Like most of the country, we got hit by the flu over Christmas! It hasn’t felt like we even had a Christmas….but let’s pretend for a moment as we relive Darrell Buxton’s marvellous introduction to the Christmas Slasher To All A Goodnight! So stick on you Christmas mega-mix and read on….(♫ when the snowman brings the snow!♫)
Hello and merry Christmas from Fright Club. This being the festive season, we’re taking advantage of that fact to bring you a Santa slasher movie – TO ALL A GOODNIGHT. Don’t expect a classic. In fact, this isn’t even the best ‘killer Santa’ film of 1980, because we played the amazing CHRISTMAS EVIL here a couple of years ago. But TO ALL A GOODNIGHT has a top-notch grindhouse pedigree, with some notable talent behind the cameras, and livens up its basic stalk and slash plot with a few exceptionally imaginative murders.
It was the only movie ever directed by exploitation legend David Hess. David is most notorious for having played the terrifying figure of Krug, leader of the savage, murderous gang in Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT; his other screen roles include similarly anti-social, thuggish performances in the likes of HITCH-HIKE and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK. Before getting into acting in all of these sleazy movies, David was most renowned as a musician and songwriter, dating right back to the rock’n’roll era – in 1956, under the name David Hill, Hess recorded a song called ‘All Shook Up’, a year before Elvis Presley cut the definitive version and had a worldwide hit with it. Hess went on to pen songs for Elvis, and continued his own recording career with an American cover version of Cliff Richard’s ‘Living Doll’. David’s biggest musical success was in co-writing the 1962 number ‘Speedy Gonzales’, a smash hit for Pat Boone, selling over eight million copies. Hess became the A&R man for Mercury Records in the late sixties but took his career change into movies when he was hired by Wes Craven to write the music for LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, also getting cast as the lead villain, a role he grabbed with both hands. David moved to Germany and spent the mid 70s dubbing films there as well as translating scripts into English. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT is the only feature film he ever directed, and while he’s no John Carpenter, he does a pretty decent job of keeping the action going, and his sense of composition and use of camera angles ensures that even the talky bits are watchable. I’m not giving too much away if I say that the plot has a bunch of teenage girls and guys being slaughtered by a psychotic Santa in a sorority house, but it’s grand slasher fun, has a couple of unexpected moments and particularly outrageous deaths, and winds up with a neat twist when the perpetrator of the crimes is revealed.
The film was written by Alex Rebar, another example of exploitation movie royalty – Alex, who also served as one of the producers, cemented his place in horror history by playing the title role in that gloopy 1977 b-movie Classic, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN. Do check out another 1980 horror movie penned by Alex, called DEMENTED – a very odd little shocker about a rape victim, played by Sallee Elyse, who is tormented by strange visions and herself becomes a crazed killer. DEMENTED was almost given a wide release by 20th Century Fox, but the big studio relented and backed out once they realised that the male star of the film, actor ‘Bruce Gilchrist’, was in fact the handlebar-moustached king of American porn movies, Harry Reems! You’ll get to see Harry briefly in TO ALL A GOODNIGHT, by the way, playing the pilot who flies the boys into the school.
When it comes to slasher films, Justin Kerswell’s superb website ‘Hysteria! Lives’ ought to be anyone’s first online port of call – Justin reviewed TO ALL A GOODNIGHT some years ago and points out that “in a subgenre certainly not shy of cliches Hess’ film just about manages to include them all’. And that’s a good thing in Fright Club’s book. You can really play slasher bingo with this one, from the opening accident to the barmy twist ending, with suspicious and/or kooky characters galore, a slow-witted handyman, and an above-average body count – 15 deaths in about 85 minutes. Justin’s review points out that the movie seems unfinished in places, although he kindly suggests that the jumps in sense and continuity may be Hess’ attempt at surrealism – you might well exit here tonight thinking along similar lines, especially once you’ve heard the dreadful, plummy English accent affected by one of the female victims, the school cook talking about her ‘cranberry jello surprise’, or the film’s bizarre closing shot, which I won’t spoil for you.
Again, we wish you a merry and horror-filled Christmas, and we hope that Santa brings you a stocking-ful of exciting Blu-rays and DVDs. We’re already planning loads of horror goodies for 2018, so we hope to see you back here in the new year. For now, though – TO ALL A GOODNIGHT…