The F*cking Black Sheep: To All a Goodnight (1980)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

DIRECTED BY DAVID HESS

Happy horror-days friends here’s wishing you a merry and very scary next two weeks!

With Christmas in our sights, the question of the day is this: what is your all-time favorite killer Santa Claus horror joint? Has to be SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, right? What else could it possibly be?

Well, with brimming confidence we can name David Hess’ trailblazing 1980 film TO ALL A GOODNIGHT as a worthy alternative. In fact, I have no problem calling TAAGN vastly better than every SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT sequel to date, and quite possibly the second-best killer-Klaus flick ever made. Hell, since it came out four years before SNDN, an argument can be made it is the best! That Hess (who played Krug in the iconic LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) made this film for only $70,000, in his one and only directorial feature no less, makes the movie double admirable. And triply impressive is the shocking ending, which even predates a similar twist reveal in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. No matter how you slice it, TO ALL A GOODNIGHT is a F*cking Black Sheep of Christmas slasher flick that everyone should indulge in this holiday season. Gift: it’s playing for free on Youtube!

Written by the INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN himself, Alex Rebar (DEMENTED, BEYOND THE DOOR), TO ALL A GOODNIGHT kicks off immediately at Calvin Finishing School for Girls. The school is held at a garish mansion, where a harem of ultra-hot lookers attends to rectify their unruly behavior. Newcomer Nancy (Jennifer Runyon), a demure and innocent blonde, joins classmates Melody (Linda Gentile), Leia (Judith Bridges), Trisha (Angela Bath), Sam (Denise Stearns) and a few nondescript others. The place is run by the benevolent headmistress, Mrs. Jensen (Kiva Lawrence), who wants nothing more than to ensure her student grow into respectable young ladies. Of course, said ladies have other plans…to invite their horny boyfriends over for some holiday spirit! Although unsure of her place at first, Nancy clings to Alex (Forrest Swanson, whom Ruynon was dating at the time of filming), a nerdy gentleman who has her best interests heart. She’ll need it too, as it soon becomes apparent that a maniacal murderer dressed in a Santa Suit and chubby cherubic mask, is intent on slaying and slaughtering every damn person – male or female – that has the intended gall or lack of wits to dare cross their path.

The first thing that will stand out when watching TAAGN is the preponderance of gory death scenes, graphic carnage, and a wide variety of unique murder weapons. First, the movie was shot in 1979 and released in January of 1980. Therefore, Hess was able to get away – visually and graphically – with what many of his contemporaries would not just a few short years later. Remember, in 1980, the Reagan-era hadn’t yet run roughshod over the lax MPAA strictures that would all but castrate the horror genre by the end of the decade. No, Hess was able to come in under the wire, and despite the paltry $70,000 budget, achieves some truly eye-popping bouts of gore-soaked violence. One of the wisest moves Hess made in this regard is hiring award-winning makeup man Mark Shoshtrom (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, EVIL DEAD II, DICK TRACY, STAR TREK, etc.), who absolutely steals the show with his makeup and practical FX work.

Not to spoil exactly who dies, but the first double homicide comes when our sadistic Santa slaughters a couple with a hunting knife. The male victim has his throat slit so badly his neck nearly folds off of his spine, and we get the gory goods of his slashed throat to revel in. The girls then drug Mrs. Jensen’s nightly milk so she falls asleep early, and they can party sooner. Cue a gaggle of stiff-dicks who fly in on a private jet, only to meet their menacing maker when all is said and done.

Later, Santa brains another unsuspecting victim by bashing a giant rock upside their head. Perhaps my favorite double-death scene though? It comes when a coital couple rolling around in the sack is suddenly accosted by the killer, not decked as Santa this time, but rather in a randomly placed medieval suit-of-armor. The murderer shoots a goddamn crossbow through the trachea of the man on top before plunging an ancient ax in the girl’s sternum. Shite resembles the scene from BAY OF BLOOD, which was in turn totally ripped off by Steve Miner in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2. Later, when the corpse of the friendly Ralph (Buck West) is found, the girls are told to by investigator Polanski (Sam Shamshak) sequester themselves inside until help arrives. Yeah, not so wise. Soon the Killer Santa slays two more coeds, including hanging the decapitated head of one poor girl on the shower nozzle for her friends to discover. Gnarly! But trust us, it’s nowhere near as gnarly as the two subsequent fatalities, which include one person being lifted up in the air and strangled to gory death by a wire-garrote as the killer looms in a tree above. Shite’s unreal! The absolute show-stopper though? A gruesome double-decollation with a plane’s propeller right before the credits roll!

Beyond the top-notch deaths and corresponding onscreen carnage, the movie excels in its festive decorations that really elicit the feeling of Christmastime. Not just Christmas tree lights, but lights strewn throughout the interiors and exteriors, regaled wreaths, ornaments, glowing neon in the background, etc. The movie really feels steeped in Xmas festoonery, which goes a long way in immersing the audience in the film when watching it during the holidays. Sure some of the lighting is indiscernibly dark at times, but then there are other times when Hess’s use of shadows steal the show (knives silhouetted on the wall). In terms of this kind of decoration, the casting must be hailed as well. These gals are as sexy as can be (Angela Bath yo!), not just physically, but in their insouciant attitudes as well. For her part, Runyon brings just the right note of purity and vulnerability to make us root for her survival as separate from the rest.

Last but not least, where TO ALL A GOODNIGHT really deserves more credit is in the end when it is revealed a female killer is responsible for all the deaths. It’s an incredibly bold distinction among most slasher films, and almost all Xmas horror flicks, to rock a female killer. So in many ways, Hess was ahead of his time in his decision to shift the paradigm and shock our asses off with a giant rug-pulling finale. Now, to be honest, it isn’t all that hard to guess who the killer is pretty early on (there’s even a spoiler photo in the background of the killer’s room), but the fact remains that we haven’t seen many female slasher villains this side of old cross-dressing Normy Bates!

TO ALL A GOODNIGHT should not be this disrespected as a f*cking Black Sheep. It’s a superb outing given its skimpy price tag. It has better death scenes than every SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT sequel. It has one of the sexiest female casts of any 80s slasher film. It features a killer Santa Claus four years before SNDN made such a taboo topic an infamous trope. It featured a female killer five months before FRIDAY THE 13TH. All done for a scant $70,000. Ladies, gents, the case has been made. Now, TO ALL A GOODNIGHT, go enjoy this naughty holiday treat ASAP!

GET TO ALL A GOODNIGHT ON BLU-RAY HERE

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

5379 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.