ricky’s memories, allowing for prodigious use of clips from the original movie. Her brother (Eric DaRe, also from “Peaks”) brings her home for the holidays with his girlfriend (Laura Harring, “Mulholland Drive”), who eerily looks a lot like Sis. Continuing with the surprising amount of recognizable faces, Robert Culp has a featured role as a cop.
What begins as a sort of “Nightmare on Elm Street”-style tale grows more standard once it becomes essentially a four-man show as Ricky hunts them down, but it’s an unintentional hoot. Name one other movie that’s used “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” as an action-hero quip. This one’s directed by “Two-Lane Blacktop” wild man Monte Hellman.
In 1990’s “Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4,” L.A. Eye classifieds desk worker Kim (Neith Hunter) takes it upon herself to play reporter when a woman dies on the street from spontaneous combustion. Her snooping puts in the path of a used bookstore owner (Maud Adams), who invites her to hang with her cult. What follows is something more akin to the “Exorcist” rip-offs of the 1970s and David Cronenberg than serial killers. An orgy follows, as do gratuitous cockroaches and Clint Howard.
Under the direction of Brian Yuzna (“Beyond Re-Animator”), Screaming Mad George provides some truly inventive, surrealistic imagery and effects that makes this better than the average (or below-average) straight-to-video sequel. So what does it have to do with the previous movies? Not a thing, but it does take place during Christmas, and shows a scene from “III” on the TV.
Finally, there’s 1991’s “Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker.” The last in the loose franchise, it’s also the best of the bunch. Its tenuous connection to “Initiation” comes courtesy of cameos from Howard and Hunter, and that’s it. No matter, because this one has a killer concept in toys crafted to be dangerous … and fatal.
Little Derek (William Thorne) hasn’t been the same since he saw Dad get choked to death by a mysterious Santa puzzle ball (like something out of “Hellraiser”). His mom, Sarah (Jane Higginson), tries to pull him out of his funk by buying him a toy at the shop of Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney — yes, that Mickey Rooney). If you get the Joe Petto pun, you may also pick up on the third-act revelation.
Other people around Sarah’s neighborhood succumb to the weird toys that pop out of nowhere. Don’t miss the scene in which a snot-nosed punk laces on some roller skates that suddenly become rocket-powered, or better yet, the sex scene between the babysitter and her boyfriend, in which some of the playthings get into the act. It’s like an R-rated “Small Soldiers.” Writer/director Martin Kitrosser’s film thinks bigger than its budget, making it deserving of an annual cult audience.
Ho, ho, holy crap! —Rod Lott