David Hess directs a Santa slasher film. David Hess directs a Santa slasher film. Just dwell on that for a moment. I’m sure everyone reading this (all two of you) knows who the late David Hess was, but, in case you need a recap: Hess had the rather dubious honour of being typecast as a rapist, all spawning from his iconic and slimy role in Last House on the Left (1972). I watched To All a Goodnight with fellow Mondo scribe Pierre, and we discussed whether there has been another actor in the history of cinema who brings to mind “rapist” in the same way Hess does. None that we could think of — Simon Yam and Anthony Wong come close, but Wong plays a victim just as much as an abuser, and Yam is an occasional hero. So how did America’s favourite cinematic rapist come to direct a Christmas slasher? How the fuck did this happen?! I don’t know, but after watching the film, I feel that perhaps it shouldn’t have happened.
TO ALL A GOODNIGHT
USA, 1980, David Hess
The only thing that’s really odd about To All a Goodnight is that the killer is dressed in a Santa outfit. Now yes, that isn’t exactly that weird. There’s plenty of Santa slashers going around. But what makes the Santa killer aspect of To All a Goodnight so bizarre is how completely redundant the costume is. Generally, if you’re going to slap a murderer in a Santa outfit, you’re going to want to build in some sort of deep, disturbed Christmas-themed issues à la Christmas Evil (1980) or, my favourite seasonal slasher, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). But no, the Santa costume in To All a Goodnight is utterly superfluous. Outside of a Christmas tree, it’s hard to even tell the film is set during Christmas.
To All a Goodnight middles about somewhere between good-bad and bad-bad. There’s some hysterically good-bad acting. Every performance is outrageously over the top. I got some particularly hearty giggles from West Buchanan as Ralph. Ralph, as you’ll likely guess from his name, is the requisite crazy-guy-who-warns-everyone-about-the-killer-constantly, and at one point, I’m pretty sure his genitals were poking out from a split in his pants.
But with long stretches between kills, some of the worst day-for-night footage ever captured and far too many close-ups of Santa’s bootied feet, not even all the wrinkled ballsacks in the world could save from To All a Goodnight from being something of a slog. Hess has no flair as a director. The camera is mostly plonked into position at the start of a scene to capture an unflattering wide shot, punctuated by a few jarring close-ups. Occasionally, Hess forces out the tiniest bit of stylish flair, but for the most part, it’s about as flat as a movie could get. To be fair, it was shot in ten days.
The death on display won’t satisfied hardened slasher fanatics, but it does have a tiny handful of entertaining moments. A brief throat slash and a nasty wiry strangulation are decently executed. And the highlight is definitely a ridiculous mid-coitus double-kill involving an arrow through the head plus a bonus beheading.
There’s enough weirdness to keep most forgiving horror and exploitation fans awake. Porn superstar Harry Reems, for some insane reason, shows up in a small role as a pilot. The Santa outfit is quite creepy despite its lack of narrative relevancy. The braindead dialogue is fun, as are the scenery chewing performances.
To All a Goodnight is as terrible as its reputation suggests, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to the average slasher fan, or even a seasoned bad movie viewer. For slasher completists, it’s essential viewing. And for the extra tolerant among us seeking a feel-bad Christmas hit after having already churned through the obvious choices, it may be worth a shot.
Unbelievably, To All a Goodnight is not only available on DVD, it’s also available on blu-ray from Kino Lorber. It has a great transfer and even a few extras. While it’s hard to say it deserves such a release, I’m glad it’s out regardless.