Monday, January 9, 2017


The Tony Isabella Bloggy Thing War on Christmas will continue all year long. Because the horror of the holidays and the sinister of the season can’t be contained in just one month.

One month? Who am I kidding? Christmas starts around Labor Day in the commercialized chaos that is the happiest time of the year and it doesn’t stop until well after we get those credit card bills in January.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. I appreciate the attempts to treat all humanity with the good will that so frequently eludes us. I like a good Christmas Carol redemption story as much as the next guy. I get a small glow in my heart whenever I see kindly old Saint Nick with his bag of toys and clearly dangerous cholesterol.

Hold up. That glow in my heart? It’s actually the end of a red hot poker Santa just shoved clear through my back. It seems I wasn’t as nice this year as I thought I was.

So, my jolly fiends, join me once a month as I look as those movies that put the ho-ho in holiday horror. We begin today with a trio of sequels to one of the most infamous Christmas slasher films of all time...

The direct-to-video Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989) is a sequel to the previous movie in the series. Here’s the quick synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:

The comatose Ricky Caldwell reawakens and begins to stalk a blind woman, with whom he shares a psychic connection.

The movie is directed by Monte Hellman, who also directed the 1959 Beast from Haunted Cave. I wrote about that film here.

Hellman was working from a turd of a script by Rex Weiner (writing as Carlos Laszlo). But Hellman can’t avoid some responsibility as he’s one of three writers credited with the story. The others are Weiner and Arthur Gorson.

How bad is the script? So bad that Robert Culp is bad in it. Yeah, I never thought I’d write those words on account of Culp has always been brilliant. But not even he could do anything with his role as an almost always two-steps-behind police detective. Fortunately, when it comes to Christmas-themed horror movies, Culp more than made up for this movie with his performance in Santa’s Slay.


The Brothers Caldwell were at least interesting serial killers in the first two Silent Night, Deadly Night movies. This time around, not so much. The comatose-for-several-years Ricky [Bill Moseley] doesn’t do much talking. He mostly grunts.

Ricky isn’t pursuing any personal revenge. Having been linked with heroine Laura [played by Samantha Scully], he just seems to follow her and kill anyone who gets between her and him. Which, near the conclusion of the film, includes the mad scientist [Richard Beymer] who thought it would be a good idea to link psychic Laura’s brain waves with those of Ricky. Trust me, by the time the doctor dies, you’ve been hoping for that to happen.

The only interesting, albeit bizarre, thing about Ricky is that his exposed brain is visible through a clear glass or plastic dome. I liked the Frankenstein effect of this.

The best performances in the movie are those of Eric DaRe, playing Laura’s brother Chris; and Laura Harring as Chris’ girlfriend. The two characters fight to keep Laura safe and don’t make as many of the dumb mistakes usually made by characters in horror movies like this one. There’s a possibility Chris survives the night, but the ambulance scene is played in such a way that you don’t know if it’s Chris or Ricky who is still alive. But, as the Silent Night, Deadly Night series will go in a new direction with the fourth movie, it doesn’t really matter.

Psychic. Blind woman. Final girl. That’s an awful lot for Scully to juggle in this movie. She gives a decent performance, but, again, the lousy script works against her.


One bit of trivia. The original script for this movie was rejected by director Hellman and the replacement script was written quickly. The original script became the basis for the fourth movie in this quirky series.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) may be the weirdest of the SNDN films. It was directed by Brian Yuzna, who has quite a few horror movies under his directorial belt. He helmed Bride of Re-Animator a year earlier and, in subsequent years added Return of the Living Dead III (1993), The Dentist (1996), The Dentist 2 (1998), Beyond Re-Animator (2003) and others to his resume.

Here’s the IMDb synopsis:

A reporter investigating the bizarre death of a woman who leaped from a building in flames finds herself mixed up in a cult of witches who are making her part of their sacrificial ceremony during the Christmas season.

The big advantage in this sequel is that it has some pretty decent actors in its cast. Neith Hunter plays novice reporter Kim and does a good job with a script that puts her through a lot of startling events. Maud Adams plays head witch Fima. Allyce Beasley plays the surprising scary Janice. Tommy Hinkley is Kim’s boyfriend Hank, who is kind of a jerk but trying to change.

