To All A Goodnight, a holiday-themed horror film from 1980, opens with a particularly macabre hazing. One teenage girl runs through a mansion, eventually ending up at the edge of a balcony. A bunch of other teenage girls surround her, in what I assume is meant to be a sorority initiation. Over the edge of the balcony the first girl goes, plunging to her death. AGCK! Actually, it would perhaps a bit more effective if not for the fact that the shot of the girl plunging to her death was shot with a very obvious dummy.
Two years later, on the Friday before Christmas, none of the students at the Calvin Finishing School For Girls seem to remember or care about the accident that led to the death of one of their classmates. Instead, they are too busy getting ready for Christmas break. Most are heading home but a few are planning on staying at the school. One of the girls explains that her superrich boyfriend is going to be flying his private plane to the school and he’s bringing along a few of his friends. Yay! Everyone gets a date! They just have to make sure that they’re not caught by the housemother (Kiva Lawrence) or Ralph (Buck West), the weirdo handyman who spends a lot of time telling the girls that something evil is going to happen.
The plane lands. (Viewers will want to keep an eye out for porn star Harry Reems, playing the pilot.) The boys invade the school. Guitars are played. Love is made. Philosophies are discussed. And it turns out that Ralph was correct. Evil things happen. Someone has dressed up like Santa Claus and is committing murder! The girls eventually call the police and Detective Polansky (Sam Shamshak) leaves behind two other detectives to keep an eye on the place. For whatever reason, it never seems to occur to anyone to just leave the school and maybe stay at a hotel or something. I mean, the plane is right there!
To All A Goodnight is a fairly generic, low-budget slasher. The acting is stiff. The lighting is so haphazard that it’s actually a challenge to keep track of whether a scene is taking place during the day or at night. There are several character but none of them have enough of a personality to really make an impression. It’s a challenge to keep track of who is who. More than a few times, I found myself saying, “I thought she was dead.”
There are two things that make this film memorable.
First off, To All A Goodnight was released on January 30th, 1980. That was a month too late to take advantage of the holiday connection but, at the same time, that also makes it the first slasher of the 80s. Friday the 13th would not be released until May. Much like the first Friday the 13th, To All A Goodnight is basically an American version of an Italian giallo film, with the emphasis on the whodunit aspect of the plot.
Secondly, To All A Goodnight was the only film to be directed by David Hess, the songwriter-turned-actor who was best known for playing Krug in the original Last House On The Left. (Fans of Italian cinema, of course, know him for his turn as the main psycho in The House On The Edge of the Park.) With the exception of one nicely surreal moment in which one of the students has a nervous breakdown and starts to dance during the film’s final confrontation, there’s nothing particularly memorable about Hess’s direction. The film was obviously shot quickly and for little money so it’s not easy to say whether Hess would have improved as a filmmaker with more time and a bigger budget.
To All A Goodnight was one of the first of the Santa Claus slasher films but it would certainly not be the last. Something about jolly old St. Nick just seems to bring out the macabre in certain filmmakers.