Clint Howard - Ricky
Neith Hunter - Kim
Tommy Hinkley - Hank
Reggie Bannister - Eli
Allyce Beasley - Janice
Maud Adams - Fima
Genre - Horror/Holiday/Supernatural/Witchcraft
Running Time - 85 Minutes
Well it's that time of year again and I want to wish everyone who celebrates, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! And since it's less than a week away, I might as well complete a Christmas horror franchise I started reviewing back in 2008 - 1984's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. Oh yes...that controversial slasher film that got parents up in arms over its depiction of a less-than-friendly Santa Claus, when in reality it was your typical holiday slasher film that got more hype than it probably should have. Because of the success of the film, we were treated to a sequel several years later that has gain quite a life of its own.
1987's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 is one of the worst films ever made. The first half of the film is just footage from the first film told by the brother of the main character in the original, even though he wouldn't have been old enough or aware of what had taken place during that movie! But when you have a classic moment like Eric 'Eyebrow Wiggler' Freeman yelling out "Garbage Day!" before shooting someone, you can't help but love that flick. It's one of the guiltiest pleasures in cinema history.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 wasn't a box office success, which led the next several sequels to be released straight to home video. The first of three, 1989's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III: BETTER WATCH OUT! was a dull continuation of the Ricky Caldwell story that just happened to be one of the worst slasher films I have ever witnessed. I mean a mute Bill Moseley slow stalking a blind chick while wearing a punch bowl on his head? Not my idea of a good, scary time.
So I had a lot of hope when it came to 1990's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION [a.k.a. BUGS]. Haven't never seen this film before this weekend, I was wishing it would at least be an improvement over the insomnia curing third installment. And while INITIATION is better than BETTER WATCH OUT!, it's still a terrible film like many of my friends claimed it was. But at least it's interestingly terrible...
A homeless dude (Clint Howard) named Ricky watches a woman leap off of a roof to her death while she was in flames. This obviously becomes local news, where the idea of spontaneous human combustion is discussed. The story catches the attention of Kim (Neith Hunter), who works at the local newspaper with her reporter boyfriend, Hank (Tommy Hinkley). Kim wants to do a story based on what happened, but her boss (Reggie Bannister) decides to give it to Hank instead due to the fact that Kim is a woman and works at the Classifieds section. Kim is obviously ticked off by this and decides to handle the investigation on her own.
Kim's research finds her in front of Fima (Maud Adams), who owns a book store that just so happens to be underneath the roof where the dead woman fell off of. Ricky also happens to be around this bookstore with a special interest in Kim. Fima is also interested in Kim, kissing her inappropriately and making her hang out with her friends - who happen to be witches. Soon enough, Kim is traumatized by visions of Pagan rituals and bugs. A whole lot of bugs. Yeah.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION is one of those films I have trouble really discussing about. While it's refreshing that it strays away from previous films in the franchise [sort of like HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH did after the first two HALLOWEEN movies], it's still a bad film with interesting ideas that don't mix well together for several reasons. While I was somewhat entertained by HALLOWEEN III, I honestly can't say the same for INITIATION.
The film's failure is surprising due to the fact that it was co-written and directed by Brian Yuzna, a cult figure in horror who's done some interesting work in films such as THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III, THE BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, and SOCIETY. While his trademark 'body horror' is here [which I will get into later], it doesn't manage to save a severely confusing and messy script. Written by Yunza, Woody Keith, Arthur Gorson, and S.J. Smith, the screenplay seems to be many things at once, but can't focus on any of them to present a cohesive story. For one, the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT title is pretty misleading. The film has nothing to do with the other installments, which isn't a terrible thing. But when you name a character 'Ricky' in this film and you're not sure if he's connected to Ricky Caldwell in any way, that's a problem. It doesn't seem like he is, but you never know in these movies. Also, the film "takes place" on Christmas but doesn't deal with killer Santas or anything like that. Honestly, this film could have taken place on July 4th and it wouldn't have changed a thing.
Also, the attempt to write a film based on witches is a solid idea. But when there's not enough explanation about this coven or their motives. In fact, their motives were so blurred that I had no idea what they were really trying to do by the end of the film. Now I understand they wanted to replace the victim, who was part of their coven, for personal reasons that I won't spoil. But it didn't make sense why they wanted to bring that person back in Kim if the real person couldn't handle the power given to her. Why makes Kim so special? Also, the coven had to drug Kim in order to get this going. If anyone knows anything about the occult, you can't be forced into something. If you don't go in willingly in some way, shape, or form, your magical plan isn't going to happen. Witchcraft and covens don't really work that way. Another thing, why did these witches have to hate men? There's no real explanation as to why they want to have men murdered or sacrificed, except for Ricky who seems to be a slave for this coven. If they're a group of lesbians, then hey - that's cool with me. But they spout man hate whenever the topic is brought up without saying why. What does that have to do with the girl burning in flames and jumping off of a roof?
