Color, 1980, 90m.
Directed by David Hess
Starring Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, Linda Gentile, William Lauer
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1980, 90m.
Although 1980 is usually cited as ground zero for the wave of slasher films that ruled the first half of the decade, a few titles got buried in the wave next to behemoths like Friday the 13th, Nightmare and Maniac. For example, there's To All a Goodnight (nope, not "Good Night"), which takes the idea of a killer maniac Santa from Tales from the Crypt and updates it for the modern teen crowd (way before Silent Night, Deadly Night became the most famous example). More surprisingly, this marked the feature directing debut (and adieu) of David Hess, who had famously played the villainous Krug in Wes Craven's Last House on the Left and more or less reprised it in Italian trash favorites like Hitch Hike and House on the Edge of the Park. Even more weirdly, it was penned by Alex Rebar, who played the title role in The Incredible Melting Man. That's showbiz, folks.
In an opening similar to the same year's Prom Night, a sorority girl accidentally falls off a balcony to her death after being chased by her Greek sisters (one of whom is dressed as an axe-wielding Saint Nick). Two years later, some students at this all girl school decide to spend the holidays on campus partying and sneaking in some boys from out of town under the nose of their overseer, house cook Mrs. Jensen (whom they decide to drug for safety). Sweet and innocent Nancy (Up the Creek's Runyon, who might as well have "final girl" stamped on her forehead) isn't too happy about going along with the plan, but that's nothing compared to the lunatic running around with an axe dispatching anyone who wanders off alone while everyone else is crooning songs around the fireplace...
Famously incompetent on many technical levels, To All a Goodnight will never be cited as anyone's idea of good cinema; however, it's loaded to the gills with that naive charm found in so many slasher films before the ground rules had really been set. Eccentric dialogue, bizarre hairstyles, a surplus of varied kill scenes, a baffling cameo by porn legend Harry Reems as an airplane pilot (a role you'd see Robert Kerman doing had this been an Italian film), and wildly random lighting and day-for-night shifts make it a great party film if you're with the right crowd, and any killer Santa film by definition has to be tons of fun around Christmas time.
To All a Goodnight was barely released in theaters in 1980 courtesy of Intercontinental, who was trying to get in on all that slasher action at the time with films like Demented and the Thanksgiving horror film Home Sweet Home. It also faced some competition for the considerably more bizarre Christmas Evil in theaters around the same time, though neither set the box office on fire in their limited venues. Eventually this film became a VHS staple from Media with its eerie blue artwork staring out at video patrons for many years at mom 'n' pop stores around America, but afterwards it vanished without a trace for many years.
The film's eventual fate became clear when the film surprisingly popped up in a new HD transfer as an on-demand title from select cable companies in 2013, complete with an MGM logo at the beginning. The result was far more watchable than the very dark, very murky tape version, which was often incoherent at times, and at least the film finally looked more or less like a real production. Of course, that also means you could more easily spot the cost-cutting shortcuts including some hilariously unconvincing "blood" effects, but that's just part of the fun. That same excellent transfer is the source for Kino Lorber's 1080p Blu-ray (with a DVD also available), which looks exceptionally strong throughout. There's really nothing to complain about at all here; colors look great, the night scenes are finally correctly balanced, and the DTS-HD mono track is a major improvement with the dialogue and electronic score faring very well throughout. Extras include a spoiler-y theatrical trailer and a trio of new video interviews, with Runyon getting 12 minutes to discuss her debut here (which she still regards warmly) and some of her other notable roles, including a brief but memorable turn in Ghostbusters. Less keen on the film but equally entertaining is actress Kiva Lawrence, whose 9-minute interview paints a picture of a very fast (ten days!), slapdash production, including some pretty good clues about why Hess never directed a feature film again. Finally Rebar gets his turn with a 13-minute piece covering his acting career before this film and how he got the gig and why the film was passed over by more famous distributors. You'd never expect an off-the-wall title like this to get the special edition HD treatment, but that's part of the glory of being a horror fan in the digital era.