Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation (1990) Review by RevTerry

It's way past time we change up the “holiday” season. It's really gone to shit under its current management style. How could it work? They just kind of plopped that Jesus shit on top of someone else's seasonally appropriate celebration, leaving us with a broken mass of morals, judgment, and fictional bullshit. Half of the correlations make absolutely no sense or just straight up contradict. It's been a long fucking time since Pope Julius and the Catholic church slapped their messiah’s birthday on the ancient celebration. Obviously, I wasn't there to know for sure, but I want to think that's when it all started getting really bad. During the cultural rebranding ( probably not for evil reasons), the church did its best to mix saints and values into the random pieces of local flavor it could live with, creating some kind of a mash of magic, uppity god-monsters and special meal times. There's a lot going on in the lore of the holidays, and nearly all of it is fucking bonkers or just a straight-up motivated lie. In my yearly confusion, I'm left with a never-ending stream of questions. What does the portly “Santa” cryptid have to do with the demi-god super baby? Why are both these supposedly divine creatures involved in some kind of plot to publicly tie a parents’ economic status to how good their child was? Why does it have to be December to get anything with peppermint flavoring? Honestly, regardless of the answer to these questions, It's pretty fucking lame, and It's time for a change. For one, let's just dump all the current icons, they're the bulk of the problem. They have all kinds of baggage and contrived origins. I have a few ideas about who (or what) we can use instead, but, really, the possibilities are endless. I'm just spitballing here, but what about Star Trek captains? It's kind of the same thing, as they’re obviously fictional characters that embody some kind of ideal. I haven't even seen anything past The Next Generation, but I'm pretty sure they would altogether make a more cohesive and helpful whole than whatever the fuck we have now. And that’s just one idea. If, maybe, you would miss the mystic chaos of it all, we could go with bugs and witches like in Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 (1990).
Highly motivated reporter Kim (Neith Hunter), has trouble gaining respect at the newspaper where she works with her boyfriend Hank (Tommy Hinkley). Surrounded by a tight-knit boys club (that includes her slightly supportive sweetheart), she is relegated to the “calendar” section, despite her fiery drive and skills. Looking for her breakout story, she takes interest in a local death that has mysteriously been described as “spontaneous combustion”. Kim attempts to get the story assigned to her but ends up being ignored by her boss (Reggie Bannister), as he and the chattering group of assholes that surrounded him run off with her story instead. Kim is bummed but still pretty fucking determined, so she takes it upon herself to investigate the weird-ass crispy lady situation on her own. In the process, she runs into Fima (Maud Adams), a bookshop owner, who while giving up no real clues as to what happened outside her store, does offer friendly cryptic chit chat and free books on witchcraft. Kim also meets Ricky (Clint Howard), an odd, possibly handicapped, transient with personal space issues that Fima seems to know pretty well. Less worried about how this peculiar lady ties into the case, and more just glad to have a new friend, she accepts a mystery snack from Fima before going about her investigation. Her hunt leads her to the roof of the building, from where the victim jumped while spontaneously combusting. After seeing how close she can get to the edge without falling to her own death, Kim starts feeling woozy, so she takes off for home, but not before being a part of some more uncomfortable moments with Ricky (involving a large alien worm thing he pulls from a vent, which I guess didn't raise any red flags). Before she can settle down in back at her apartment, her boyfriend starts calling, claiming she's late for Christmas dinner with his racist ass parents (oh yeah, it’s almost Christmas!). She then dumps the depression-meal she was cooking-up and heads out for what promises to be an awkward evening. Hank’s dad has some special holiday opinions (mostly about Jews and how he doesn't like them). Being of Jewish descent and not a bigot herself, their conversation leads to an altercation, and Kim leaves the party early. The next day Kim meets her new homie Fima’s book club which turns out to be a bunch of quirky bead-store-lady types. Kim gets cozy with the crew right away, but her picnic is prematurely interrupted when she is called back to work. Surprisingly, upon her return to the office, her boss has a sudden change of heart, and she is officially assigned the case (alongside Hank). What's more, Hank abruptly apologizes about his family's bullshit from the night before and begins to vocally support her with the boys around the water cooler. With more respect around the office, a boyfriend who suddenly had her back, and a generous, beautiful new friend (with a voice like a Stern elementary school teacher), life was looking up for Kim this Christmas. Unfortunately, the good tidings came along with some nasty fine print, and Kim unknowingly may have placed herself in the hands of an ancient worm worshipping coven of Egyptian witches. Soon, she is canceling all the normal Christmas shit she had planned for things like rituals involving various bugs, drug-fueled mind fucks, and the worst threesome ever.