Clint Howard plays a creepy guy named Ricky, who some horror fans  claim is the same character from the earlier movie. He’s not...and he also plays a completely different character named Ricky in the fifth and final entry in the original SNDN series.


Kim finds herself obsessively interested in a woman who committed suicide by jumping off a roof to her death. Of course, the unhappy woman was also burning up from the inside out as she dived. Which makes suicide seem a bit less likely.

Kim meets Fima and the other man-hating witches. They drug her and play with her mind in other ways. She has nightmares about bugs and a gross infestation of cockroaches in her apartment. I was really creeped out by the bugs, but that’s more me than the fault of this movie. I like my menacing insects much bigger.

The movie gives me my wish. Fima and Ricky are breeding some larger monstrous insects on the roof of the building where Fima lives and runs a dusty bookstore. This is the same roof from which the burning woman made her fatal plunge.

Kim goes to a pre-Christmas gathering at Hank’s house. It doesn’t go well. Hank’s kid brother is a decent kid, but his dad is a male chauvinist asshole whose subservient wife waits on him hand and foot while he makes anti-Semitic and sexist remarks. Being both Jewish and a woman, Kim has an argument with Hank and leaves.

Hank doesn’t survive the entire movie, but he goes out heroically as he tries to protect Kim from Ricky. His family doesn’t fare any better, but I’ll get to that.

The nearly immortal Fima wants Kim to take the place of her late daughter - the burning woman - and become the coven’s new queen. Kim resists, but Fima’s power over her is great. There’s some great special effects work as Kim’s hands start turning all wormy and combining into one hideous talon. They force Kim to kidnap Hank’s younger brother, who they want to sacrifice to the rooftop insects as part of the ceremony to complete Kim’s initiation.

Kim keeps trying to resist, but, with Ricky along for the ride, she can’t prevent the murders of Hank’s parents and the kidnapping of the kid brother. Back on the rooftop, Kim refuses to slaughter the boy. Her body starts smoking and her hands change into that fleshy talon. The talon catches fire...

...and Kim plunges it into Fima’s chest. The ancient witch catches on fire and falls from the rooftop. By the time Fima hits concrete, she’s a charred skeleton.

Kim changes back to normal. The other witches stand around looking shocked. Ricky gets eaten by the bugs. The kid brother is rescued. Kim tells him everything will be okay now.

Sure, kid, your whole family is dead, your house burned down, and you’ve seen shit that will keep you in therapy for the rest of your life. At least scary Janice cleaned up Kim's apartment. You can’t even tell your brother Hank bled out there. The enormous cockroaches are probably gone, too. Merry Christmas!


I’m not sure how I feel about this movie. It definitely gave me a few chills along the way. It also made my eyes roll because some of the lesser actors were mind-boggingly awful. It’s better than the third movie in the series and more interesting than those parts of the second movie that weren’t just clips from the first movie. No regrets about watching it, but I don’t see myself watching it more than this one time.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) is the finale of the original series. It’s most notable because it features Mickey Rooney, who famously condemned Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), suggesting its makers be run out of town. He not only stars in this film, at one point, he wears a Santa Claus costume, kills a horny teenager with robot toys, almost kills a second teen and kidnaps a young boy who was already traumatized by watching his father killed by a robot toy. I guess Santa Claus mayhem is okay when old Mickey does it. Yeah, I’m throwing shade on Mickey here, but I don’t hate the guy. I’ve enjoyed many of his movies and some of his off-screen adventures.

The direct-to-video SNDN 5 was directed by Martin Kitrosser. He has a slim directing resume, but has worked as script supervisor on a bunch of movies. He’s also written stories and screenplays for some movies, including entries in the Friday the 13th series. He’s the co-writer of this movie with Brian Yuzna, director and co-writer of SNDN 4. As with SNDN 4, this movie has almost nothing do with the previous entries in the series.

