Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out (1989) Review
18 Dec, 2012
And now we get to the one many fans tend to praise as the “best” installment in the whole franchise: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! I suppose that “best” is a fairly relative term when referring to any quality of the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise, and I personally don’t think it trumps the original for even an instant, but among the slew of mediocre sequels it certainly stands out. For those unaware, this one was directed by none other than Monte Hellman, a celebrated arthouse and cult creator whose earlier film, Two-Lane Blacktop has been admitted into the notoriously exclusive Criterion Collection.
Michael Bay’s Armageddon has also been admitted into the Criterion Collection, but we all have our lapses in judgment.
It’s been six years since Santa Claus killer Ricky Caldwell (Bill Moseley) was shot by police after his Christmas rampage and he’s been in a coma ever since. With his brain hooked up to various machines by scientists, Ricky may be the key to understanding criminal behavior if only a psychic link can be formed. Ricky inadvertently forms that psychic link with the blind Laura (Samantha Scully), who is on her way to Grandma’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. Awakening from his coma, Ricky carves a path of destruction, determined to reach Laura and… rape her? I guess?
Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 is easily one of the most ambitious installments in the franchise (not that there’s much competition in that department), though it borders on delusions of grandeur. Director Hellman seems intent to take the gratuitous slasher franchise and transform it into an American “giallo” flick like a poor man’s Dario Argento. The result is one of the better shot Silent Night, Deadly Night films, but by bucking so many franchise staples it still finds a way to disappoint fans.
“And I want a bicycle and a pony and a Barbie and a kitchen knife and a…”
This would be the last installment in the series to follow the ongoing story of Ricky Caldwell, who took over for his older brother Bobby as the franchise’s star slasher in the previous film. The next two sequels will be standalone one-shots, one being a sequel “in name only” while the last stars includes a totally different killer Santa (odd, since a window was left open for Ricky’s return at the end of this flick). As a send-off to Ricky, fans might find the film a little unsatisfying, as Hellman opts to discard the entire “killer Santa” gimmick and Ricky stalks his victims while clad in a windbreaker and blue jeans. What’s funny is that the script provides multiple opportunities for Ricky to don a Santa costume or at least a Santa hat, but in each instance he kills the costumed victim and then leaves without swiping their garb. It’s actually a little frustrating if all you want is to see a guy in a Santa Claus outfit kill people and Hellman proceeds to cocktease you almost deliberately (though it might prove amusing if you have no attachment to this series).
Horror movie icon Bill Moseley is at his best when he plays crazy, bombastic maniacs like in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or House of 1000 Corpses. The guy’s energy is infectious and his ability to chew scenery is to be envied. So, Moseley would seem to be a natural fit for the character of Ricky, who was shown to be a zany, catchphrase-vomiting, off-the-wall lunatic in the previous film.
Prepare to be disappointed.
Unfortunately, this is the most subdued I have ever seen Bill Moseley in my life and the approach totally squanders the actor’s best strengths. Having been “lobotomized,” Ricky is now a shambling, silent stalker that moves like a zombie and reacts just as slowly. Slashers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees can get away with that sort of deal because their visual gimmicks give them an aura of onscreen presence that substitutes for personality. When stripped entirely of his Santa Claus gimmick and his propensity for behaving all bonkers, Ricky is left with nothing but a silly hat with glowing LEDs and a tiny antenna. This guy isn’t going to scare anybody.
The pacing of Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 is also a bit of an issue. It starts out strong, as Ricky is almost instantly revived from his coma and goes on a killing spree across a California highway (odd, considering these movies previously took place in Utah). Unfortunately, as soon as he kills Grandma, he disappears from the film for about half an hour as Laura, her brother (who rocks some Milli Vanilli-caliber jheri curls) and her brother’s girlfriend shuffle around the house like a bunch of idiots wondering where Grandma is. Their scenes are punctuated with Ricky’s doctor and a police lieutenant sitting in a car, making inane conversation about car phones and urination. It stops the movie dead and even after Ricky pops back up, the movie fails the rebuild its momentum. I don’t know how seeing a pair of arms burst through a door and grab a girl by the throat could possibly seem boring, and yet you’ll yawn like you were in church.
As for the kills, just about every one of them happens off screen. Ricky will approach the victim and then we’ll encounter the remains later on in the film. It happens to a receptionist, a truck driver, a gas station attendant, Grandma… Just about the only people to meet a violent death for our viewing pleasure are the doctor and Laura’s brother, and they succumb to nothing more inspired than a stabbing and a choking.
The film is more about building suspense than offering ridiculous, entertaining kills, but Hellman’s success at that is highly questionable. Being about as slow as a turtle with a broken leg, the only way Ricky actually kills anybody is through the stupidity of his victims. A truck driver picks him up, sees that he’s wearing a hospital gown and has a visible brain in a glass dome then proceeds to joke with him about his injuries. Grandma invites him into her home for supper. The doctor tries to take him by the hand while Ricky’s quite clearly brandishing a knife in the other. Our youthful protagonists insist on splitting up and searching for weapons around the house when they could simply leave and outrun the guy with a brisk canter. It doesn’t really qualify as “suspense” when the victims offer themselves up to the killer like they’re on a serving platter.
Hell, I’m sure there’s *something* good about this movie if I think hard enough. The opening sequence where Laura is lost in Ricky’s nightmare is the best part of the movie (and the only part to feature a killer in a Santa outfit… excluding more recycled footage from the first film, of course). I won’t go out on a limb and call it *great*, but I will say that it’s my favorite part of the movie. The parting shot of the film, the spectral image of Ricky in a tuxedo bidding the audience “and a Happy New Year”, is a pretty great bit, too.
Bill Moseley’s New Year’s resolution was to never appear in a ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ sequel ever again.
So the first few minutes of the opening and the last few minutes before the closing are pretty good. Unfortunately, all the crap in the middle will take about 70 minutes to slog through.
If this is one of the “better” films in the series then I think we’re all in a lot of trouble. Next up is Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation, a film completely unrelated to the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise and only given that branding at the last minute for marketing purposes. Oh boy.