To All a Goodnight (1980)
"You'll scream 'til dawn."
At the Calvin Finishing School for Girls, a student is teased by her friends during a game and falls from a balcony to her death. Two years later during Christmas vacation, a small group of girls stay behind to sneak in their boyfriends for some festive partying. But one by one the students begin getting murdered by a killer in a Santa Claus costume.
Pre-dating Silent Night, Deadly Night by a few years, To All a Goodnight is the first full-length feature film to throw a killer Santa Claus good and centre into the fray (I’m not counting short stories from anthology films like Tales From the Crypt). However, most people remember the infamous former, as well as 1980’s Christmas Evil, purely because they do a better job of using the jolly character for nefarious purposes. Hardly in the top ten of holiday-themed horrors, To All a Goodnight is a slasher which beat Friday the 13th to the punch by a couple of months back in the day but one glance at this and you’d think it a cast-off from the dying days of the 80s.
Director David Hess should have been able to churn out a better offering for his first directorial outing. After all, the guy was something of a genre staple throughout his acting career with credits ranging from nasty characters in The Last House on the Left to House on the Edge of the Park and should have known a thing or two about how to craft an effective horror-thriller with a ton of sleaze thrown in for good measure. But he was let loose with a camera, a ten-day shooting schedule and little else by the looks of it. To All a Goodnight is dreadfully dull, brought about by deathly interactions between a bunch of horrendous actors who are trying their hardest to make a terrible script sound even worse. At a certain point during the film one when red herring has turned up dead, I thought that the film was going to go straight for the Final Girl finale before I realised I was little over half-way through! With the sluggish pace of the film, I felt like I’d been sat there for hours, let alone forty-five minutes.
The story itself is wafer-thin, as evident in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it prologue (not sure which one came first in 1980 between this and Prom Night but it’s virtually the same prologue, only shorter), and doesn’t know what it wants to do with anything apart from have the characters lounge around their bedrooms or the living room all of the time. People go missing and the other characters continue to sit around. They even discover a body and report it to the police, whereby they continue to hang around the house despite the fact there’s a murderer loose. Hell, they don’t even acknowledge there’s a problem until the final third of the film even though pretty much all of their friends are now missing. These characters deserve to die for their stupidity and obsession with sex. I know that slasher formula dictates that the bulk of the younger characters are meant to be full-on with their feelings and hormones but this lot swap partners and move on without a second guess.
There is a substantial body count here, with no fewer than fifteen corpses to add to the tally by the end of the film. That’s impressive for any early 80s slasher and it’s just such a shame that the majority of them are so poorly planned and drawn out for maximum impact. There’s little tension or suspense with any of the kill scenes – the killer just pops up and does the deed with little fanfare or build-up. There is a decent variation in the methods of dispatch and, whilst not going to win any awards for most gory slasher, there is a bit of blood splashed around. And whilst the killer does sport the classic red Santa outfit, the difference here to the rest of the Santa slashers that followed is that the killer actually wears a creepy old man mask to go along with it. It’s a good costume but as the film is too dark and there’s little creativity in the camerawork, the killer is badly wasted. Hess, so adept at playing the aggressive bug-eyed villains in a lot of notorious Italian horrors, manages to cram every cliché into the book here but fluffs all of them. Even the creepy gardener who is thrown in there as a red herring doesn’t seem to have a proper role apart from randomly appear in the bedrooms of some of the girls at weird times of the night.
To All a Goodnight is a generally fright-free festive frolic which is a real chore to sit through. Clunky, uninspiring and failing to make the most of the holiday theme, it’s strictly one for purists. There are much better Santa slashers out there to fill your perverse needs at this time of the year!
To All a Goodnight
Director(s): David Hess
Writer(s): Alex Rebar (screenplay)
Actor(s): Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, Linda Gentile, William Lauer, Judith Bridges, Kiva Lawrence, West Buchanan, Sam Shamshak
Duration: 87 mins