I say “almost” because Neith Hunter, the heroine of SNDN 4 appears in this movie as MILF friend and neighbor to this movie’s heroine. At one point, when the heroine is telling Hunter’s character about the weird stuff going down, Hunter responds by saying she has seen stuff you wouldn’t believe. It’s a wink to the previous movie, but there’s no other indication Hunter is playing the same character. Although I sort of like the idea that reporter Kim got through the trauma of SNDN 4 and built a happy new life for herself.

The Toy Maker is truly bizarre, even for this series. Its plot is convoluted as all get out, but everything ties up rather nicely by the end. Here’s the IMDb synopsis:

An elderly toy maker and his son make killer toys designed to kill their customers, children.


A mysterious Christmas present is left at the front door of Sarah and Tom Quinn [played by Jane Higginson and Van Quattro]. A card on the package says it should not be opened until Christmas, but their young son Derek [William Thorne] can’t resist sneaking down to open it. Inside is a strange toy, but, before Derek can do anything with it, his dad catches him in the act and sends him to bed. Then Dad examines the toy, which starts to choke him to death. Blinded and in agony, Dad falls and gets a fireplace poker through the eye. Hiding on the stairs, Derek has witnessed this awful death and the trauma of the moment leaves him mute. No one else suspects the toy is a killer. It ends up on a shelf in Derek’s bedroom. No surprise he ends up sleeping with Sarah.

What I like about this movie is that most of the characters aren’t what they seem. Sarah isn’t just a housewife and mother. She’s an attorney. A mysterious man who may or may not be the killer - kudos for the wonderful feint that makes us think he is - turns out to be Derek’s actual father. He and Sarah split when he joined the Army; he wasn’t ready to settle down (and didn’t know Sarah was pregnant with their son) and she wanted stability so she could pursue her own dreams. So she married Tom.

Mickey Rooney is toy maker Joe Peto. He has a creepy teen son name of Pino. If those names are giving you some ideas, you’re probably on the right track.

Rooney used to live in Sarah’s house. Pino knows where a spare key is hidden. Sarah catches Pino creeping around the house. She goes to Peto’s toy store to read the old man the riot act. Peto, being a mean and brutal drunk, beats the heck out of Pino and knocks him down the steps to the basement. Pino looks dead.

Noah reunited with Sarah in a parking garage and almost scares the Hell out of her. He’s been doing research on Peto. It turns out the toy maker did time for booby-trapping toys in his previous city and injuring some children. I’m not sure it was explained why Noah did this research. Must be his military training.

Peto (maybe Peto) enters the Quinn house dressed as Santa. He sics killer toys and on Derek’s sitter and the young woman’s boyfriend. Then he kidnaps Derek.

Reunited lovers Sarah and Noah return to the Quinn house in time to see the still-alive babysitter stumble out of the house. Impulsive Sarah jumps in Noah’s car and drives to the toy store. Neighbor Kim calls for an ambulance while Noah runs after Sarah.

More revelations. Pino is a robot, albeit with the genitalia of a Ken doll. Peto’s wife and son died a long time ago. The crazed Peto built Pino, but it wasn’t the same as having a real boy.

Mean drunk Peto would often “break” Pino in fits of rage. He would always “fix” him, but Pino is pretty psycho himself. He’s the one trying to kill Derek. He wants Sarah to be his mother. Of course, when he strips down to his Ken parts and tries to rape Sarah, the movie goes all Oedipus Wrecks on us.

Pino kills Peto and does him darnest to kill Derek and Noah, too. Sarah sticks a screwdriver in Pino’s head. Derek finds his voice when Pino tries to stab him. Noah distracts Pino, knocking the boy robot to the floor. Sarah cuts Pino in half with an axe and kicks his head to pieces. Happy ending. Sort of...

As the new family leaves the toy store basement, the eyes of one of Peto’s partially constructed robots spark.


The movie’s standout performances come from Rooney - as Joe Peto - and Brian Bremer as the creepy Pino. As bizarre as this movie can get, they make it work.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is my second favorite movie in the series. The original, of course, is my favorite and, I think it was unfairly slammed on its initial release. This is a film I could watch again and a contender for the Christmas horror movie marathon I keep threatening to host on my December 22nd birthday.

My War on Christmas will continue in February. In the meantime, I have lots of other stuff coming in this bloggy thing of mine. See you tomorrow.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

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