"You'll scream 'til dawn" (well, not really) when you take in the obscure Santa slasher TO ALL A GOODNIGHT, now in fantastic high definition on Kino's Blu-ray.
Two years after a co-ed falls off the balcony in a sorority hazing-gone-wrong, the girls of the 1980 graduating class of Calvin Finishing School may not make it to graduation. It's Christmas break and six students – sweet Nancy (Jennifer Runyon, THE IN CROWD), skanky Brit Trisha (Angela Bath, PORTRAIT OF A SHOWGIRL), equally slutty Leia (Judith Bridges, THE KID FROM NOWHERE), hot-to-trot Sam (Denise Stearns), virgin-deflowering Melody (Linda Gentile), and lazy Cynthia (Lisa Labowskie) – are staying behind for the holidays. Fortunately, Mrs. Calvin has a family illness, leaving the girls in the care of house mother Mrs. Jensen (Kiva Lawrence, SCHIZOID) who is not only more easy-going but is also being dosed with sleeping pills to make sure she doesn't spoil any late night fun. Leia's wealthy boyfriend T.J. (William Lauer) is flying in at midnight along with some horny friends, but poor Cynthia nor her boyfriend even make it to the party since a Santa Claus-suit clad killer has already skewered both of them (before they had a chance to skewer each other).
With Mrs. Jensen safely tucked away in bed, T.J. and his buddies – jock Tom (Solomon Trager), musician Blake (Jeff Butts), and nerdy Alex (Forrest Swanson) – pair off with the looser girls while Nancy has her own night visitor: garden shears-wielding handyman Ralph (West Buchanan, RING OF DARKNESS) who warns her of the presence of evil. The next day, no one seems to care that six of their number are missing, but Nancy's discover of Ralph's dead body in the undergrowth has police chief Polonsky (Sam Shamshak, SECRET AGENT 00 SOUL) on the case. He appoints two cops (THE LADY IN RED's Jay Rasumny and DEMENTED's Bill Martin) to stand guard at night, but one of them is easy distracted by the college tail and the other isn't remotely suspicious of a masked figure in a Santa suit prowling the grounds at night. As the killer prowls the corridors, Leia decides to take a shower, Nancy and Alex decide to snoop around the disused parts of the mansion, T.J. and Melody go for a moonlight stroll, and Mrs. Jensen is packing a mean rolling pin.
One of a pair of quickie slasher cash-in productions from Sandy Cobe – the other being TERROR ON TOUR in which groupies of a punk band are murdered – TO ALL A GOODNIGHT is an only sporadically interesting body count film, the interest of which has much to do with the long period of unavailability following its murky VHS release and curiosity as to whether a digital presentation could result in a better film. The problem with the film is not that it's particularly incompetent (the plotting is no more generic than any of the other lower tier slashers of the period). Performances range from fine (Runyon particularly) to serviceable, the characters are no more dumb than in any other slasher film, there's nudity (restrained) and gore (somewhat hampered by the budget), sex-then-death and stalking set-pieces including a few false scares. Insufficient coverage – presumably as much due to the inexperience of actor-turned-director David A. Hess (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) behind the camera as much as the ten day shooting schedule – gives some exposition scenes a listless feel better suited to scenes of lonely Nancy wandering around while her classmates are having fun with their gentleman callers. Most viewers will probably not come back once their curiosity is satisfied, but I found the results strangely re-watchable even if there are other bad slashers I would be more likely to toss into the DVD player before it. Porn star Harry Reems has a cameo as T.J. pilot who smokes pot and dozes off beneath the plane while the mayhem ensues. INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN actor-turned-TO ALL A GOODNIGHT screenwriter Alex Rebar also wrote and produced rape-revenge film DEMENTED and produced the Thanksgiving slasher HOME SWEET HOME (both with some of the same production personnel as this film). Second unit cinematographer Bryan England would later photograph the slashers CHEERLEADER CAMP, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, and I, MADMAN.
