Horror On The Lens: Silent Night, Bloody Night (dir by Theodore Gershuny)


The 1974 film Silent Night, Bloody Night is an oddity.

On the one hand, it’s pretty much a standard slasher film, complete with a menacing mansion, a horrible secret, a twist ending, and John Carradine playing a mute newspaper editor.

On the other hand, director Ted Gershuny directs like he’s making an underground art film and several of the supporting roles are played by actors who were best known for their association with Andy Warhol.

Personally, I like Silent Night, Bloody Night.  It has a terrible reputation and the film’s star, Mary Woronov, has gone on record calling it a “terrible movie” but I like the surreal touches the Gershuny brought to the material and the sepia-toned flashbacks have a nightmarish intensity to them.  The film makes no logical sense, which actually makes it all the more appealing to me.  As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

Watch and decide for yourself!

4 Shots From 4 Holiday Films: Silent Night Bloody Night, Black Christmas, The Silent Partner, Christmas Evil


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

4 Shots From 4 Holiday Films

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, dir by Theodore Gershuny)

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, dir by Theodore Gershuny)

Black Christmas (1974, dir by Bob Clark)

Black Christmas (1974, dir by Bob Clark)

The Silent Partner (1978, dir by Daryl Duke)

The Silent Partner (1978, dir by Daryl Duke)

Christmas Evil (1980, dir by Lewis Jackson)

Christmas Evil (1980, dir by Lewis Jackson)

Shattered Politics #37: Rosebud (dir by Otto Preminger)


Rosebud_-_1975_-_Film_Poster

Before I review the 1975 film Rosebud, allow me to tell you about how I first discovered the existence of this particular film.

The greatest used bookstore in the world is located in Denton, Texas.  It’s called Recycled Books and it is three stories of pure literary goodness!  (Plus, there are apartments on the top floor where I attended some pretty interesting parties but that’s another story….)  When I was attending the University of North Texas, I used to stop by Recycled Books nearly every day.  One day, I happened to be searching the Film and TV section when I came across a beat-up paperback called Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture.

This book, which was written by Theodore Gershuny, told the story of how the previously acclaimed director Otto Preminger attempted to make a film about terrorism.  Starting with the attempts of Preminger’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, to come up with a workable script and then going on to detail how Peter O’Toole came to replace Robert Mitchum as the star of the film and ending with the film’s disastrous release, Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture proved to be a fascinating read.

After finishing the book, I simply had to see Rosebud for myself.  Unfortunately, at that time, Rosebud had not yet been released on Blu-ray or DVD.  So, I actually ended up ordering an old VHS copy of it.  The tape that I got was not in the best condition but it played well enough and I can now say that, unlike the majority of people in the world, I’ve actually seen Rosebud!

Which is not to say that Rosebud is any good.  It’s not the disaster that I had been led to expect.  In fact, it probably would have been more fun if it had been a disaster, as opposed to being just a forgettable film from a director who was probably capable of better.  Preminger started his career in the 30s and was considered, at one point, to be quite innovative.  He directed Laura and Anatomy of a Murder, two great films.  Unfortunately, there’s really nothing innovative about his direction of Rosebud.  In Gershuny’s book, Preminger comes across like an intelligent and thoughtful man who was too set in his ways to realize that what was shocking in 1959 was no longer that big of a deal in 1975.  (And, needless to say, it’s even less of a big deal in 2015.)

As for what Rosebud‘s about, it’s about a man named Sloat (Richard Attenborough), a former journalist who now lives in a cave in Israel and dreams of establishing a worldwide terrorist network.  Under Sloat’s direction, terrorists storm a yacht named the Rosebud and take the girls on board hostage.  The girls are wealthy and privileged.  Their fathers are judges, senators, and businessmen.  CIA agent Larry Martin (Peter O’Toole) is tasked with tracking down and rescuing the girls.  If it sounds like an action film — well, it’s not.  This is not a prequel to Taken.  Instead, it’s a very talky film that has a few isolated good moments and performances but otherwise, is fairly forgettable.

That said, the film does have an interesting cast.  Peter O’Toole seems bored by his role (and who can blame him?) but Attenborough briefly livens things up in the role of Sloat.  As for the girls being held hostage, they’re not given much to do.  One of them is played by a young Isabelle Huppert.  Long before she would play Samantha on Sex and the City, Kim Cattrall plays a hostage here.  The English hostage is played by Lalla Ward, who is now married to Richard Dawkins.

