The Calvin Finishing School for Girls has just begun their Christmas break. Almost everyone has gone home, but there are still a handful of girls staying because they have nowhere else to go. It looks to be a boring time at the secluded school, but one of the girls boyfriends is flying in to the local airstrip and bringing some friends with him so that everyone can have some “fun”. But unknown to them, there’s a murderer on the loose running around in a Santa costume. Unfortunately for the kids their holiday is about to be wrecked, because the murderous Old Saint Nick has his sights on the remaining occupants of the Calvin Finishing School for Girls.
Never heard of the school, but clearly their curriculum is top-notch.
To All A Goodnight is a Christmas themed American slasher from 1980. It was the directorial debut of David Hess, the guy who played the evil asshole Krug in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, and was written by Alex Rebar, the guy who played Steve West in The Incredible Melting Man. Hess only has one other feature to his name and Rebar only has four, and after watching this one I can easily see why. The film’s sort of a mangled mess of Prom Night crossed with Black Christmas, and while the film’s greatest claim to fame is that it’s the first slasher to feature a killer Santa, it shouldn’t take any viewer longer than the first brief scene for them to figure out whether or not the film’s poor quality is going to be worth putting up with just to say that they watched the first Santa slasher.
Hint: It’s really not.
To start with, most of the acting is terrible. Some of the older actors fare a bit better, but the kids…my god the kids. The kids are just awful. The one exception may be Jennifer Runyon (seen here in her film debut), but everyone else doesn’t rank anywhere above an ‘ugh’ on the quality scale. You’re given a glimpse of how bad it’s going to be within the film’s first 3 minutes, when the film starts with a flashback of an accident at the school where a girl accidentally falls over the edge of a balcony and is killed. You can hear one of the girls say “What did we do?”, but instead of sounding panicked or remorseful, the delivery is so dull it almost sounds sarcastic. And the acting really doesn’t do much to improve from there. Some are obviously worse than others, and thankfully most of the worst of the bunch are killed off in the first night, blissfully sparing the viewer from having to spend more time with them. But even the performances of those that remain are almost laughable. Though, considering some of the horrible dialogue, I suspect that you could have swapped in some of the greatest actors in the world and it still would have sounded horrible.
Yes. Good call, Santa. Bury them deep so we never have to hear their horrible excuse for sex sounds ever again.
To add to that, the characters themselves basically only fall into three categories: Sluts, jocks and the obvious ‘virginal’ outcasts who are clearly going to be the only survivors. Now I say ‘virginal’ because the one guy that survives along with Runyon’s Nancy, does manage to get a little action. But they made the poor guy such a geeky dweeb that I think even the movie felt so bad about it that they couldn’t bear to kill him off. But everyone else? Everyone else is basically the same damn character. Yes, I know, the asshole jocks and slutty vixens are standard slasher archetypes, but damn it movie, that doesn’t mean that you had to make each group the same archetype! No movie needs this many horney hoes in it unless your title is Best Little Whore House in Texas, and even those people had more subtlety and character. You seriously could have interchanged most of them (guys and gals) or even started calling them by different names and I bet 99% of the audience wouldn’t have noticed. That’s how bad it is.
And yes, the obvious sluttyness gets here early. We aren’t even 5 minutes in yet….
Hey, hey! ‘Sucking face’ is a euphemism, damn it! You’re not actually supposed to do it!
Perhaps the film’s one saving grace is that it does have a variety of kills to its name, which is an important defining trait in many a slasher. Here people are stabbed, garroted, beheaded and even dismembered via airplane propeller. And for the most part, the effects accompanying those kills are actually pretty impressive for a film that was clearly made on a budget. That said though, there isn’t anything here slasher fans haven’t seen before a hundred times. So while there is some variety and some nice effects to go along with it, there’s not really anything here to help the film stand out, either.
Then again, two minutes in and they threw a dummy off a balcony. They could only go uphill from there.
So what’s a viewer to do when the acting sucks, the dialogue is cringy, the characters are dumb and the deaths are mundane? Well, sometimes you have to make your own fun. In the case of To All A Goodnight I realized early on that I could entertain myself by playing a game of “What the hell is that in the background?” One of the downsides to a limited production is that you often can’t find a lot of matching decor and are kind of forced to use whatever you can get your hands on for cheap. And let me tell you, this film’s got some random stuff. Some oddities seen here include a comic book poster in the bathroom (strategically placed over the toilet, no less), what looks like the *framed* top of a risqué calendar in the stairway (Remember, this is supposed to be a Finishing School, not a sorority (though even the film seems to forget and mix-up the two)), and, my personal favorite, some weird-ass face-thing in the kitchen that looks like it’s channeling the Necronomicon from Evil Dead… about a year before that movie even came out.
Why hath thou forsaken us, Wonder Woman?
I bet their parents just LOVED seeing this on the wall.
No, really. WTF is that thing behind the timer? Some kind of demonic salt shaker?
So I went from watching a good Christmas themed slasher in Black Christmas to watching….this.
Yeah, it’s a downgrade. The acting is bad, the dialogue is bad, the characters are dumb, dull and interchangeable, and most of the production values leave much to be desired. It does have decent pacing, and manages to pull off some nice effects (thank you Mark Shostrom from Evil Dead 2), but even the best effects in the world can’t make up for the lack of suspense or tension heaped on top of…well, everything else. Some of its flaws could be forgiven if the film had a good ending, but alas. It’s shocking ‘twist’ just feels bizarre and kind of out of left field. The film does still manage to be entertaining in a ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way, but if you’re looking for a more serious or well put together slasher, then you may want to look elsewhere. This one is just mediocre.
To All A Goodnight is available on several streaming services.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.