Vestron's Silent Night, Deadly Night 3-5 Collection

The holidays may be over, but that doesn't mean we have to stop with the Christmas cheer.  Especially since Vestron has dropped this fun, little 3-disc set down our chimneys.  This is the blu-ray debut of the latter three sequels to Silent Night, Deadly Night: Better Watch Out, Initiation and The Toy Maker.  Lions Gate previously collected the three films for a DVD set back in 2009, but I didn't bother.  They were fullscreen, barebones, and while I enjoyed the whole SNDN series as a kid - and despite the involvement of some interesting creative talents - I wasn't too confident these later, direct-to-video flicks would hold up.  But when Vestron brought them back in a nice, very affordable HD special edition set, I couldn't resist.  And now I'm glad I didn't.
When I said I enjoyed the whole series as a kid, what I meant was some more than others.  And 3 was always the one I liked least, even including 2, which is like 50% recycled footage from the first one.  It was just so damn so and boring, and that hasn't really changed.  The killer no longer dresses like Santa, and spends the entire film in a literal coma, shambling around and following our heroine thanks to some under-cooked plot point about a psychic link.  I think the film is deliberately slow-paced in order to feel dreamlike, but that doesn't make it any less of an endurance test.  Fortunately, it's short, a bit silly and now that I'm older, I'm recognizing a lot of the talent involved, all of which helps buoy one's interest.
For starters, the director is Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop, The Shooting).  That might come as a bit of a shock, but it makes sense when you think how he got his start making films like Beast From Haunted Cave and The Terror (which explains why we see it playing on several TVs throughout the film), and how his career had slid back down in by the late 80s.  Anyway, there's not a lot of directorial dynamism on hand here, but it's professionally made, and the film's script problems can't really be laid at Hellman's feet.  Although he does share a co-writing credit, so maybe...
Anyway, just as interesting as its director is its cast.  I Spy's Robert Culp is the marquee name as the cop on the trail of the killer; but he never manages to have anything to do with the main story.  Instead, we have Twin Peaks' Richard Beymar and Eric Da Re, Mulholland Drive's Laura Harring, TCM2's Bill Mosley as Ricky (the killer from the previous film) and prize fighter Carlos Palomino.  Not that the novelty of the line-up means we're getting any great performances, and our ingénue protagonist is as stiff as they come.  The most memorable aspect of this drowsy thriller is the fact that Ricky has a blinking glass dome on his head that shows his brain at all times.  Otherwise, it's a pretty lackluster slasher with uninteresting characters and only a handful of straight-forward kills.
2022 Vestron BD.
Well, it turns out Vestron's blu-rays are full-frame, too.  Of course, that would be the OAR of a direct-to-video film from this period, but often it turns out the directors at least had aspirations of theatrical exhibition and framed for wide.  Apparently, that's not the case here, so this boxy 1.33:1 framing is as it should be.  It's a clear HD image with clearly delineated colors, attractive contrast levels and reasonable but unexceptional grain capture - in other words, about what we've come to expect from Vestron.  It's fine but nothing cutting edge.