The movie is one in a hat-trick of horror franchise sequels that Brian Yuzna directed between 1989 and 1993. The first of these, Bride of Re-Animator (1989), directly continued the story from the original classic (Re-Animator 1985) in which Yuzna served as producer (with the director Stuart Gordon). “Bride” would be the second film in what would become a trilogy (Yuzna would direct a sequel to that in 2003), and closely aligns with the first film in canon and tone. In 1993 he would direct Return of the Living Dead III, which, while still involving zombies, would mark a drastic mood swing for the series, spicing things up with some superhero style masochism, 90s angst, and allusions to Shakespeare. Initiation was the second of his rapid-fire cult 80s movie follow-ups and the farthest removed from the source material. Starting in 1984, the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise (not ...Bloody Night or ...Evil Night) begins by following the disturbed orphaned Caldwell siblings as they engage in holiday carnage (usually dressed as Santa clause) for a few eventful years. The first film (1984 directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr.) finds the oldest brother trying his hand at society but ultimately failing so badly that he starts chopping up teenagers (including Linnea Quigley) with an axe, more or less dressed as Father Christmas. Lately, it has (rightfully) become a sort of a Christmas Story for the horror crowd, but it faced some controversy on its release for its depiction of a “killer Santa” (even though Christmas Evil had done it already in 1980, and Tales From The Crypt, 1972, before that). The second film (Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, 1987) features his younger brother Ricky, who is locked in an insane asylum, and pretty much recounts the entire first film through flashbacks before escaping to go on a Christmas massacre of his own. Even being mostly a clip show, and incredibly corny, the sequel gave us one of cinema's greatest moments (garbage day!), making it a yearly watch at my house. The third film (Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!, 1989) also showcases Ricky (suddenly played by Bill Moseley) who now, as a lobotomized lab rat, runs around causing mischief with a fancy bread maker on his head. It has a sci-fi angle, psychic abilities of some kind, and it definitely goes off the fucking rails, but it technically “follows” the story from the first two. The fourth film observes what has become a time-honored tradition among horror franchises and completely disregards the previous films. It stands as an independent story with no ties to the first three films, outside of it being Christmas while all this is taking place. Well… maybe. Clint Howard's character is named Ricky, but they never give a last name, and it would be quite a stretch. Last we saw of Rick (in part 3), he was impaled on a stick. I guess it is possible (as anything else) that since then, he has survived and found his way to playing gimp for a bunch of bug-obeying witches. Honestly, despite the fact that Ricky already went from looking like Mormon ass Eric Freeman to everyone's favorite redneck Uncle Bill Moseley in the other films, I still have a lot of trouble with him turning into Clint Howard. Also, how much (December 24/25 related) shit could possibly happen to some poor disturbed person? First, his brother hacks people up dressed as father Christmas and commits suicide by cop in front of little Ricky at the oppressive religious orphanage (run by an evil nun of course) that he calls home. Then, after his later break from the loony bin and his own holiday murder spree/foiling, some doctors bring him back to life by turning the dude's head into the world's most obnoxious bicycle helmet. That mess ends with more dead teenagers and with Ricky kebobbed (and brainless). Still, after everything, he just so happens to stumble into a cult of formicophilia witches that needs his man bits for their rituals. I'm not buying it (just that right there, that's the line). It’s a large adventure for just one whacked out dude. As much as I love ridiculous cannon, I happily assume the film is just making a small nod towards it predecessors with the character’s name. It is best viewed (in my opinion) as a switch to a hybrid anthology format for the series (see Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil 1992). Like Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) or Yuzna’s own Return of the Living Dead III (1993), "Initiation" would probably be better off in some ways without the established series attached to its title. There is no killer Santa in part 4, outside of a fourth wall breaking shot of part 3 playing on TV. In fact, during a majority of its runtime it's possible to forget it's happening during Christmas at all. Yuzna would continue on with the Silent Night, Deadly Night series producing (and co-writing) the next film, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991), which kept with the standalone trend for the most part. It did, however, find a way to squeeze in a killer Santa of sorts (played by Mickey Rooney who has his own history with the series) and features the “Ricky “ from this film played again by Howard (which would make it the only time in the series one actor had played him twice… if it was the same Ricky).
Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 (aka Bugs, Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation, or just Initiation) has a lot of familiar genre tropes, but almost none of the regular holiday movie standbys, horror or otherwise. Mostly, it’s a story about a secret modern witch coven, adorned with Yuzna’s love of taboos and slimy things, specifically in this case—bugs. The mood is completely detached from the first three films, conforming mostly to the director’s signature style, although noticeably a little light on his usual cynical humor. A mostly squirm free first quarter tunes partially to Romero’s frequency for Season of the Witch (1973), but updates it for a (mostly cliche) 90s world. The witch-sploitation DNA plays heavily into the character's early plight, her being critically underestimated by her male peers, a dissatisfaction with her mundane prescribed role, and the mysterious, seemingly strong group of witches. As her new friends attempt to take her into the fold, the movie picks up some surreal elements and tries to add some paranoia to its rabbit hole. Among other things, there are sped through nods to classics like Suspiria (1977) or The Witches (1966). Up until the leech stuff really gets going, it could have served as a goo-filled, unofficial American entry into the Argento’s The Three Mothers series just as easily as with the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies (that's not saying much though). Once things start to ramp up in the plot, there is a lot of Rosemary's Baby (1968) floating around, even as the movie replaces any artful strangeness with the goopy and not-sexy-sexual kind. It moves too fast for any real tension, but the constant pace helps it cram all its gonzo ideas into a somewhat cohesive tale. As with a lot of Yuzna’s stuff, it hints at some deeper meaning or maybe a critique on things like gender roles but primarily focuses on trashy fun. It could serve as a satanic spiritual precursor to his Progeny (1998), playing with a lot of the same taboos and concepts. The large range and hallow touch to each element gives some of the writing a fantasy-television feel along the lines of Charmed (1998-2006). I like to think that In some alternative universe somewhere, Brian Yuzna could take Joss Whedon's place in Hollywood and produce seven, lovingly derivative years of this type of thing as his Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The glue barely holds it all together, and it's not this writer-director duo’s best by a long shot. Still, it most definitely brings their brand to the holiday. Before you know it, the witch thing has moved on to demonic flatworms, and unsexy erotic body horror lines the walls. None of its building blocks are extremely creative on their own, but Yuzna's special grotesque touch fills in the cracks with unique moods and pulpy action. Woody Keith, a regular in Yuzna’s posse provided the original script. According to Keith, the duo utilized leftover ideas from the conception phase of their previous work, the satirical favorite Society (1989), which seems to come through in the secret world it portrays just behind the surface. At its worst, the try for a retro, supernatural thriller build-up in the story clashes a little with the blunt, in your face, shock-value theatrics. Mostly, the blend works for me when it all comes together. It's just weird enough not to be affected negatively by the juxtaposition, and it all takes the form of a fucked up, amusing fever dream instead. It may not be the usual film motivations or characters you find around this year, but in a way, it's about fucked up family traditions that take place on December twenty fourth, so it counts.
The cast has some surprise additions, ranging from TV veterans to a two-time Bond girl. Familiar faces include Hollywood (and bizarre horror veteran) Jeanne BatesReggie Bannister from the Phantasm series and Allyce Beasley who has been providing the same bit part as well as memorable voice acting since the 80s. The satanic den mom, Fima is played by cult legend Maud “Octopussy” Adams. Adams is Stunning as always, and she does a great job of pulling off the judgmental bookstore owner/witch. It's one of the highlights of the film but also scary in unexpected ways, a sensation kin to facing off with a pissed off affluent yoga instructor. A favorite of mine, Clint Howard shows up for a majority of the film and as his, often seen, simple oddball character. Clint, who is likely the more fun Howard at parties (yeah, I fucking said it), has over-the-top creepster down to a sputtering science, and in this case, he gets to do some naked partying (nine years before Eyes Wide Shut--take that Tom Cruise) as well. For bonus points, look out for Shiva (Marjean Holden) from the second Mortal Kombat movie (actually you can have the points if you remember any of that film).
Amidst obvious budget limitations, several of the more out-there concepts have been handicapped to make due. There is a lot of brutal and just strange shit going on, but quite a bit happens off screen or is just implied. The shlop, suction cup god-worms and other creepy shit you do see hold up, as another frequent collaborator of Yuzna, Screaming Mad George, true to form, pulls off some great effects even with limited resources. It starts in early with nudity and it returns frequently, however, that also includes a shirtless Clint Howard (not making a judgment here, just making sure you have all the facts). Along the way, there is some fun camera work ranging from homages to its witch-sploitation roots to more unique angles and framing. On the downside, an unfortunate generic lighting laces almost every scene adding to the already ever-present cable television feel.  The editing is mostly just passing, but does do its part to help create a constant pace between its attempts at tension and the shock value. All things considered, it's pretty fit for a Christmas film that forfeited its ability to use last season’s clearance aisle for props.
Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 (1990) is not a very good sequel to a classic series about homicidal Kris Kringle impersonators, but standing alone it can be a fun, trashy, snowless slay ride in December. Viewers who are strictly in it for more of the Chapman family brand of yearly horror dramedy will be disappointed, because it's just not there. Those movies took the jolly images associated with Christmas and twisted them into awesomely entertaining sleaze, while the fourth entry gives the holiday the finger in its own bizarre way. It leaves behind the explicitly Christian reference, colorful wrapping paper, and the rosey fat man altogether and makes a good case for Yuletide black magic and body horror instead. After getting over the change, I appreciated the extreme left turn and look forward to it each year. In a way, it's the perfect anti-Christmas movie as it ignores the usual deity based mascots that crowd the 25th and supplements them with its own. Please don't get me wrong, I like the killer Santa flicks (a lot), but it's about time we, as a culture, just throw the whole tinsel tangled, felt motif out the window for good and go with something fresh. I don't know if celebrating ancient Egyptian, slime covered, rape-bugs is better than the current yearly cult member activities, but it's a little different, and that's something.
Director: Brian Yuzna 
Writers: Woody Keith, S.J. Smith, Richard N. Gladstein, Arthur Gorson and Brian Yuzna

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Review by:
RevTerry
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