Diane (Mary Woronov) strolls through local woodlands one autumnal morning and reaches Butler house - a grand building surrounded by countryside. She begins to narrate our story, telling how she wanted to see the beautiful house one last time before it is torn down.

Then, as her narration continues, we get flashbacks to illustrate how the house was built decades ago by Wilfred Butler - a mysterious person who never set foot in the house until Christmas 1950. When he did, we see that he burned to death in mysterious circumstances.

Diane, who grew up in the neighbouring town of Arlington, goes on to tell how the locals believed Butler's death to be a bizarre accident, and how no-one attending the old man's funeral.

An asylum for the criminally insane was erected close the house in the meantime, effectively ensuring that although Butler's grandson Jeffrey (James Patterson) inherited the place, it would remain empty for 20 years.

Which brings up to 1970, the setting for the events that unfold from hereon in.

It's Christmas Eve. Lawyer John (Patrick O'Neal) and his attractive mistress Ingrid (Astrid Heeren) arrive in Arlington with a proposition for the locals.

The town's Mayor (Walter Abel), switchboard operator Tess (Fran Stevens), newspaper journalist Charlie (John Carradine) and sheriff Bill (Walter Klavun) meet John, who has been alerted that for years this small group have been begging Jeffrey to sell the house to them. John says he represents Jeffrey who now wants to sell the house for the absurdly small sum of $50,000.00. All they have to do is have the cash ready for him by noon the following day.

Until then, John informs them that he had Ingrid will be staying overnight at Butler House. What could go wrong? Other than news on the car radio that an inmate has escaped from the asylum on that very same day?!

As John leaves, the group vow to raise the cash and buy Butler House from Jeffrey. As Charlie states, their first action once the house is theirs will be to tear the place down �

In the meantime, John and Ingrid settle into the grand old house for the evening. A caretaker has kept the place tidy over the years, and the pair love their warm surroundings. But not for long �

Following our first murders, Tess receives a mystery telephone call from someone claiming to be Mary Anne - Wilfred Butler's daughter - and telling her there's trouble up at Butler House. The voice summons Tess up to the house, and encourages her to bring the Mayor and Bill with her.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey turns up at Diane's house, on his way to the house himself. Diane, the mayor's daughter, warms to Jeffrey instantly and consequently becomes embroiled in the convoluted plot herself �

SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT is one of the most overlooked and undervalued Christmastime horror films from the 1970s (CHRISTMAS EVIL, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, BLACK CHRISTMAS are three more). But it's lack of a cult following is unjust. It's a good little movie.

I say "little" because its budgetary constraints undeniably rob of it of power in some expositional scenes. FX are kept to a minimum despite the film being quite gory, and sets are limited to actual on-location buildings. As a result, the film is often a little too dark compared to its more financially blessed counterparts.

But director Theodore Gershuny knows how to wring his low budget enough to get a solid cast, above-par performances and some stylishly creepy flashback sequences in sepia.

Despite a slow first half, the film is tightly edited during its final 45 minutes too, building to an undeniably haunting - and effective - twist ending.

The film deserves a wider audience. Part of it's failure to ignite fan forums in such a way that BLACK CHRISTMAS does (don't forget this Xmas-based slasher flick with killer POV shots came two years prior to Bob Clark's 'seminal' film), is no doubt due to it's shockingly bad treatment on DVD to date.

Unfortunately this new R2 DVD release does nothing to rectify that.

The film is presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1. Images are overly dark and soft. While there's not an abundance of grain and the film is watchable, be warned this is VHS standard.

The English mono audio is unremarkable but clear and consistent throughout.

There are no extras on the disc - not even a main menu, or sub-menu offering scene-selection. Having said that, a flick on the remote control handset did reveal the film could be navigated through by way of 9 chapters.

What a shame. From O'Neal's enjoyably smarmy performance, through some genuinely well-executed murder set-pieces, and taking some interesting cast choices (Woronov, Carradine, a couple of old Warhol acolytes in the asylum flashback scenes), right through to that chilling finale - this is one of the better US horror films of the early 1970s.

It may be better than the apparently full-frame releases available on Brentwood and Diamond in America, but that's not saying much. A minor travesty.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Video International
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review