The original mono track sounds nice and clear on this DTS-HD track, and we get optional English, English HoH and Spanish subtitles.
More exciting, we get some sweet extras.  First up is an expert audio commentary by Jarret Gahan.  It's informative, but goes off on long tangents.  When he was explaining the difference between Charles Band's Wizard Video and Full Moon companies, I asked myself, how did we get here?  I believe the only connection is that SNDN3 is also a direct-to-video title.  So you'll need a good reserve of patience, but if you can handle it, this is definitely the kind of film that calls for having its backstory explained, and the commentary does the job.  Even better, though, are the on-camera interviews.  Creative Consultant Steven Gaydos was a long-time collaborator of Hellman's, and is able to bring his perspective to the proceedings.  Mosley's is the most fun, with a bunch of personal anecdotes, and executive producer Richard Gladstein provides the first of three interviews talking us through this trilogy of films.  We also get the trailer and a stills gallery.
1990's SNDN4 is a more exciting rediscovery because it's a Brian Yuzna film.  As slow as 3 was, 4 is the one that consistently put me to sleep during sleepovers as a kid.  At least I made it to the end of 3.  Barely if at at all connected to the previous three films (I don't care what anybody says, this Ricky will always be that Ricky to me!) and not even a slasher anymore, 4 is a simplistic and heavy-handed look at feminism through the lens of a woman written by a man who gets caught up with a coven of witches.  Almost nobody gets killed, and most people just sit around yammering about office and relationship politics for most of the run time.  If an actual feminist had written this, it might've had some edge at least.
But revisiting the film now, while my criticisms still hold true, I've found some great sequences to appreciate.  It turns out, you're really rewarded if you make it to the end.  There are reliably inventive special effects sequences by Screaming Mad George and an extreme moment of coitus interruptus by Clint HowardBond girl Maud Adams doesn't work up much enthusiasm for her role as the lead witch, but some of the others, including Jeanne Bates and Moonlighting's Allyce Beasley, get into the spirit of things.  Plus, Phantasm's Reggie Bannister has a neat cameo.  And there's more Christmas in this film than its critics give it credit for.  It's not Yuzna's best work, but it's not his worst.
2022 Vestron BD.
Again the film's 1.33:1, and all this spare headroom makes me think these really should be matted to 1.85:1, but these are just the masters Lions Gate had lying around.  Anyway, it's fine, and at least nice to finally see these films in crisp HD.  If anything, grain is even sparser here, but it's a clean, attractive picture.  This time the original audio is stereo, but otherwise it's the same story as last time, with a clear DTS-HD track and optional English, English HoH & Spanish subtitles.

The extras are even better this time, thanks to another excellent audio commentary by Brian Yuzna.  It's always a treat listening to his talk about his films.  We also get a forthcoming on-camera talk with screenwriter Woody Keith, a stilted look at the special effects with Screaming Mad George, and the next chapter with Richard Gladstein, who helps put these films in context.  And again, there's a stills gallery and the trailer.
1991's 5 was always my favorite, and in 2022, it still is.  Yuzna let his script supervisor Martin Kitrosser direct this one, but Yuzna oversaw it as a producer and co-writer, and it still feels like a Yuzna film.  It's a completely bonkers psycho-sexual tale of a new killer Santa, this time one who kills with twisted, mechanical toys.  It's demented, fast paced, and basically one great set-piece after another.  The cast, from the knowns (including famous SNDN detractor Mickey Rooney!) to the unknowns, all do a great job here, even the kids.  This film improves on the previous two in practically every respect, and the premise is a good time waiting to be unwrapped.
2022 Vestron BD.
Again, the framing is 1.33:1, but like 4, 5 isn't as strong an image capture as 3, which itself wasn't showroom floor stuff.  Grain is barely detectable.  This certainly wasn't restored in 4k, but Vestron fans should be used to older masters by now, and it's a satisfying enough HD transfer if you go in knowing what to expect.  The stereo mix is again presented as a lossless DTS-HD track, and we get another trio of English, English HoH and Spanish subtitles.

Kitrosser does his own commentary, which is nice.  Yuzna does come back, too, this time for an on-camera interview.  Probably the best one is with actor Brian Bremer, who managed to steal the show from an exceptional cast.  We also get another one rough chat with Screaming Mad George and third chapter in our talk with Richard Gladstein.  There's one more still gallery and the trailer.  And the whole package comes in a stylish slipcover.
A lot of us have been waiting for Vestron to tackle these films, and this Christmas, they didn't let us down.  It may not be a massive restorative undertaking, but getting all three films in HD for the first time, with a bunch of truly rewarding extras, is really all you can ask for.  Especially at these prices.  Let's hope the Vestron line lives on for a long, long time.

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