Released theatrically by Intercontinental Releasing Corporation (the logo of which opens the Blu-ray presentation after the newer MGM logo), TO ALL A GOODNIGHT came to VHS courtesy of Media Home Entertainment – along with a number of other Sandy Cobe productions – in a horridly dark and soft fullscreen transfer that has been the way for slasher fans to see it since the dawn of home video. The rights to the Sandy Cobe titles came under MGM's ownership, but they showed no interest in doing anything with any of those titles. Fortunately, Scorpion Releasing's Walt Olsen suggested the title through his new association with Kino Lorber who are now licensing MGM library titles (and Olsen has been instrumental in Kino Lorber picking up other interesting titles from the vault like PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES).
Kino's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 transfer accurately reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the original photography better than the VHS release ever could, making the film's visuals worthy of reassessment. Colors (blood and all) are vibrant, day-for-night scenes are more gray-blue rather than smudgy blue and cloudy black, and the improved detail and resolution also raises one's assessment of the film's production value and its plotting. The Santa Barbara mansion setting looks elegant stripped of the murk. The found décor includes several paintings, suits of armor, gleaming woodwork, and other elements worthy of notice when your eyes wander away from the bland dialogue scenes. In the opening sequence, we can not only see the smears of Vaseline on the lens filter but also that the dead girls were among the ones involved in hazing-gone-wrong incident (when I first saw the film on VHS, I was uncertain whether they were directly involved or just representative of the girls responsible). Harry Reems is finally visible in his cameo scenes early on and during the climax. Most of all, we are finally able to appreciate the ambition of the special make-up effects of Mark Shostrom (PHANTASM II) which are now evident as fully-realized appliances rather than splashes of blood (the severed head prop is less convincing but at least now recognizable as a decent likeness). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is clearer than before with the scoring of Richard Tufo (DEMENTED) coming through as one of the film's most effective elements.
Scorpion Releasing impresses by producing the extras for this obscure film. Actress Jennifer Runyon, who has aged very well indeed, appears in an interview (12:30). She reveals that co-star Herrington recommended her for the lead, and that she auditioned with her then-boyfriend Forrest Swanson. She thought a Santa slasher was an interesting idea and was not shocked by the film's gore or nudity. She was not aware of Hess' filmic background but remembers him as being very enthusiastic about the opportunity to direct. She was unaware about who Harry Reems was, and was amused when someone on set told her. Runyon also discusses her subsequent films and TV roles (including her recurring role during the first season of CHARLES IN CHARGE). Refreshingly, she is also not ashamed of her debut and is appreciative of its fans (who she feels like it because of its imperfections). Kiva Lawrence, who is credited in the film under her mother's name Katherine Herrington, is also on hand here (9:37). She explains that Hess was part of the same theatre company and offered her the role in the film, which she took because she though the killer Santa idea was nifty. She speaks warmly of Runyon, who she knew would be right for the final girl role, and of the mansion location. She knew who Reems was but ignored him, not seeing the novelty in casting a porn star in a small role.
Hess is sadly no longer with us, but the film's writer/executive producer Alex Rebar (THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN) is on hand for an interview (13:39). He recalls how they were scrambling to make a film before the end of the year, mounting TO ALL A GOODNIGHT in November with a ten day shoot and rapid post-production period to make a Christmas release. He was not aware of Hess' other film work but connected with him over music and appreciated his creative input. Rebar also remembers that the stigma of Reem's porn past caused Twentieth Century Fox to turn down DEMENTED, which Rebar started working on immediately after principal photography on TO ALL A GOODNIGHT. Like Runyon and Herrington, he also remarks that the film was the first Santa slasher, which is technically true but most seasoned horror viewers will recall the "And All Through the House" segment of TALES FROM THE CRYPT in which Joan Collins is terrorized by a killer Santa (as well as the EC Comics story on which it was based). He also discusses his other work including his dubbing and voice directing while in Italy (presumably where he met Buchanan who was also working in Italy in the seventies) as well as acting in MICROSCOPIC SUBWAY TO OBLIVION with pal Ewa Aulin (who married the film's director John Shadow). The film's theatrical trailer (2:58) rounds out the extras. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS