Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (1989)

... aka: Blind Terror
... aka: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3

Directed by:
Monte Hellman

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) was a routine slasher flick whose chief novelty was having its axe-slinging psycho killer decked out in Santa garb. The inept first follow-up, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987), followed the exploits of Ricky, the brother of the original film's killer, who also eventually found a Santa suit to wear after escaping a mental institution. At the end of Part 2, Billy was blasted with a shotgun right after decapitating a nun. This entry picks up right where that one left off. Scanning the credits, this has a much higher pedigree than the previous two films, with known actors (headlined by Robert Culp) and a director who'd previously made the critically acclaimed sleeper hit Two Lane Backdrop (1971). There's also an interesting link with later David Lynch film, with cast members Richard Beymer, Eric DaRe and Laura Harring all on board. Beymer and DaRe (the son of Aldo Ray and casting agent Johanna Ray) both had recurring roles on Lynch's short-lived Twin Peaks (1990-91) series, while the sexy Harring (who became the very first Latina to win Miss USA crown in 1985) later snagged the lead role in Lynch's acclaimed, award-winning Mulholland Dr. (2001). But is any of that enough to lift this above the ordinary? Sadly, not really.

Despite being shot in the head (though he's actually shown being shot in the chest in Part 2), Ricky Caldwell (Bill Moseley) is still alive, but in a comatose state in some hospital. Apparently because the top of his head got blow off by the shotgun blast and his brain was "surgically reconstructed," he's now outfitted in some ridiculous head contraption / skull cap made of metal and glass which you can see his brain through! Dream researcher Dr. Newbury (Beymer) is conducting some sort of experiment using Ricky and Laura Anderson (Samantha Scully); a young, blind woman with psychic abilities who recently lost both of her parents in a plane crash. The doctor is hoping to establish a telephathic link between the two so that Laura can possibly communicate with him, though after she starts seeing what's in Ricky's mind (insert flashbacks from the first Silent Night), she's ready to abandon the project all together. Newbury gives her a few days over the holiday to mull it over. Laura, her brother Chris (DaRe, rocking a truly hideous 80s hair band curly'do) and his new girlfriend Jerri (Harring, who eventually has a topless scene in a bathtub) then head off toward Granny's (Elizabeth Hoffman) house for Christmas dinner.

Immediately after Laura leaves, Ricky awakens, kills a bitchy old receptionist and a drunk guy dressed up as Santa ("Hey vegetable, who's your favorite singer? Perry Coma?"), then just walks right out of the hospital door. Despite being dressed in a hospital gown and having his brain exposed for all to see (!), Ricky somehow successfully manages to hitch a ride from a trucker who asks, "What happened to you, man? Did you get a hair transplant?" Ricky kills him, steals his truck, decapitates a gas station attendant who's in the middle of having phone sex and then beats the others to Granny's house and kills her. When Laura, Chris and Jerri show up, it's their turn. The idea that he's set off by the color red (on a sweater, a wrapped present, a car...) is carried over from Part 2. While all that's going on, wisecracker Lt. Connelly (Culp), one of the cops who originally put Ricky out of commission, shows up to investigate, and he and Dr. Newbury make a mad dash for Granny's house to try to save Laura and company. Well, not so mad they don't have time to pull over the car to take a leak mid-trip!

This actually opens very strongly, with a well-done nightmare sequence featuring Laura running through all-white corridors and rooms and encountering both Ricky and a killer Santa Claus. The psychic connection angle is a fairly interesting departure from the traditional slash-n-hack format of the previous entries. This is also, technically-speaking, better-made, better-acted and more ambitious than the first two films in this series... but there's just something that feels off about the whole thing. Some of the dialogue and various silly scenes, albeit sometimes amusing, hint that the filmmakers aren't really taking much of this seriously, though there's still this dark, dreary cloud lingering over the entire film, anyway. It's a combination that's perhaps a little different from the norm, but it's so awkward and clumsy it doesn't work. Slasher fans are also going to be disappointed that's there's almost no gore and nearly every single murder takes place off-screen.

As an inside joke, Hellman has Roger Corman's public domain cheapie The Terror (1963), which he served as 2nd Unit Director on, playing on several TV sets throughout the film. His daughter, Melissa Hellman, plays Beymer's assistant and Leonard Mann, an American actor who usually appeared in Italian productions, has one scene as Laura's shrink. Lion's Gate released a box set containing this, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) and Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker (1991) earlier this month.



Anonymous said...

Hated this with a fiery passion the first time I saw it, finding it mind-numbingly dull, stupid, and plodding.

But this review has made me consider giving it a rewatch...

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I also saw it a long time ago and hated it, so I was dreading watching it over again. I can say I appreciated it a LITTLE more on the second view, though it's not a great (or even good) film. Certainly interesting in spots, though.

crow said...

I just watched this the other night. I was trying to explain to my wife how it is not quite good but not necessarily bad. It is frustrating to really rate because it doesn't quite ever take off. After it was over, I felt like it just doesn't have anything that leaves it fulfilling. It doesn't have anything totally trashy or over the top even if Moseley has that dome top to cover his brain, Hellman isn't in the mood to go crazy. I guess we don't necessarily need that but after the first two films it was probably expected by fans. Hellman maybe wasn't the right director for this kind of series. Full was a welcome presence.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Best I can describe this is "awkward." You're right. It's neither good nor flagrantly bad, which oddly makes it less interesting / entertaining than most of the others in this series despite technically being better-made.

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