‘Silent Night, Deadly Night 4’ Delivers the Most Bugged-Out Entry in a Bonkers Franchise [We Love ’90s Horror]

Regardless of any perceived quality when it comes to individual entries, you have to hand it to the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise. It kicked off with a demented killer Santa story that created immense controversy, cementing it as a piece of hallowed horror history. Since then, it has produced a series of movies that each stand out for any number of memorable reasons (my personal favorite). You can certainly argue the successful and not-so-successful elements of a Silent Night, Deadly Night entry, but it’s tough to say any one of them is “normal.” They all offer such unique quirks and oddities that it’s hard not to find them attractive from the right angles.

And Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation is the weirdest one of the bunch and so much better for it.

As a franchise entry, we do need to establish some important context. Long story short, the first three Silent Night, Deadly Night films are part of a continuing tale about two brothers who become Santa Claus killers. When the fourth film came around, there was a major changing of the guard and a deliberate desire to get away from the “Christmas slasher” formula. Enter Brian Yuzna (Society, Bride of Re-Animator) and many of his cohorts to turn this Christmas slasher series into… well, a psychosexual goopfest with wacko creature effects that should be far more acclaimed and recognized than they are. So, you know, a Brian Yuzna movie.

In all seriousness, it seems like Brian Yuzna wanted to use Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 to do his own spin on Rosemary’s Baby. The script by Yuzna regular Woody Keith focuses on intrepid reporter Kim Levitt (Neith Hunter) as she delves into the mystery behind a woman’s unexplained and fiery death. She befriends Fima (Maud Adams), the owner of a local bookstore who also seems to be the leader of a women’s club that definitely isn’t a cult (spoiler alert: they are a cult). Kim starts coming under the influence of these women, and it doesn’t take long before she’s barfing up giant roach-worms that would have Franz Kafka tossing his cookies.

Oh yes, you’ll be more than handsomely rewarded during your Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 viewing with the illustrious grotesqueries of Screaming Mad George a.k.a. Jojo Tani. Easily one of the effects geniuses of his era and a Brian Yuzna favorite, ol’ George gets to go buckwild with a cavalcade of nasty bug monsters and gonzo transformation moments. Though Society will always be the masterwork of Screaming Mad George’s career, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 is also a crowning achievement in the legacy of a special effects icon.

But it’s not only gloppola slime critters that make Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 a worthy endeavor. Yuzna, along with cinematographer Philip Holahan, bring a surprising amount of visual polish to the whole movie. It’s not the highest bar to clear, but Initiation offers a serious argument as the best photographed film in the entire franchise. Though still a low budget affair, Yuzna strives for effective cinematic “nightmare” scenes as Kim doesn’t properly perceive what the cult is doing to her. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 not only differentiates itself from the previous entries with its story but also with its level of directorial prowess.

Probably the biggest knock Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 often gets is that it’s the one entry in the series that isn’t engaged with or enthusiastic about its Christmas theming. While that’s a fair assessment, that feels deliberate as the story ends up going Old Testament instead, referencing an infamous Biblical character, Lilith. The plot is even about her resurrection-of-sorts around the time of year Christians celebrate the birth of their Lord. Initiation could be embraced by the right crowd as an anti-Christmas movie, and considering not everyone feels so jolly this time of year, it’s nice to know there’s a mean-spirited holiday flick out there where Clint Howard is grabbing some isopod demon out of a ceiling ventilation pipe. It’s the little things, you know?

And if an all-timer action movie whose Christmas connections are mostly set dressing gets hailed as part of the holiday canon, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation more than deserves a pass for not being Christmasy enough. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a slow burn but that fuse leads to an explosion of effects excellence and twisted (sometimes, literally) turns that are nothing if not memorable. If you were jazzed at Yuzna’s return to form with Suitable Flesh, you owe yourself a double-dip of satisfaction with this one. It’s time for Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation to be celebrated as the most bugged-out (in more ways than one) entry in a franchise that made its mark by being bonkers.

The ‘90s often get a bad rap with horror fans. After the numerous successful slashers and creature effects films of the ’80s, the ‘90s offered a different variety of horror fare. Though there were plenty of hits, hidden gems, and misunderstood classics, the ‘90s usually don’t get the kind of love that other decades get when it comes to horror. It’s time to change that.

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