Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990)

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation

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AKA: Bugs
AKA: Initiation

Kim is a budding investigative reporter who’s trying to do a story about the mysterious death of a woman who was seen leaping from a building after having been set on fire. While questioning the building’s neighbors Kim meets a curious book shop owner named Fima and her equally eccentric band of female cohorts. Not long after their initial interaction, Kim soon finds herself suffering from fainting spells and hallucinations involving giant insects. After several increasingly disturbing occurrences, Kim comes to the unsettling realization that Fima is the head of a secret group of witches, and that she and her strange friends have somehow decided that she’d be an excellent addition to their coven. Too bad nobody bothered to tell Kim about it before all the trippy visions started.

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Well…

Okay then…

After the dull and uninspiring slog that was Silent Night, Deadly Night 3, I don’t know what the hell I was expecting from this fourth movie, but it sure as shit wasn’t this. Because… Wow. Although, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised once I saw that the film was directed by Brian Yuzna, because that man does seem to like to have a very particular aesthetic when it comes to his movies. Still, I didn’t think he’d end up veering this far from the series’ already pre-established formula. Boy, was I wrong. Honestly, it makes for a really interesting and disturbing horror movie, which is something that I totally dig, but now that I read some reviews I can also easily see why a lot of other viewers would find this one polarizing.

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No! Bad Fima! That’s not what I meant by polarizing!

Unlike the three earlier films, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 completely forges its own path and abandons the series’ pre-established story-line. The movie forgoes all images of a mentally disturbed slasher, ditches the Santa suit entirely, and leaves Billy and Ricky to rot in whatever pauper’s graves they were thrown into. Instead, it delivers a completely unrelated supernatural horror story with a whole new cast of characters, and only a handful of brief references to the earlier films. Hell, this movie barely even has anything to do with Christmas. Oh, they make sure you know that the story is still happening around Christmas time, but the whole holiday is essentially relegated to distant background scenery. A tree and some ornaments will sporadically pop up in random scenes to remind you that this is still technically a Christmas movie, but if it weren’t for that and all the oversized sweaters the lead wears you wouldn’t know what time of the year this film was supposed to take place in. For fans of the earlier films in the series, the complete shift in subject matter and tone is likely going to feel extremely jarring, and maybe even off-putting. But for anyone who thought that the series needed some new ideas after the last snooze-fest (raises hand), then this is going to feel like a breath of fresh air.

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Okay, the sleepover is getting weird now. I think it’s time to go home.

As for the visuals themselves, well, if you’re at all familiar with director Brian Yuzna —  you know, the guy who did Society, Return of the Living Dead III or The Dentist duo of films —  then you should at least have a slight idea of what to expect with this movie. If not, and you’re going into this film expecting slasher tropes, then you’re going to end up being very confused, very quickly. This is not a movie that builds tension and excitement with an inhumanly strong killer and gory, inventive kills. This is the type of movie that tries to build crippling unease with visuals related to some of humanity’s greatest fears. In Kim’s case, that centers around the loss of bodily autonomy, bugs, and the unfathomable frustration that comes with not being believed. So instead of something like Carpenter’s Halloween, the film is more like a mish-mash of Yuzna’s own Society crossed with Rosemary’s Baby. In other words, expect an increasingly disturbing level of gooey body horror, and lots and lots of big cockroaches.

Like, really big.

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Oh God, there’s not enough Raid in the county to kill that thing.

But despite the movie’s absolutely bizarre content and premise, the film is helped along by a solid pacing, an increasingly ominous atmosphere, and some surprisingly solid acting. Considering the caliber of acting on display in the previous films, the cast in this film may as well all be considered Oscar nominees. Neith Hunter is an incredibly empathetic (though not necessarily very bright) lead. Maud Adams makes for an impressively down-to-earth and alluring cult leader in Fima. Tommy Hinkley is Kim’s perpetually horny, yet supportive boyfriend Hank, who starts off as kind of an ass-hat, but is one of those rare crappy boyfriend characters in film who actually manages to show some growth. Clint Howard comes in as the creepy, slimy, homeless cult henchman, Ricky, a role he was clearly always meant to play. Allyce Beasley makes a small appearance as Kim’s compassionate coworker, Janice. Jeanne Bates, who played Mom in Mom, is the matronly, cult elder. And even freaking Reggie Banister has a small role as Kim’s sexist news boss, Eli (He plays another ass-hat character here, but it’s still always nice to see him in movies not directed by Don Coscorelli.)

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Really, my only complaint about the characters is that a lot of them have a nasty habit of making very dumb decisions, seemingly just for the sake of moving the plot forward, which is sadly something that plagues many a horror script. As the lead actress, naturally poor Kim seems to be cursed the most with this affliction, but it’s not just limited to her. And while her occasional script-related derp-induced moments don’t end up making her any less sympathetic, some of them are so bad that they do occasionally make you want to reach through the screen and slap her. Like, seriously honey, if you don’t know what the thing is that she put into the tea, and it tastes funny, STOP DRINKING IT.

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See, now, I feel like this was an avoidable outcome.

Overall, I ended up liking Silent Night, Deadly Night 4. It’s very weird and very different, and I think for the most part it works pretty well, but I feel like it would have been much better off if the powers that be had just gone with the Initiation title, and completely dropped the Silent Night, Deadly Night moniker. The movie is just too much of a departure from the other films to connect them together. And while that plan can work and you can still end up with a good film out of the deal (waves at Halloween III), veering too far from the pre-established formula is going to make your movie feel like the odd-film-out. Which is exactly how this movie feels. But it also kinda feels like Yuzna’s version of Society-light, and I dig the disturbing effects and the creepy coven, feminist angle, which isn’t something you see a lot in horror films. The script does have some issues, like why these women wanted to SURPRISE! initiate some random stranger into their coven against her will. But if you can ignore issues like that, then this makes for a very unique horror outing.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation is available on a variety of streaming services.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation is also available on DVD.

Helpful Links:

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Michi

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