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  Silent Night, Bloody Night The Butlers Did It?
Year: 1974
Director: Theodore Gershuny
Stars: Patrick O'Neal, James Patterson, Mary Woronov, Astrid Heeren, John Carradine, Walter Abel, Fran Stevens, Walter Kavun, Philip Bruns, Staats Cotsworth, Ondine, Tally Brown, Lewis Love, Candy Darling, Hetty MacLise, Jay Garner
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Diane (Mary Woronov) wanders the Butler estate, lost in her memories of what happened the previous Christmas. The story starts over twenty years before when the owner of the mansion, Wilfred Butler, living alone there, was found burned to death in the grounds; the coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death and nobody was sought in connection with his demise. Move forward to the present day and the only surviving member of the Butler family is seeking to sell the house, so sends lawyer John Carter (Patrick O'Neal) to the isolated location to make the arrangements. Meanwhile, an inmate has broken out of the nearby asylum - could this have any connection with the house and its dark past?

Although not capitalising on the holiday season, Silent Night, Bloody Night is one of those Christmas chillers that makes the most of its setting, with snowy landscapes to freeze the bones and an overcast skies to evoke an oppressive atmosphere. And director and writer (with Jeffrey Konvitz and Ira Teller) Theodore Gershuny is strong on atmosphere, as the question of what is really going on is kept a puzzle right to the end as all the while the strangeness mounts up. Winter hangs heavily over the characters, just as heavily as the community's secrets; although we see hardly any townsfolk we know that something ominous has happened and is about to happen.

It's difficult to believe that films were still imitating Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho even in the seventies, but such was that classic horror's influence. I won't give away the first twist, but suffice to say when Carter and his wife Ingrid (Astrid Heeren) opt to stay in the Butler mansion overnight while the mayor and the council make up their minds about the sale, they might not be making the correct decision. This is especially noticeable due to them apparently not being the only people in the building, as we are treated to point of view camera shots of a mystery figure stalking the corridors - could this be the escaped inmate?

We learn that the house was once turned into an insane asylum by Butler, so why is it not still an asylum? All is revealed in a flashback near the end, which is notable for featuring members of Andy Warhol's clique as both decadent houseguests and inmates; obviously Woronov, who was married to Gershuny at the time the film was made, was connected with Warhol, but you can also see Candy Darling, Ondine and Tally Brown in the sepia sequence. Silent Night, Bloody Night is one of those horrors that has rumours of a stronger version being made than the one generally seen, but it's filmed in such a murk that not much may have been able to be worked out anyway.

As it is, there are murders galore as someone takes their revenge, and Jeffrey Butler (James Patterson, who was dead by the time this was finally released) shows up to add confusion as we wonder if he is actually the killer. The plot is worth sticking with, as there are some intriguing revelations to be enjoyed, and the cast is interesting, including horror veteran John Carradine as a newspaper man who does not speak, simply ringing a bell instead (although how helpful that would be is debatable). It all climaxes on one night in the dead of winter with Diane, daughter of the mayor, drawn into the mess, but not realising just how connected her family, indeed every family in the area, is to the tragedy as she accompanies Jeffrey to the mansion, meeting dead bodies on the way. The film isn't blessed with a generous budget and the acting is merely serviceable, but there's something about that mood that stays with you like a Christmas Eve ghost story. Music by Gershon Kingsley.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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