I wanted to watch some Christmas horror the other day and instead of picking out an old favorite, I went with something new to me. In this case, it is TO ALL A GOODNIGHT from 1980 and directed by David Hess, who is better known for his acting roles in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and THE HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE PARK. I’ll always remember him from SWAMP THING because I’m extra like that.
The movie opens with some girls at the Calvin Finishing School for Girls playing a prank on one of their fellow students by chasing her around with knives.You know, the normal kind of japes that girls get up to. Obviously the girl is less amused and more afraid for her life and ends up falling off a balcony and dying.
Two years later, Christmas vacation is upon the Calvin Finishing School for Girls once more though not everyone is going home. Several of the girls are staying there for the holidays, along with the house mother Mrs. Jensen and Ralph, the eccentric groundskeeper. The girls won’t be alone though since their boyfriends fly in, landing on the strip right by the school so they can all have shenanigans of the sexy kind. Unfortunately for them, Santa is coming for a visit too–the lethal kind. That’s right, we’ve got ourselves a killer Santa movie and he starts picking them off one-by-one. Can anyone survive this festive slaughter? My money is on Nancy (played by Jennifer Runyon) and Alex, the nerdy guy. That seems like a safe pair.
TO ALL A GOODNIGHT is a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, it has some interesting deaths and some decent characterization that makes the girls likable for the most part. The movie also oozes Christmas as much as you can in southern California, with each scene wrapped in lights and evergreen trim, giving the original BLACK CHRISTMAS a run for its money in decorations. The minus side is that there isn’t much going on besides hanging out and some of the tamest sex scenes this side of PG, making the film drag a bit. It also takes place over two days and nobody seems quite concerned that their friends are missing, assuming they all just ran off and didn’t tell anyone when they are in the middle of nowhere.
There is a touch of weirdness/quirkiness (Nancy putting in pigtails/Nancy saying she’s going for a walk that is basically five feet away from a couple making out/the pilot just sleeping beneath his plane for two days/some of the dialogue/etc) that never quite reaches MADMAN levels that would make the movie more memorable and lend itself to rewatches. Later on one of the girls goes insane and it is barely addressed and I feel like it might have been better to happen early on to raise the panic levels.
The twist surprised me despite figuring out who the killer was early on and it helps explain some things that seem like continuity errors at first. I feel like it helps set it apart from the pack of 80s slasher movies, so that is another mark in its favor.
Watching it, I would have sworn that it was inspired by FRIDAY THE 13th due to the killer’s motivation, but it actually predates it by several months, though since F13 was written in 1979, maybe they saw the script at one point. BLACK CHRISTMAS is definitely an influence on it, though you’re trading snowy Canada and its oppressive cold and darkness for sunny California. Even the nights there are bright (mainly due to day for night shooting).
The kills are good but not over the top gory like in THE MUTILATOR, which would give it more of a cult following. There is a decent variety too. You get knife kills, axe kills, crossbow kills, a garrotte and more. Mark Shostrum does a great job with what he has available though and it’s always pleasant to see his name show up.
I thought the acting was ok. Nothing really grating and everyone was decent in their roles. It’s not quite the knock out of the park one would want for their first directing gig but I thought Hess did a decent though job. It’s not quite a classic but it’s not something I’d banish to the shelf and never watch again. I think it would pair nicely with SILENT NIGHT (2012) in terms of killer Santa movies.
If I had to give it a number, I’d say 3 out of 5 stars.