And then there’s the girl’s parents, who are played by an odd assortment of character actors.  Raf Vallone, an Italian, plays a Greek.  (His daughter, meanwhile, is played by the French Isabelle Huppert.)  Peter Lawford, looking somewhat dazed, shows up as Lalla Ward’s father.  (One of the sadder scenes in Gershuny’s book deals with Lawford’s attempts to remember his lines.)  And than, in the role of Cattrall’s father, we have a very distinguished looking man named John Lindsay.

John Lindsay was the former mayor of New York City, a man who ran for President in 1972 and, three years later, attempted to launch a new career as an actor.  Rosebud was his both his first and final film.  (Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese attempted to convince Lindsay to play Senator Palatine in Taxi Driver but Lindsay turned the role down.)  Lindsay is not particularly memorable in Rosebud.  It’s not so much that Lindsay gives a bad performance as much as it’s just the fact that he has a very bland screen presence.  That blandness probably served him well as a politician but, as an actor — well, let’s just say that John Lindsay was apparently no Fred Thompson.

And so that’s Rosebud.  It’s a film that, much like Maidstone, you can only appreciate if you know what went on behind the scenes.  I can’t really recommend Rosebud but, if you ever come across a battered old copy of Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture in a used bookstore, be sure to buy it!

Seriously, you will not be sorry.

6 More Chilling Classics: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, Scream Bloody Murder, Silent Night Bloody Night, Sisters of Death, War of the Robots, and Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory


For the past few months, I’ve been attempting to watch and review every film to be found in Mill Creek’s 50 Chilling Classics box set.  Here’s are 6 quick reviews of the latest few “chilling classics” that I’ve found the time to watch.

1) Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (Dir by William Beaudine)

This 1966 western/horror hybrid is just about as stupid as you think it is but it’s also a lot of fun if you’re in the right mood.  Notorious outlaw Jesse James (John Lupton) attempts to hold up a stagecoach but, in the process, his hulking partner Hank (Cal Bolder) is serious wounded.  Some helpful peasants direct Jesse and Hank to the mysterious German doctor who happens to live in a nearby dark and scary house.  That doctor is Maria Frankenstein (Narda Onyx) and she’s been conducting experiments to bring dead Mexicans back to life.  Imagine her joy when the nearly dead Hank shows up at her laboratory.  Anyway, Maria performs a brain transplant on Hank and once Hank comes back to life, she informs him that his new name is “Igor.”  Yes, she does.  That plot description pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the movie but I vaguely enjoyed vaguely paying attention to it.  Maria’s German accent is hilariously overdone, the Frankenstein laboratory is full of pointless electrical things, and a character dies halfway through the film just to later show up again with no explanation.  It’s that type of movie.

2) Scream Bloody Murder (dir. by Marc Ray)

So Matthew (played by Fred Holbert) is a disturbed young man who murders his father with a tractor and loses a hand in the process.  He’s sent off to a mental asylum for a few years and while there, he’s given a sharp and potentially deadly hook as a replacement for his hand.  Seriously, why would you give a weapon like that to a mental disturbed person who has just murdered his own father?  That’s just one of the many mysteries that goes unexplored in 1973’s Scream Bloody Murder, an occasionally watchable slice of entertainment that is ultimately too slow and predictable to really be effective.  Once Matthew is released from the asylum, he goes on the expected murder spree and goes all Collector-like on a prostitute named Vera (played by Leigh Mitchell, who also plays Matthew’s doomed mother in a clever bit of Oedipal casting).  Mitchell and Holbert both give surprisingly good performances and director Marc Ray comes up with a few visually inventive scenes of mayhem but, for the most part, this film never quite lives up to the excessive promise of its premise.

3) Silent Night Bloody Night (dir. by Theodore Gershuny)

Filmed in 1972 and subsequently released in 1974, Silent Night Bloody Night is a real treat, an atmospheric thriller that has a wonderfully complicated plot that will keep you guessing.  On Christmas Eve, Jeff Butler (James Patterson) comes to an isolated town to arrange the sell of his grandfather’s home.  As we discover through some wonderfully dream-like flashbacks, Jeff’s grandfather died nearly 40 years ago when he was set on fire in his own home.  With the help of local girl Diane (Mary Woronov), Jeff investigates his grandfather’s death and discovers that the town is full of secrets and people who are willing to kill to maintain them.  Director Theodore Gershuny uses the low budget to his advantage and the sepia-toned flashbacks are truly disturbing and haunting.  Ultimately, Silent Night Bloody Night feels like a dream itself and the mystery’s solution is less important than the journey taken to reach it.

