For a series recognized for starring a “killer Santa”, the Silent Night, Deadly Night sequels are surprisingly lacking in killer Santa action. The villain doesn’t don a Santa suit until the last ten minutes of Part 2, the third installment only features a killer Santa in a dream sequence at the very beginning, and Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation… well, it doesn’t feature a killer Santa *at all*.

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It takes some serious incompetence to fuck up a formula this simple.

After the spontaneous combustion of a local woman, investigative reporter wannabe Kim (Neith Hunter) vows to get to the bottom of things. Her sleuthing brings her into contact with Fima (Maud Adams), a feminist who forcibly initiates Kim into her lesbian witch coven. Fima has designs to resurrect her dead daughter using Kim’s body and Kim finds she doesn’t have much say in the matter. Also, it’s Christmas, but that’s not really very important.

The only connection Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 has to the rest of the series is a brief moment in which the dream sequence from the beginning of Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 is played on TV. If the gag sounds familiar, it was done before in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (the red-headed stepchild of that particular slasher franchise). And also like Halloween III, you have to divorce Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 from the rest of the series if you hope to stand any chance of enjoying it. Go in expecting a killer Santa Claus, or even a slasher flick in general, and you’re doomed from the start.

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Come for the killer Santa, but stay for the middle-aged lesbians!

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 actually boasts an “impressive” pedigree of late ‘80s/early ‘90s B-movie talent. The flick was directed by Brian Yuzna, who gave us Bride of Re-Animator. Music is provided by Richard Band, who scored the “Puppet Master” series among other Full Moon films. The special effects are by none other than Screaming Mad George, the guy who did some damn good work on “The Guyver”. B-movie icon Clint Howard costars as the henchman Ricky (of no relation to the Ricky from the previous three films). And on top of all that, Reggie Bannister, star of the “Phantasm” franchise, has a bit part as Kim’s boss at the newspaper.

That’s a pretty solid line-up, all things considered. Well, if you’re a fan of late ‘80s straight-to-video crap, at any rate. And shamelessly bait-and-switch branding aside, the assembled cast and crew actually put together a fairly decent low budget supernatural thriller of the cheesy VHS rental era. It just, you know… has fuck-all to do with the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise.

Yuzna essentially rips off Rosemary’s Baby in as many ways as he can get away with, making Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 look like its retarded younger brother. As already detailed, the basic plot revolves around a woman being hoodwinked into joining a modern witch coven so that she can serve as the unwitting vessel for an unholy (re)birth. Yuzna even nips the rape scene right out of Polanski’s flick, though I’ll concede that Clint Howard makes for a far more revolting rapist than Satan.

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Pictured is a slimy, repulsive, dirt-crawling parasite. And it’s holding a giant roach larva!

Despite being so transparent in its creative larceny, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 has its moments. The special visual effects by Screaming Mad George are superb and his brand of slimy monster-making punctuates the movie every time things start to get a little boring. There are some squirm-worthy moments of body horror, as a giant roach larva crawls into Kim’s stomach through her belly button, then forces its way out through her mouth as a fully developed insect. Another scene sees Kim give birth to another roach larva as she undergoes a metamorphosis into a giant roach that’s probably a reference to Kafka or something, but I’m not smart enough to get that shit. And to Yuzna’s credit, the sequence where Kim first starts to lose her mind and sees a giant roach crawling out from under her bed is a great instance of “WTF” suspense.

The real faltering of Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 that threatens to squash the whole movie has nothing to do with the misplaced Silent Night, Deadly Night branding or the low budget everything. It’s the fact that the lead character, Kim, is absolutely, positively loathsome and you’ll hate her from beginning to end.

When the movie starts, she’s been at the newspaper for only a month and is trying to sleep her way to the top with her “boyfriend” Hank (Tommy Hinkley). She hopes to encourage Hank to get her a spot as a journalist and when he fails to convince his boss (Reggie Bannister) to take Kim on, she dramatically dumps him outside his parents’ house. Hank later succeeds in getting her the job, but she still refuses to “forgive” him for… not trying hard-enough the first time? A plot point of the movie is that Fima’s witchcraft slowly begins to turn Kim into a raging, bipolar “man-hater” (as the witches all worship Lilith, the first feminist), so she spends much of the movie flying off the handle at Hank and treating him like garbage for no rational reason. Despite it all, Hank is shown to be a genuinely nice guy who even dies trying to save Kim from a knife-wielding Clint Howard. And when he dies, Kim responds with a big ole “meh”.

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Though if he’d survived, he’d have been cursed to transform into a Were-Clint every full moon. A fate worse than death, really.

Honestly, it’s hard to tell where the “exaggerated feminist witchcraft” begins as an excuse for Kim’s behavior, because she was already a terrible person when the movie started. And perhaps most unsatisfying of all, Kim survives a spontaneous combustion of her own by transferring the “curse” to Fima through sheer force of willpower or some other contrived bullshit. And this is after she willingly kidnaps her dead boyfriend’s kid brother on Christmas Eve so that she can sacrifice him and save her own life. She is an awful human being, she deserved to die and the fact that she stands triumphant at the end will piss you off more than any lack of a killer Santa ever could.

So there you have it: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 in a nutshell. No, it doesn’t have a killer Santa in it, but if you’re into giant man-eating cockroaches and awkward scenes involving lesbian cougars, then you’ll probably want to check this one out. In all honesty, it’s one of the better installments in the franchise… It just hasn’t got jack-shit to do with the franchise.

And I’ll be completing the series tomorrow with a look at Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker. That one has it all: A Killer Santa! Killer Toys! Mickey Rooney! …Mickey Rooney?