Christmas comes early with an HD-mastered restoration (well, another one) of the 1970s Cannon horror sleeper SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT courtesy of Film Chest.
The Butler house on the outskirts of East Willard has stood empty since the mysterious death of the long absent Wilfred Butler, who burned to death shortly after his return. He willed the house to his only living relative, his grandson Jeffrey, with the stipulation that the house continue to stand as a reminder of "man's inhumanity and cruelty". Twenty years later, Jeffrey Butler (James Patterson, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) has decided to sell the house to the town council – made up of Mayor Adams (Walter Abel, HOLIDAY INN), Sheriff Mason (Walter Klavun, THE BOSTON STRANGLER), switchboard operator Tess (Fran Stevens), and mute newspaper editor Charlie (John Carradine, THE HOWLING) – who have longed to demolish the nuisance property. Jeffrey has sent his lawyer Carter (Patrick O'Neal, CHAMBER OF HORRORS) with an offer of the property for $50,000 cash. Although the council is resentful, they agree to the sum. Soon after, Carter and his mistress (Astrid Heeren, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR) are brutally murdered in the house with an axe; but it turns out not to be one of the town elders since the killer soon starts terrorizing them by phone and enticing them to Butler house to meet their grisly fates, leaving Jeffrey and the mayor's daughter Diane (Mary Woronov, NOMADS) to look into the town's past and the terrible secret of Butler house.
One of the Cannon's pre-Golan-Globus slashers – alongside SAVAGE WEEKEND by David Paulsen (who would go on to direct SCHIZOID for Golan-Globus) – SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT is a chilly little sleeper with an odd pedigree: bringing together a reunion of O'Neal, Patterson, and Heeren from Sydney Pollack's CASTLE KEEP with exploitation fixture Carradine, a handful of Hollywood yesteryear supporting players, and Warhol players including Woronov, Ondine, and Candy Darling in an old dark house holiday horror film (it possibly somewhat inspired BLACK CHRISTMAS, the only Christmas horror film with which it would best be double-billed) with a low budget but arty leanings. One can just imagine this group descending on the Long Island location with parties possibly only slightly less bizarre than the one that figures into the climactic solarized flashback. There's little of surprise in the plot, and it isn't particularly well-written (Woronov's narration holds things together, but sometimes is not as necessary as the filmmakers may have thought); but it's certainly got atmosphere and some nasty bits. Not dynamic but strangely repeatedly rewatchable (even in previous poor quality PD editions).
Released by Cannon and then reissued by them as DEATH HOUSE (onscreen title: DEATHOUSE), SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT made it to VHS via Paragon (along with many other pre-Golan-Globus and early Golan-Globus Cannon titles) in a dark and grainy transfer under the better known moniker. In the early days of public domain DVD releases, the film was all over the place (including the usual suspects like Diamond Entertainment, Brentwood Communications, Mill Creek, Echo Bridge, St. Clair Vision, and so on); most of them seemingly from a PAL master with the 81 minute running time of all three of the film's UK pre-cert cassette releases. The best source at the time for collectors and grey market fans was a Japanese-subtitled cassette release struck from a print using a DEATHOUSE reissue print. Code Red Releasing beat out Film Chest by issuing a new anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer without fanfare as the B-feature in a double feature highlighting a new transfer of Ed Adlum's INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS.
Film Chest's HD-mastered single-layer, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) DVD - like Code Red's disc, it bears the reissue title DEATHOUSE - appears to be struck from the same print source with the same jump cut and several instances of telltale scratching (not just at the reel change points). Whereas the Code Red transfer was darker and had a warmer, yellowish tinge, Film Chest's transfer is brighter with neutral skintones at the expense of some of the film's atmosphere. The Code Red sacrifices a bit of picture information at the top of the frame while adding to the bottom and slivers to the sides compared to Film Chest's version. Neither is perfect, but they both blow previously transfers out of the water and are both valid ways to watch the film. Film Chest's disc is more accessible and quite cheap, but Code Red's direct sale disc is only six dollars more (plus shipping) for an entire second feature (the Adlum film also features a new audio commentary). (Eric Cotenas)
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