I won't be completely harsh on these men hating women, because the men in this film are pretty misogynistic as well. First we have Kim's boss, Eli. who sees her below any of the men working at the newspaper. When she begs to do the story about the dead roof girl, she's pretty much ignored and dismissed right away. When her boyfriend accepts the story, he never bothers to fight for Kim's honor or convince Eli to change his mind. Speaking of Hank, his father also puts down not only Kim, but Hanks' mother as well. When Hank's dad is disgusted that Kim is Jewish and unable to celebrate Christmas, he starts spouting out that women belong at the home and doing feminine things while the men do the real work. In fact, even the witches are weak. For them to summon the Goddess, Lilith, they need to sacrifice a man. They also need Ricky to rape Kim in order for her to possess Lilith's power if she's the perfect shell. The story contradicts its message by doing that alone. Not a female empowering film at all.
Also, things just happen for the sake of happening without any sort of set up or explanation as to why. The scenarios are just as shallow as the characters in the film. I honestly didn't care about any one of them. All the male characters are there to be there and they don't add a thing to the film. The women all have motivations and aren't passive, which is great for a character on paper. But when you know nothing about him personality wise, what's the point? Even Kim, our main character, comes off bland. She seemed like such a strong, passionate character in the beginning. But once Fima gets her hands on her, it all goes to hell. She becomes the stereotypical weak victim that becomes more annoying as the film rolls on. It's sad when Hank, a character that doesn't add much to the plot at all except play the boyfriend role, gets more of a backstory through his family than our main character does. Kim did nothing for me. Actually, none of these characters did. Ricky is okay only because he's weird, so he stands out. But other than that, the characters aren't worth mentioning due to lack of depth.
Even though the screenplay is a muddled mess of subplots that don't get enough time to mean anything substantial, at least I respect the attempt to create something different for this franchise. Sure, it's still a terrible story that not many people will want to watch again. But I would be more bitter about INITIATION if it were just another bad slasher film like BETTER WATCH OUT! was. So yeah, INITIATION is a craptastic sequel, but at least it kept my interest and it was different. So it gets some points for that.
The highlight of the film, without a doubt, are the special effects. Knowing this is a Brian Yunza film, you know the film is going to have some disturbing 'body horror'. And for a low-budget flick, the effects for the creatures are pretty darn good. The giant larvae that constantly make an appearance are pretty disgusting. When one crawls into a woman's vagina and we watch it crawl through her body until it exits her mouth, it leaves you pretty disturbed. The giant cockroach was another disturbing creature, as I dislike roaches to begin with. But to see a giant one amongst its regular-sized brethren is just creepy as hell. Unfortunately, we don't see enough of these effects in the film. But I can't complaint about this aspect of the film at all. It's probably the most memorable thing about SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION.
Brian Yunza's direction isn't terrible either. Yunza puts in a ton of mood and atmosphere into this film, creating a creepier vibe than any of the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT films. The pacing isn't too terrible, even if the film is a bit dull, and the scenes with the creatures and members of the coven attacking Kim aren't badly visualized. Even certain scenes have a nice bit of tension and suspense. I do think the direction could have helped make the script less confusing and help tell the story better than the text actually did. But it's pretty much a point-and-shoot deal and not much style, except during the trippier scenes [like Clint Howard sporting A CLOCKWORK ORANGE mask in a rape moment]. Honestly, the film could have used more of those. At least it wouldn't have turned out as boring as the film sadly becomes. Yunza does better work in his other films, but it's not all that terrible here.
The acting is pretty bland here. It's not like these actors are horrible, but they don't make much of an impression. Neith Hunter as Kim is consistent. At times she's good. At others, she comes across as unconvincing and fake. Her character wasn't that great and if she were a better actor, I think I would have enjoyed her story arc more. Maud Adams, former Bond Girl from 1983's OCTOPUSSY, looks bored as Fima. Reggie Bannister is barely in the film as Eli, but at least he makes the most of his limited screen time. The only one who does anything noteworthy is Clint Howard as Ricky. He comes across as strange and mysterious, which is the opposite of what anyone else in the cast tries to present. I have always liked Howard, especially when he's quirky, so I liked him here as well. I've seen worse actors, but not even this cast could overcome a confused script.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE BUYING THE BIGGEST CAN OF RAID I CAN FIND
- Some chick exploded into flames as she jumped off of the roof. The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire - we don't need no water...let the motherfucker burn!
- Kim and Hank were having sex while the news was on television. If they'd have seen KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, they'd know it's a bad idea.
- "The butcher thinks all women are hookers." Pretty ironic when people are paying him for his meat...
- "Fuck the attitude. Fuck the job. Fuck you." Spoken like a true member of the 99%.
- Kim got penetrated by a giant larva that entered her vagina and crawled out of her mouth. She also got the larva's goo splattered all over her face. It's like having sex with Jeff Goldblum in THE FLY, but without the regurgitation.
- Ricky raped Kim wearing a mask with a long pointed nose. While it's pretty messed up, some droogs out there would sickly appreciated this act of ultraviolence.
THE FINAL HOWL
While it's better than the atrocious SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION is still a weak installment in the franchise. If the special effects weren't cool, the direction decent, and some of the acting watchable, this film would have been higher on my Naughty List. But while the story doesn't make a lick of sense and is too shallow for its own good, at least it's a different kind of Christmas movie that I don't believe has been attempted since. So INITIATION at least gets a candy cane in its stocking for that. Otherwise, this film is not mandatory viewing around the holidays and are only for those who want to see every film in the franchise. If you don't care either way, don't bother. You're not missing anything special unless you have a fetish for man-hating witches and disgusting bugs.
1.5 Howls Outta 4