4) Sisters of Death (dir. by Joseph Mazzuca)

Technically, this isn’t the best film to be found in the Chilling Classics box set but it’s still one of my personal favorites.  The 1977 film opens with a very baroque sorority initiation that ends with one of the sisters being killed in a game of Russian Roulette.  A few years later, the surviving sisters are invited to an isolated and lavish estate where it turns out that the dead girl’s father (well-played by Arthur Franz) is looking for revenge.  This film is predictable and a lot of the plot depends on people refusing to use any common sense but Sisters of Death is such a fun little melodrama that I can’t complain too much.  The film plays out like a surprisingly violent Lifetime movie and it all ends on a wonderfully cynical note.

5) War of the Robots (dir. by Alfonso Brescia)

Whatever you do, don’t watch War of the Robots alone.  Seriously, you need somebody there — preferably several people — so you can take turns making snarky comments and rude jokes.  Otherwise, you’ll just be stuck watching this amazingly bad science fiction film from 1978 and wondering how much more of it you can take.  Set in the generic future, War of the Robots tells the story of what happens when two human scientists are kidnapped by a bunch of robots.  Capt. John Boyd (Antonio Sabato) is sent to get the scientists back and the end result?  A war of the robots.  Or something like that.  This is one of those films where it’s difficult to really pay that much attention to what’s happening on-screen.  However, it’s worth seeing just for the chance to spot the wires that are enabling the model spaceship to hang over the “alien” landscapes.  Naturally, since this film was made in the 70s, everyone wears space suits with really wide lapels.

6) Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory (dir. by Paolo Heusch)

First released in 1961, Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory is an Italian/Austrian co-production.  It was originally titled Lycanthropus and while Werewolf In A Girls Dormitory is a lot more memorable, it also makes this film sound like a lot more fun than it actually is.  This slow and oddly somber film tells the story about a series of murders that occur at a school for delinquent girls.  The school’s newest teacher is the obvious suspect but then again, the killer might just be a werewolf.  I liked the look of this film — the film is lit to emphasize shadows and it gives the whole thing a very noir-like feel — but, much like Scream Bloody Murder, this movie was just too slow to really be effective.

So, out of this batch of 6, I would definitely recommend that you track down and see Silent Night Bloody Night and Sisters of Death.  I would also definitely suggest that you do your best to avoid War of the Robots.  As for the other 3, they’re all better than The Wicker Tree.

10 Unacknowledged Christmas Classics


It’s December and that means that it’s the Christmas season and that can only mean an abundance of Christmas movies both at movie theaters and on television.  This Christmas movie has even become a genre in a way that the Thanksgiving movie or the Bank Holiday movie never has.

I love the Christmas season because 1) it’s one of the few times that there’s half a chance of seeing snow in Texas, 2) it gives me an excuse to bond with family, and 3) I get lots of presents.  And I enjoy Christmas movies so much that I can pretty much quote every line from It’s A Wonderful Life from memory.  I’ve even been known to enjoy the holiday movie marathons that pop up on the Lifetime Movie Network (especially if they feature Jeff Fahey and his bluer than blue eyes).  However, my favorite Christmas movie remains the original Miracle on 34th Street because Natalie Wood was one of my mom’s favorite actresses and Miracle was one of her favorite films.

However, in this post, I want to highlight 10 movies that have either been overlooked in the past or else films that, while properly acknowledged as classics, are rarely mentioned as being Christmas films.

1) In Bruges (2008)  — Two Irish hitman (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, both wonderful) hide out in Belgium during the Christmas holiday.  I love this film for so many reason but I have to specifically mention the performance of Ralph Fiennes, who plays an English crime boss with a foul mouth, a murderous personality, and a firmly held set of ethics.

2) Brazil (1985) — One reason why I love Terry Gilliam’s dark satire is because I actually have quite a bit in common with it.  We’re both often misunderstood, we’re both pretty to look at, and we were both released in 1985.  While Brazil is now often acknowledged as one of the best and most imaginative films of the last century, it’s often forgotten that all of this film’s action takes place over the Christmas season.  If you’ve never seen Brazil, see it now.  But be aware that you’ll never look at Michael Palin quite the same way again.

3) Three Days of The Condor (1975) — This espionage thriller (which stars a young, pre-Leatherface Robert Redford) skillfully contrasts cold-blooded violence with the bright outer happiness of the Christmas season.

