Years before the catty, ultra privileged collegiates of Fox’s Scream Queens faced down a red devil or two, the well-to-do sorority sisters of the 1980 winter slasher epic To All a Goodnight encountered a nearly unbeatable crimson killer of their own.
With shadings of everything from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, perhaps the highest regarded holiday horror outing, to Friday the 13th, with the character of Leia, played here with arched theatricality by Judith Bridges, resembling Laura Bartram’s Brenda from Sean Cunningham’s much more imitated piece, To All a Goodnight definitely has a horror pedigree of its own. The solo full length directing credit of David Hess, best known to terror scholars from his twisted performances in Last House on the Left and others, this piece was also written by The Incredible Melting Man’s Alex Rebar and features a winsome and sensitive final girl in actress Jennifer Runyon, who would go on to appear in the mega-popular Ghostbusters and the Roger Corman produced cult classic Carnosaur.
Here Rebar and Hess begin things in familiar territory. The film opens as a young woman, being chased by a bevy of cackling classmates, takes a fatal tumble off a balcony. The action then flash forwards to a handful of coeds who are staying in their rooms at the Calvin Finishing School for Girls over the Christmas holidays, two years later. Of course, most of the girls are up to no good and they soon drug their caretaker in order to welcome a bevy of boys, who have, unusually, arrived on a nearby field via a private airplane. Over the next two days, amid games of romantic roulette, most of the laughing partiers are done away with by a revenge fueled figure in a Santa costume. The ending, which prefigures Wes Craven’s Scream, reveals the possibility of more than one culprit and a very, very distraught, but still very, very alive heroine.
As much as it embraces the expected tropes, though, the film is done in a bit by its pacing. Many scenes feature the cast sitting around, chatting, or wandering, tentatively, throughout the house or across the property. There are some talented, but less than magnetic performers, many of whom would never work again, on display here, as well. But some of this oddness works in the piece’s favor and one can even grow affectionate over seemingly random incidents like the visit of an antagonistic neighborhood woman, who disappears after her first scene and has no relevance to the plot whatsoever. Those who love the idea of festive figures in compromising positions will find much to enjoy here, as well, as the Santa(s) eradicate with stealth, if not originality.
Meanwhile, the pairing of the adorable Runyon and Forrest Swanson, as her nerdy yet protective beau, is sweet, with the duo’s energy being almost identically echoed, a few years later, by Kelli Maroney and Tony O’Dell in Chopping Mall. Still, it is Runyon, as a solo entity, who commands most of the attention and focus here. Even in her first major role, her star power is obvious and, after all these years, she is still the main reason to watch this enjoyable if flawed excursion into tinselly fright.
Until the next time – Happiest of HorrorDaze and SWEET love and pink GRUE , Big Gay Horror Fan!