Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
aka … Night of the Dark Full Moon … aka Deathouse … ( that’s the name on the print I located and not what I’d call perfect grammar)
Years before Cannon Films went into overdrive and mass production with Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus at the helm the company got it’s start in the late 1960’s releasing risqué Joseph Sarno films to the North American market. Once the 70’s hit and before the studio languished prior to it’s rebirth, Cannon released this grindhouse special that proves to be an effective thriller at times with a pair of well known faces front and center, Patrick O’Neal accompanied by genre favorite, John Carradine.
Our story from director Theodore Gershuny revolves around an aging estate that has remained abandoned from the 1950’s to present day 1972. In a flashback sequence we’ll see the owner of the home burning to death in an “accidental” fire outside the home in a wintery scene. A voice over narrates the reading of the will leaving the entire estate to the owner’s grandson provided the house shall always remain as it is.
Present day sees a shadowy figure escaping from a local insane asylum followed by leading man Patrick O’Neal arriving in Arlington County, Mass. as the lawyer who represents the grandson who never came back. O’Neal is looking to close a sale on the home to the town’s higherups consisting of the Mayor, the Police Chief, the Phone Company rep and as the newspaper editor, Mr. Carradine. It’s a rather eerie meeting with a silence in the air between O’Neal and the buyers. Yes there’s a secret here just bubbling beneath the surface.
O’Neal along with his sexy mistress Astrid Heeren head to the estate to spend the night while the money is being put together by our Mayor to finalize the sale. I had this distinct feeling that O’Neal is a modern day Jonathan Harker. He’s a lawyer going to close a property sale, the townsfolk seem to be worried about his chosen destination and the house is remote and isolated. All that’s missing is the Count. Back to our story where S-E-X is on the menu for O’Neal and his much younger mistress. How do I know she’s not his wife? Easy. He called her to let her know everything is going fine and he’ll be staying over a day or two to finalize his business.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
Taking a cue from Hitchcock’s Psycho would you believe that our top billed leading man is about to be brutally slaughtered (as was Miss Leigh) with Miss Heeren while engaging in illicit sex before the film’s half over? I do mean slaughtered. Someone wielding an axe crashes through the bedroom door splattering a heavy dose of ketchup in all directions. Say what you will about the overall production but this caught me totally off guard giving me a definite jolt.
*** END OF ALERT *** read on…..
A good majority of the film is trying to figure out who is the madman wandering the woods and the estate with gloved hands in a POV fashion accompanied by heavy breathing. Mary Woronov and James Patterson are going to pick up the chase as the plot develops. She’s the daughter of the town mayor played by long tome character actor Walter Abel while Patterson is the long lost grandson who is either our madman who escaped from the asylum during the opening sequence or a well written red herring. I’m not saying…..
I do know that it’s not a great time to be a member of the town council as your tenure is going to be very short.
At a decently paced 85 minutes this feature which was actually co-produced by cult figure Lloyd Kaufman is a good example of the many drive-in thrillers that the early 1970’s produced. There is a grainy flashback sequence that gives one the creeps and feels as if it’s a lost sequence from Romero’s classic 1968 zombie shocker, Night of the Living Dead. That added to my overall enjoyment of this minor entry on the resume of horror icon, John Carradine. Minor yes but John milks a couple of scenes without saying one word. He’s mute for the entire film but gives that familiar disgruntled look on cue and even has a bell with him to voice his displeasure when feeling the urge.
Aside from a payday or perhaps boredom, I’m wondering why O’Neal bothered to turn up in a role that any lesser known face could easily have played. He had a long career in television and films appearing in anything from The Twilight Zone and Marcus Welby M.D. to John Wayne’s In Harm’s Way and even Steven Segal’s Under Siege in 1992 which proved to be his final big screen appearance.
Crazy I know but let’s think this through. How many actors can say that they have appeared on screen opposite both John Wayne and Steven Segal? Just another one of those useless pieces of trivia I like to toss about.
Finally aside from stating I liked this low budget affair with a few plot holes, I wanted to give kudos to the eerie version of the classic Christmas song, Silent Night, that plays throughout many of the scenes. Not quite the way we would sing it in church on Christmas Eve. I suspect this title is easy to find on-line or on budget label video. On that note I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to catch up with this Carradine “classic.”