Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, 1973, or 1974, depending on who you ask)

Nothing says "Christmas" like absurdly low-budget horror.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (not to be confused with Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I still have to get around to) is a cheaply made horror movie revolving around an abandoned mansion in Massachusetts. If I cared one bit about spoiling this thing, I wouldn't tell you that the mansion used to be an asylum, a fact which only comes out in a flashback making up the majority of the movie's last act, nor would I let it slip that the asylum's supposedly dead owner is actually less dead than everyone supposes. But if didn't reveal all that, this review would be absurdly short, so you see my dilemma.

Before they reveal the mansion or town's dark history, we're treated to a Psycho-style bait-and-switch. A big city lawyer comes to town with his mistress (the movie makes a point of having him call home at one point, in case we didn't know he was married) to offer some of the locals a chance to buy the house cheap.

The four locals in question are all old and all weird. One, played by David Carradine's father, is mute and keeps ringing a bell. At any rate, they offer to put the big-shot lawyer up in a hotel, but he's planning on staying at the house.

Once we've wasted quite a bit of time on the happy couple, they're brutally murdered by an ax-wielding maniac. We never get a good look at their killer, but the movie tries to convince us it's Jeffrey Butler, grandson of the "late" Wilfred Butler. Jeffrey, who inherited the mansion years before, meets the mayor's daughter, who inherits the role of main character from the dead lawyer.

Jeffrey keeps disappearing to go look into things, so of course he could be the killer. But it's so obvious I can't imagine anyone was fooled. A bunch of characters we don't care about are killed, then Jeffrey finds his grandfather's diary and learns the horrible, horrible truth, which is a bit too convoluted to cover here.

The background of the mansion is the only part of the movie that comes off as remotely creepy, and even that is held back by melodrama. Still, it does have a sort of storybook nightmare vibe, which is better than nothing.

The rest of the movie is just kind of boring. It takes place right before Christmas, but - other than the decorations and music - that seems relatively superfluous. Sure, there's a connection to the mansion's history, but - again - it didn't really have to be set then to work.

The killer, of course, is the secretly-still-alive old man Butler, who - by my math - has to be pushing 80 or 90. I'm not entirely sure how he managed to lift an ax, let alone break out of an institution, drive to his old home, and sneak up on/murder five or so people. Seems like a bit of a stretch, honestly.

It's not the worst holiday-themed horror out there. In fact, there's a case to be made that it's fairly effective, taking into consideration its budget and the era it was made in. But that doesn't change the fact it's boring by today's standards and lacking the campy charm displayed by many of its contemporaries.