CHRISTMAS CINEMA: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Christmas Eve, 1950: Wilfred Butler runs from his home, on fire, and supposedly dies in the snow.

Christmas Eve, 1970: John Carter (Patrick O’Neal, The Stepford Wives, The Stuff) and his assistant Ingrid arrive in a small Massachusetts town. He meets with the town’s mayor, sheriff and major citizens like Tess Howard and Charlie Towman (John Carradine!), who may have lost his voice to a tracheotomy but not his need to smoke, about selling the Butler mansion as soon as possible. While staying overnight with Ingrid, who is also his mistress, they are both killed by an axe. The killer calls the police and says that they are Marianne.

Tess, the town’s telephone operator, hears the call and drives to the mansion, where she is greeted by Marianne Butler before she is hit in the head with a candle holder. Meanwhile, Sheriff Mason finds that Wilfred’s grave is empty. He is killed and thrown into the empty hole.

Mayor Adams is asked to go to the Butler mansion but leaves his daughter, Diane (Mary Woronov, Death Race 2000Chelsea Girls) at home. She meets up with a man who claims to be Jeffrey Butler, who has taken the sheriff’s abandoned car. Together, they search for the lawman but can’t find him.

After taking Towman to the mansion, Jeffrey goes back to get Diane. On their way to the mansion, Towman stumbles blindly in front of them and is hit and killed. His eyes had been stabbed out and Diane grows worried about Jeffrey.

Well, fuck me, this movie is also about incest! A diary found at the house reveals that Jeffrey is the son of Wilfred and his daughter, Marianne. Afterward, Wilfred turned the house into an asylum and admitted his own daughter. However, on Christmas Eve 1935, he turned all of the inmates loose. They killed every doctor as well as his daughter. Of note here is that many of the inmates in the flashback are played by former stars of Warhol’s factory, like Ondine, Tally Brown, Kristen Steen and Lewis Love, as well as Flaming Creatures auteur Jack Smith, artist George Trakas and his wife at the time, Susan Rothenberg. Warhol superstar Candy Darling also shows up in the film as a party guest.

Well, it turns out that some of the inmates of the insane asylum ended up being important parts of the town — that’s right, all of the important people John met with in the beginning!

Mayor Adams arrives at the mansion and he and Jeffrey face off, guns drawn, each believing the other is the killer. They kill one another as Marianne shows up, but she is really Wilfred, who is alive. He went after the inmates for their role in the death of his daughter and used his grandson/son/secret shame Jeffrey as a patsy. Diane gets the gun and kills the old man. One year later, the mansion is demolished as she watches.

Director Theodore Gershuny worked on plenty of episodes of Monsters and Tales from the Darkside after this film. He was also married to Woronov. The original title for the film was Night Of The Dark Full Moon and it was also nearly called Zora, which makes little to no sense.

There are some really interesting techniques here, especially in the flashback sequences, which feel like tinted photographs come to life with the saddest version of “Silent Night” ever playing behind the action. I love how experimental and dark these sequences look — they remind me a little of the film Begotten.

This is a dark film for your holiday viewing, so if you want to chase away the family for awhile, this is the one to do it.

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