Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: To All a Goodnight
Tagline: You’ll scream ’til dawn.
Released by: Media Home Entertainment
Director: David Hess
Plot: It’s Christmas vacation time at the Calvin Finishing School for Girls, so the rambunctious young ladies decide to drug their housemother and sneak a bunch of boys in for a wild party. The fun turns into terror when a mysterious killer dressed in a Santa suit starts killing them off one-by-one. Could it all have something to do with a young coed who died two years earlier in an initiation stunt gone wrong?
Thoughts: Okay, so there are a LOT of horror movies featuring a killer St. Nick to choose from, but here’s a rarely seen little campus cut-up that was amongst one of the first, and it was directed by one of the slimiest, rape-iest actors who’s ever lived – Last House on the Left‘s very own, David Hess. To All a Goodnight was obviously made to cash in on the successes of both Halloween and Friday the 13th, while stealing heavily from the plot of Bob Clark’s seminal holiday-slasher Black Christmas, but taking none of that film’s suspense, atmosphere or scares.
The premise concerns a group of bored, horny, privileged girls at a posh private school in California who throw a party during Christmas break, and all wind up being stalked and butchered by a fiend dressed in a Santa suit and mask. The identity of the killer is a mystery, but there’s a Prom Night/Terror Train-esque plot device involving a poor girl who was the victim of a terrible hazing incident, which is clearly the motive of the maniac.
The lighting, music, pacing and most of the acting aren’t very good, but there’s some nice nudity and quite a bit of gore. The film boasts two particularly good kills. One features a couple having sex in a room with a suit of armor standing in it. The killer is hiding in the suit and he shoots the guy in the head with a crossbow and chops the girl’s head off with an axe! I didn’t see that one coming. There’s also an amazing double homicide when another couple tries to escape with the private plane the boys flew in on. They both pause for a moment next to the propeller, but unfortunately the deranged Santa is already in the cockpit and he flips on the ignition. Splatter-city!
I must mention that the survivor girl Nancy is portrayed by the super-cute 80’s hottie, Jennifer Runyon, who starred in the awesome Animal House rip-off – Up the Creek, but you should immediately recognize her as the sexy “psychic” coed that Bill Murray was hitting on in the beginning of Ghostbusters. She’s adorable as usual and clearly the best actress amongst her costars.
Overall the film is serviceable for a slasher from this era, but from the mind of a guy like David Hess I was expecting something a little more sleazy and insane. It’s pretty straight and by-the-numbers for the most part, but if you like The House on Sorority Row and Sorority House Massacre, you’ll probably dig the vibe going down here. It’s also one of the first films to feature a psycho dressed like Kris Kringle as a killer, yet it’s one of the least Christmas-ish of them all for some reason. Still, definitely worth seeing for the slasher-obsessed like myself.
After the credits there were two incredible vintage trailers for William Lustig’s Maniac and the revenge/horror sleaze-bomb Demented. Both films were amongst an amazing catalog of exploitation titles that were released by the epic Media Home Entertainment. It was through them that I first became aware of these types of film and I am forever thankful of the effect it has had on me. Happy holidays, everyone!