Christmas With The Psychopaths : “Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 : Better Watch Out!”

Posted: December 28, 2010 in movies
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"Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 : Better Watch Out!" Poster

So, now we move ahead on our little Silent Night, Deadly Night journey to 1989, and we’re full-boom into the video age. The drive-ins and exploitation grindhouses that were the bread-and-butter outlets for the first two flicks are dying out, and the cheap stuff is headed straight to VHS. The partnership behind Silent Night Productions has morphed into an outfit called Quiet Films and the “powers” that be there figure it’s a good time for another Silent Night flick because, hell, that’s all they’ve got, and so begins this chapter of the —- uhhhmmmm — odyssey (I guess).

This time, though, they made one seriously shrewd move — bringing in veteran B-movie hand Monte (Cockfighter) Hellman to direct the next adventure in the life of Ricky Caldwell. Yes, Folks, Ricky survived a bullet to the head, and has been kept alive in a comatose state by sorta-mad scientist Dr. Newbury (Richard Beymer, who later go on to stay as Ben Horne in Twin Peaks). Furthermore, while under the good doctor’s psychiatric “care,” Ricky (now wearing a brain case that you truly have to see to believe) has developed a kind of Esp link-thingie with another one of the doc’s patients, a blind young clairvoyant named Laura. And when Laura leaves the hospital to visit her grandmother on Christmas in the company of her brother Chris (Eric DaRe, who would also go on to appear on  Twin Peaks, as the psychotic Leo) and his girlfriend Jerri (Laura Harring, billend here as Laura Herring, best known for her co-starring turn in Mulholland Drive — what is this, a David Lynch recruitment drive or something?), Ricky decides now would be a good time to bust out of the hospital, follow her, and kill anyone who stands between him and his psychically-linked lady love.

If all of this sounds a bit ambitious for a Silent Night, Deadly Night flick, rest assured that it is — but, weirdly enough, this is the slowest, talkiest, most leisurely film of the bunch. Some folks even find it downright boring, since it’s pretty low on the body-count scale and relatively bloodless until the end. But those people just don’t know a good thing when they see it.

First off, we’ve gotta take circumstances into account here. Hellman was dissatisfied with the first script he got and pitched the whole thing out with two weeks to go, opting to start over from scratch with the help of co-writer Steven Gaydos. Smart move number one. Smart move number two was Hellman recruiting his old friend, Hollywood veteran Robert Culp, to play Lt. Connely, the cop who’s tracking Ricky along with Dr. Newbury. Since a good third or more of the film is just these two guys driving around talking, it helps to have two very good actors delivering the dialogue, and watching Beymer and Culp riffing off each each other almost free-form is a real treat. You get the very real sense that Hellman just told them to make up the dialogue as they went along.

On the minus side of the ledger, the suspense factor here is totally non-existent. You know they’re gonna get to the scene too late since Hellman cuts in the “action” in the cop car with scenes of what’s going down concurrently at Grandma’s house (which is on an orange farm, by the way). The only question is who’s gonna live and who’s gonna die once the doctor and the policeman show up. But I’m not going to get too overly critical here — after all, this is a movie where a killer wearing a clear plastic dome over his brain stalks a chick with ESP in the middle of a bunch of oranges, what’s there to really complain about?

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 ; Better Watch Out! is a professional, workmanlike effort delivered in the midst of circumstances where none was expected or, for that matter, even really needed. the same amount of people (not many) were gonna rent this thing no matter what. To see Hellman, Culp, et. al. refusing to mail it in and actually insisting on earning their paychecks is a rare delight in the middle of a horror franchise that seemingly had run entirely out of gas after the first one.  The end result is hardly the most interesting entry into the series — that’s yet to come — but certainly the best made, and one I recommend heartily.

Silent Night, Deadly Night parts 3, 4 and 5 are available in the Silent Night, Deadly Night Collection 3-disc DVD set from Lionsgate. Extras are non-existent, but, as with the first two, the digitally remastered full-frame (it was a DTV flicfk, after all) and 2.0 Dolby stereo sound are nicely done. The set on the whole is hardly a bad purchase.

Don’t expect thrills, chills, or even much by way of (blood)spills here, but do expect a surprisingly imaginative and competent flick — where not a lot happens. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms (and I suppose it does, in a way, unless you’re a Woody Allen fan), you’ll just have to see it to know what I mean.

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