Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas 2018: December 14th

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: You Better Watch Out! (1989)

I can't imagine a film as ridiculous as “Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2” making much money at the box office. At the same time, a movie that's 40% stock footage probably didn't have to earn much to become a financial success. Yet the booming video market in the late eighties and early nineties allowed all sorts of horror films to bloom into full-blown franchises. If “Sleepaway Camp” and “Prom Night” could make it to three movies, and beyond, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” could obviously reach the same goal. The sequel even seemed to score a major coup when Monte Hellman, critically acclaimed director of “The Shooting” and “Two-Lane Blacktop,” agreed to direct. Was that enough to distinguish the sequel from the Santa slashers that went before it? What do you think?

Turns out, traumatized orphan and murderous Santa Ricky Caldwell was not shot to death by police at the end of “Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.” He merely fell into a coma, scientists reconstructing his brain with a translucent dome device. Since then, Dr. Newbury has been trying to reach the comatose killer. His latest scheme is to have blind, teenage psychic Laura make contact with Ricky. The psychic connection with the deranged murderer upsets Laura, so she leaves to spend Christmas with her brother at her grandmother's house. The telepathetic link awakens Ricky and gives him a new desire to hunt Laura down. The revived killer murders people as he goes over the river, through the woods, and to grandmother's house. His doctor and a detective are on the trail, hoping to get to Laura and her family first.

“Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2” was characterized by a likely unintentional streak of absurd humor. At times, you wonder if part three was also going for laughs. The decision to replace the top of Ricky's skull with a clear dome – that looks like a salad bowl, with some electronic junk glued to it – makes him impossible to take seriously. There's a howler of a scene where Ricky attempts to hitchhike, despite looking like he does and wearing a hospital gown. He gets a ride within minutes. Later, his left arm slams through a door to grabbed a surprised victim. When that doesn't work, his right arm breaks through as well! That moment almost seems like an intentional subversion of typical monster movie antics.

For the most part though, “Silent Night, Deadly Night 3” is painfully dull. This is among the sleepiest slasher movies I've ever seen. All the murders take place off-screen. The few times blood is on-screen – spraying onto a desk – it looks like ketchup. Hellman seems utterly uninterested in generating thrills. When big jump scares happen, they are delivered limply and with zero impact. Moreover, very little actually happens in “You Better Watch Out!” An entire subplot is devoted to the doctor and the detective driving to Laura's grandmother's house, the two shooting the shit. At one point, they even begin discussing cellular phones. The action at grandma's house is just as uninteresting. Laura's brother and his girlfriend take a bath together or wander around outside, talking. Even after Ricky starts to attack them, everyone seems so relaxed and lackadaisical. There's absolutely no tension. It feels like the filmmakers were just trying to fill time.

One of the few interesting things about “Silent Night, Deadly Night 3” is that the cast features three actors associated with David Lynch. Eric Da Re, who plays Laura's brother, and Richard Beymer, who plays her doctor, would both appear in “Twin Peaks.” Laura Harring, as the girlfriend, would star in “Mulholland Dr.” much later on. None of them especially distinguish themselves. In fact, the cast in “You Better Watch Out!” is as sleepy as the pacing. Samantha Scully plays Laura. It's one of three credits for the actress, whose performance is blank and unconvincing. Once the beefy Eric Freeman, his years in a coma has presumably whittled Ricky down to a scrawny Bill Moseley. (Yet he has no problems getting up and walking right after waking up.) While Moseley is famous for manic and unhinged characters, this film sticks him in the part of a largely silent and somnolent brute. The only actor who seems engaged is Robert Culp as the excessively sarcastic detective. 

“Silent Night, Deadly Night 3” also seems somewhat ashamed of the series' killer Santa roots. There's some light Christmas atmosphere and Ricky's psychosis is triggered by festive items – a Santa hat, an ugly Christmas sweater, presents under the tree – but he's just dressed like a guy otherwise. The sequel does continue the series tradition of stock footage, throwing in some scenes from the first movie. The problem is it seems to conflate the first film's Billy with the second's Ricky, among other continuity errors. Apparently, Monte Hellman wrote the whole movie in a week, shot it in a month, and had it screening at festivals a few weeks later. He's proud of getting the whole movie done so quickly. Which I guess is an accomplishment. Yet “Silent Night, Deadly Night 3” is a deathly boring film, especially when compared to the sleazy or ludicrous heights of the last two. [4/10]

Batman: The Animated Series: A Bullet for Bollock

As I’ve said before, Batman and Christmas are irrevocably connected in my mind. What makes a better contrast against the Dark Knight than the holly, jolly holidays? The creators of “Batman: The Animated Series,” of course, did a proper Christmas episode with season one’s “Christmas with the Joker.” They would return to December with season four’s “A Bullet for Bullock,” adapted from a comic story by Chuck Dixon. It involves Harvey Bullock, Gotham’s most hard boiled cop. He’s been receiving death threats and has seen two attempts on his life. Knowing there’s a long list of potential suspects, he asks Batman for assistance. The two reluctantly work together, eventually tracking down a newly released drug lord.

All of “B:TAS” took cues from film noir but “A Bullet for Bullock” is especially noir flavored. The episode features a fantastically jazzy score, even throwing in a variation on the show’s beloved theme song at the end. The focus is really on Bullock’s slovenly lifestyle. The dude’s apartment is decorated with roaches and huge tears in his walls. He’s not often seen without some junk food. Alfred compares him to “an unmade bed.” He’s belligerent to almost everyone around, even the people trying to save his life. But that doesn’t make him unlikable. In fact, there’s something appealing about Bulock’s griminess. Such as a funny line he has about his laundry.

The critical praise the show had received by this point is also evident in this episode’s content. “A Bullet for Bullock” gets away with stuff most kids cartoons couldn’t touch. There’s a lot of realistic firearm action. A drug kingpin eventually emerges as the episode’s primary antagonist and there’s even mention of crack houses. The conclusion is fantastically comical but still fits the cynical, noir tone. And, as always, the voice cast is phenomenal. You might have to squint to notice the Christmas content. There’s snow all around but only one shot of decorations being taken down. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this one. [8/10]

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