4) Eyes Wide Shut (2000) — Stanley Kubrick’s final film is a tribute to MK-Ultra conspiracy theories and features rich people trying to be kinky during the Christmas season.  Nicole Kidman does redheads proud with her performance here and we get to see Tom Cruise smoke pot.

5) P2 (2007) — Rachel Nichols is trapped in a parking garage on Christmas Eve by a very scary Wes Bentley.  I have to admit that I’ve always had a morbid fear of either dying, getting seriously injured, or disappearing on Christmas Eve and therefore ruining the holiday for my family.  I guess that’s why P2 resonated with me.

6) Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974) — No, this is not a killer Santa film.  This is the film where a bunch of former Warhol superstars (Ondine and Candy Darling being the most prominent) play a bunch of mental patients who massacre their doctors in a disturbing, sepia-toned sequence.  Years later, on Christmas, another former Warhol superstar — the wonderful Mary Woronov — comes to investigate.  This is actually a fairly good film from director Theodore Gershuny.

7) Christmas Evil (1980) — Now this is a killer Santa film.  Harry is a loser who works in a toy factory but he’s obsessed with Christmas because, when he was a child, he saw mommy humping Santa Claus.  (Isn’t that a song?)  So, one Christmas, Harry dresses up like Santa and goes around killing neglectful parents and others who don’t have the Christmas spirit.  This is an oddly sweet film with an ending that brought very sincere tears to my eyes.

8 ) To All A Good Night (1980) — Okay, this is another killer Santa film and it’s one of those early ’80s slashers where everyone dies because they’re total and complete idiots but two things distinguish this film from other Killer Santa slasher films: 1) it features not one but two psycho Santas and the movie was directed by David Hess, star of Last House On The Left and The House On The Edge of the Park.

9) The Silent Partner (1978) —  However, the greatest of all killer Santas is to be found in this Canadian crime thriller.  Christopher Plummer plays a psycho bank robber who — disguised as Santa — robs a bank.  Elliot Gould plays a lonely bank clerk who uses the robbery as an excuse to steal some cash for himself which leads to Plummer eventually coming after him.  Plummer makes the scariest Saint Nick ever!

10) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) — This is pure grindhouse brilliance, a dark comedy and a metafictional satire disguised an action movie.  Robert Downey, Jr. is a small-time criminal who accidentally becomes a film star and ends up investigating a murder with a hard-boiled PI (a surprisingly self-aware performance from Val Kilmer).  And it all takes place during the holidays.

My Top Ten Books About The Movies


I love movies and I love books so I guess it would stand to reason that I love books about movies the most of all.  (I also love movies about books but there are far fewer of those, unfortunately.)  Below are my personal favorites.  I’m not necessarily saying that these are the ten greatest film books ever written.  I’m just saying that they’re the ones that I’m always happy to know are waiting for me at home.

10) Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture by Theodore Gershuny — This is one of the great finds of mine my life.  I found this in a used bookstore and I bought it mostly because it only cost a dollar. Only later did I discover that I had found one of the greatest nonfiction books about the shooting of a movie ever written!  Gershuny was present during the filming of a movie called Rosebud in the early 70s.   I’ve never seen Rosebud but, as Gershuny admits, it was a critical disaster that managed to lose a ton of money.  The book provides a fascinating wealth of backstage gossip as well as memorable portraits of director Otto Preminger and actors Robert Mitchum (who was originally cast in the lead role), Peter O’Toole (who took over after Mitchum walked off the set), and Isabelle Huppert.   If nothing else, this book should be read for the scene where O’Toole beats up critic Kenneth Tynan.

9) Suspects by David Thomson — A study of American cinema noir   disguised as a novel, Suspects imagines what would happen if George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life fell in love with Laura from the movie of the same name.  Well, apparently it would lead to Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond having an affair with Chinatown’s Noah Cross and to one of George’s sons, sensitive little Travis, getting a job in New York City as a Taxi Driver.  And that’s just a small sampling of what happens in this glorious mindfuck of a novel.

8 ) Profondo Argento by Alan Jones — Long-time fan Alan Jones examines each of Dario Argento’s films (even Argento’s obscure historical comedy The Five Days of Milan) and proceeds to celebrate and (in many cases) defend Argento’s career.  Jones also interviews and profiles several of Argento’s most frequent collaborators — Daria Nicolodi, Asia and Fiore Argento, Simon Boswell, Claudio Simonetti, Keith Emerson, George Romero, Lamberto Bava, Michele Soavi, and many others.  Jones’ sympathetic yet humorous profile of Luigi Cozzi is priceless.

