SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION
Pros: Very weird, with some impressive special effects
Cons: Acting is pretty rough across the board; screenplay seems confused
Director Brian Yuzna’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation, made for video in 1990, begins with an unknown woman falling from the top of a building while completely alight. This event is witnessed by a crusty homeless man named Ricky (it’s unclear if this is the same character as featured in previous series entries) who, prior to watching the woman’s fiery death, had been ready to chow down on a fly-covered burger he found in a gutter. Immediately after this opening scene and a magnificently cheesy opening title sequence, the script unleashes a sex scene which only solidifies the point that this definitively odd fourth entry in the series of Christmas-related horror films is a much different animal than the positively listless third film. Featuring a multitude of wild special effects work by Screaming Mad George, Yuzna’s film is rather deranged from start to finish though probably not something anyone would consider to be a “good movie.” It comes across as being quite similar to (the IMHO underrated) H due to the fact it has precisely nothing to do with the previous Silent Night, Deadly Night films (and precious little connection with Christmas for that matter either), but this hardly matters in the wild world of horror cinema. If anything, this fourth volume is exactly the shot in the arm that the increasingly tiresome SNDN series needed.
Lots of slimy critters in this one. And Clint Howard, who seems a little “off” himself.
The script by Woody Keith (who previously had written Yuzna’s equally whacked-out 1989 feature ) deals with a reporter named Kim who takes it upon herself to investigate the apparent suicide of the woman who fell from the building. As she digs deeper into the story, Kim becomes (perhaps a little too) acquainted with a mysterious (and man-hating) woman named Fima who appears to know more about the woman’s death than she readily admits. Fascinated by the enigmatic woman, Kim starts to spend more and more time with Fima, which turns out to be a bad call. Fima is actually the head of a truly bizarre coven of witches and has it in her mind to use the reporter as a vessel with which to conjure her daughter from beyond the grave.
The effects by Screaming Mad George certainly are the best seen in thus far the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise.
Though Keith’s script seems to bog down in all the mumbo jumbo relating to the occult and therefore get confused and confusing, it’s mostly an excuse for Yuzna, with help from the crack effects team, to unleash plenty of goopy, slimy, and downright gross visuals for the viewer to look at. Giant maggots and roaches wind up crawling into many sequences in the film, and there are plenty of regular-sized bugs scurrying around as well – it’s not all that surprising that when the film was released in the UK, it did so under the name of “Bugs.” Additionally, we get a bunch of scenes of bodies twisting and cavorting as if they’re being ripped apart from the inside. Many of these scenes seem to have been lifted straight out of Yuzna’s previous film Society, and when SNDN4 unleashes a pair of eye-opening and horrific “initiation” sequences it reaches a level of insanity that few films strive for, let alone achieve.
You can probably guess what’s about to go down….
During the first of these sequences, a giant larval caterpillar is inserted into Kim (you figure out how it gets there) and proceeds to squirm its way up her torso until she regurgitates the creature whole. From this point, Ricky, the filthy homeless guy, slices the worm in half and lets the juices ooze onto Kim’s body in a very suggestive manner. The second half of the initiation ritual finds Kim being raped by Ricky (who sports a phallic mask the entire time for good measure), subsequently watching in horror as her legs fuse together and bend back on each other while she starts to ooze as if giving birth. Drenched in a sickly reddish hue, this entire scene firmly plants SNDN4 in the realm of jaw-dropping cinema. Both of these two scenes are relatively pointless in the bigger picture of the script, but they certainly give the picture some notoriety. This has to be one of the more genuinely and unexpectedly disturbed films I’ve seen in a while – quite a surprise considering the sleep-inducing third Silent Night, Deadly Night film.
This film goes off the deep end at times, but it’s a welcome changeup in a film series that had grown tiresome.
All the crazy visuals in the world however can’t make up for the fact that the acting on display in the film is sketchy at best. Former model Neith Hunter plays Kim and appears to have gotten the role largely due to her willingness to disrobe on command (this just in: she looks great naked). Honestly, Hunter’s not terrible in the part, and at least tries to make the character believable – even when the script calls for her to unleash a string of mood changes that becomes difficult to keep up with. That’s more than I can say for the atrocious Tommy Hinkley, who appears as her horndog boyfriend. A viewer simply can’t take this guy’s performance seriously at all, which makes the romantic scenes between he and Hunter almost laughable: watch for the scene in which Hinkley tells his girlfriend, with a straight face and in the most emotionally disconnected manner possible, “I care about you.” I literally almost threw up. Meanwhile, Maud Adams (who had the distinction of appearing as two different Bond girls) plays Fima as a slithering, predatory lesbian who just happens to be a witch. Adams certainly is creepy in the part, but the script hands her some of the most ludicrous material imaginable to work with: it’d really be hard for anyone to add credibility to this character. Clint (“yes, I’m Ron’s brother”) Howard nearly steals the show playing the loose cannon Ricky, a menacing role that almost becomes comedic in way its played here. Howard’s eyes quite often seem to be bugging out of his skull as he rants, raves, and runs around like a maniac – the fact that he sounds like Richie Cunningham whenever he’s given a line of dialogue only adds to a viewer’s enjoyment of his performance. Look for Phantasm‘s Reggie Bannister in a smaller role.
It’d be very easy to be extremely harsh on this film: for one thing, Keith’s script has a tendency to go off on tangents, the most groan-inducing of which involves the character of Hinkley’s father chastising Kim for her lack of Christmas spirit (“she’s Jewish dad…she doesn’t celebrate Christmas…”). Additionally, there are a few moments during the course of the film in which Yuzna appears to have about no clue what he’s trying to accomplish, appearing during these times to be about as lost as many viewers of the film would be. His handling of the material in the end is quite clunky, but the sputtering, stop-start quality of the narrative benefits the film since it plays out in a surreal and nightmarish sort of way. Probably the best thing I could say about the picture is that it’s downright grody, quite ugly, and occasionally disgusting – qualities that benefit a horror movie like this. I was actually quite shocked to find a genuinely eccentric film like this existing in the otherwise fairly tame and conventional Silent Night, Deadly Night series: photographed capably by Philip Holahan and featuring a nice music score by the reliable Richard Band, this is easily the most fascinating and (excessively?) inventive film in the series, although it’s not the outright best. Even (or perhaps especially) those who didn’t like the previous SNDN films might just get a kick out of this one: it’s not a great movie and may be too extreme for many viewers, but I’d recommend it to horror movie fans.
Released by Lions Gate in a package that also includes parts three and five of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series. The films are presented in full-frame format with no extras.
8/10 : A handful of rather extreme moments, including some gore and plentiful weirdness. This film also really piles on the gross visuals.
6/10 : Recurring harsh profanity.
7/10 : Former model Neith Hunter is naked quite a bit and the film also includes quite a few sexual situations, some related dialog and an implied rape.
8/10 : Easily the most bizarre of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series and a film that would likely perplex and/or disgust some viewers.
“I don’t know what it is about that woman burning, but when I first saw it, I could almost feel it…”
Trailer (Possible NSFW – Weirdness):