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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

VHS Vednesday: To All a Goodnight

TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980). Directed by David Hess. Starring Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, and Linda Gentile.

It's Christmas Eve! And, true to my skewed perspective of how to celebrate the holiday, I'll be reviewing one of the many Christmas-themed horror movies that the '80s produced. (Seriously, what was UP with that decade?)
To All a Goodnight starts off with one of the most popular cliches of the slasher movie: the prank gone horribly wrong. How many cinematic killers might have led normal lives if they hadn't been traumatized by a practical joke with unforseen consequences, either to themselves (Terror Train, Slaughter High) or somebody close to them (Prom Night)? In this case, a young sorority pledge falls to her death while being chased through the house in a hazing ritual. Sure enough, two years later, the sorority is being forced to pay the price. To make sure we get the point, we are shown a framed photo of the dead girl and a flashback to her fatal fall as we see the killer's hands beginning their preparations...just in case we couldn't figure out the motivation on our own.
The killer strikes during the Christmas vacation, when most of the students have gone home and there's a more manageable number of victims to pick off. There's just a few students, their boyfriends, the cook, and the gardener...and a psycho in a Santa Claus outfit. The movie goes pretty slowly until the murders actually begin, and from there...well, it still goes pretty slowly, as there are quite a few lulls between the attacks.
The characters are among the stupidest ever seen in a slasher movie...and considering the average level of intelligence of most such characters, THAT'S saying something! When one body is finally found, they do at least have the brains to call the police...and yet, they still can't make the connection between the murder and their other friends' disappearances. They still insist that the others are just off fooling around somewhere, and dismiss the concerns of the one person who speculates that maybe, just maybe, the killer might have gotten them as well. At this point, you'll be rooting for the killer to remove these people from the gene pool.
Unlike most of the other Christmas-themed slashers, there's no real explanation for the killer's Santa Claus outfit. The maniac in Silent Night, Deadly Night wore one because he was traumatized by his parents' murder by a robber disguised as a street-corner Santa. The killer in Christmas Evil was obsessed with Christmas and wanted to be Santa. But this reason, really. Just shrug your shoulders and accept it.
To All a Goodnight was the only directorial effort from actor David Hess (notorious as the loathsome murderer in Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left). It's difficult to judge his skill as a director...he's crafted a few effective scenes, but he seems to have been unaware of the importance of proper lighting. (Whether that can be blamed on him, the cinematographer, or a simple lack of funds, who can say?)
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Most of the cast had little or no other film experience, either before or after this picture. The one notable exception is the heroine, Jennifer Runyon, who went from this to Charles in Charge (among other film and TV credits, but that's probably her most familiar role).

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