7)  Spaghetti Nightmares by Luca Palmerini — Spaghetti Nightmares is a collection of interviews conducted with such Italian filmmakers as Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci, and others.  Among the non-Italians interviewed are Tom Savini (who, as always, comes across as appealingly  unhinged) and David Warbeck.  (Sadly, both Warbeck and Fulci would die shortly after being interviewed.)  What makes this interesting is that, for once, Argento, Fulci, et al. are actually being interviewed by a fellow countryman as opposed to an American accompanied by a translator.  As such, the subsequent interviews turn out to be some of the most revealing on record.

6) Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford — Landis and Clifford’s book is both a history and a defense of the old grindhouse theaters of New York City.  Along with describing, in loving and memorable detail, some of New York’s most infamous grindhouses, they also write about some of the more popular movies to play at each theater.  Along the way, they also offer up revealing profiles of such legendary figures as David Hess and Mike and Roberta Findley.  Reading this book truly made me mourn the fact that if I ever did find myself in New York City, I won’t be able to hit the old grindhouse circuit.

5) Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower — Fulci has always been a terribly underrated director and, indeed, it’s easy to understand because, in many ways, he made movies with the specific aim of alienating and outraging his audience.  It requires a brave soul to take Fulci on his own terms and fortunately, Stephen Thrower appears to be one.  Along with the expected chapters on Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy and on Zombi 2, Thrower also devotes a lot of space to Fulci’s lesser known works.  Did you know, for instance, that before he became the godfather of gore, Fulci specialized in making comedies?  Or that he also directed two very popular adaptations of White Fang?  Thrower also examines Fulci’s often forgotten westerns as well as his postapocalyptic sci-fi films.  And, best of all, Thrower offers up a defense of the infamous New York Ripper that, when I read it, actually forced me to consider that oft-maligned film in a new light.  That said, Thrower does admit to being as confused by Manhattan Baby as everyone else.

4) Immoral Tales by Cathal Tohill and Pete Toombs — Tohill and Toombs offer an overview of European “shock” cinema and some of the genre’s better known masters.  The book contains perhaps the best critical examination of the work of Jean Rollin ever written.  The authors also examine the work of Jesus Franco and several others.  This is a great book that reminds us that the Italians aren’t the only ones who can make a great exploitation film.

3) Eaten Alive by Jay Slater — This book offers an overview of the Italian film industry’s legendary cannibal and zombie boom.  Along with reviewing every Italian movie to feature even the slightest hint of cannibalism or the living dead (this is one of the few books on Italian cinema that discusses both Pasolini and Lucio Fulci as equals), Eaten Alive also features some very revealing interviews with such iconic figures as Catriona MacColl, Ian McCullough, and especially Giovanni Lombardo Radice.  Radice, in fact, also contributes a memorable “guest” review of one of the movies featured in the book.  (“What a piece of shit!” the review begins.)  Memorable reviews are also contributed by Troma film founder Lloyd Kaufman who brilliantly (and correctly) argues that Cannibal Holocaust is one of the greatest films ever made and Ramsey Campbell who hilariously destroys Umberto Lenzi’s infamous Nightmare City.

2) The Book of the Dead by Jamie Russell — If, like all good people, you love zombies then you simply must do whatever it takes to own a copy of this book.  Starting with such early masterpieces as White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie, Russell proceeds to cover every subsequent zombie film up through George Romero’s Land of the Dead.  Russell offers up some of the best commentaries ever written on Romero’s Dead films, Fuci’s Beyond Trilogy, Rollin’s Living Dead Girl, and Spain’s Blind Dead films.   The pièce de résistance, however, is an appendix where Russell describes and reviews literally ever zombie film ever made.

1)  All The Colors Of the Dark by Tim Lucas  — This is it.  This is the Holy Grail of All Film Books.  If you’ve ever asked yourself if any book is worth paying close to 300 dollars, now you have your answer.  This one is.  Tim Lucas offers up the most complete biography of director Mario Bava ever written.  In fact, this may be the most complete biography of any director ever written!  Lucas examines not only Bava’s life but also every single movie that Bava was ever in any way connected to, whether as a director or as a cameraman or as the guy in charge of the special effects.  This is 1,128 pages all devoted to nothing but the movies.  This is the type of book that makes me thankful to be alive and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tim Lucas for writing it.