30th Anniversary Silent Night, Deadly Night Retrospective: Part 3
After Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 failed to garner even half the reaction that the original film did, the subsequent installments in the franchise from that point forward all went straight-to-video. It was in 1989 that rights holders LIVE Entertainment – who had released the first two films on VHS – spearheaded the revival of the series, rushing a second sequel into production.
Independent producer Arthur Gorson was the man put in charge of the third installment, hired for the job in March of 1989 with the mission of having the film finished and released on video in time for that year’s holiday season. Gorson was and still is to this day good friends with veteran filmmaker Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop), who he suggested as director of the project. Though Gorson says it didn’t take all that much to convince Hellman to come on board, Hellman’s side of the story is a tad bit different.
Story goes that Hellman was suffering from a nasty case of the flu at the time Gorson approached him about the film, which played a key role in the decision process. “There was nothing about it that caught my interest,” Hellman recalls. “In my weakened state, I only agreed as an act of friendship.” Hellman went on to say that he is not a fan of horror films, and only watched the first two installments in the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise at the insistence of Gorson.
Whatever the reason, Hellman agreed to direct the film, but not before one stipulation was met: a screenplay had already been written, and Hellman wanted no part of the project unless it was promptly thrown out the proverbial window. With Hellman on board, the original screenplay was indeed scrapped, and a new one based off ideas from Hellman and Gorson was written in a single week by a man named Carlos Laszlo – at least, that’s the name listed in the credits.
In truth, Carlos Laszlo was actually the name of a baby seen in the beginning of the film, and it was Carlos’ father who wrote the first draft of the new screenplay. From that point forward, the name Carlos Laszlo was used as a pseudonym for all the different writers that contributed – including Steve Gaydos and even Monte’s daughter, Melissa!
The ending of Part 2 left questions as to whether or not Ricky survived the events of the film, left for dead after cops unloaded a blizzard of lead into his body – the film ends with him smiling into the camera, suggesting his reign of terror is far from over. It was this ambiguity that served as the basis for Better Watch Out, a continuation of the story that picks up six years later and again centers on Ricky Caldwell, who is in a coma at a California hospital. Lucky for Ricky, a twisted doctor is presiding over his lifeless body, and the doc decides to use a blind psychic (Laura) to attempt to communicate with him. Because why the hell not?
Of course, the experimental procedure doesn’t exactly go as planned, and Ricky develops a psychic link to the young girl, before coming back to life and breaking free from the hospital. From there, it’s off to grandmother’s house that the psychic and her brother go, not realizing that Ricky is very much alive, and hot on their tail. As Ricky pursues Laura, a cop that was involved in the shootout from Part 2 (…but not really) pursues him, intent on once and for all putting an end to the Chapman/Caldwell family killings.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the relatively boring third installment in the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise is the cast, which is filled out with a handful of familiar faces. A pre-Mulholland Drive Laura Harring plays Jerri, the girlfriend of Laura’s brother, while legendary actor Robert Culp plays Lt. Connely, the Dr. Loomis to Ricky’s Michael Myers.
As for Ricky himself, he’s played by horror icon Bill Moseley, and it’s Moseley that is largely responsible for making the film worth watching – as is the case with many of the films he’s appeared in over the years. Better Watch Out was filmed just three years after Moseley’s breakout role as Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2, and though he unfortunately doesn’t get to do all that much in the film, it’s nevertheless a joy to see him as the lead villain in a slasher flick.
Making his silent and subdued performance all the more memorable is the fact that Ricky wears a clear glass dome atop his head, his brain completely visible underneath – the result of a life-saving operation after the events of Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2. The explanation is that Ricky’s brain was destroyed in the shootout, though of course anyone who has seen the film knows that no shots were fired at his head. Nevertheless, it’s a fun addition to an otherwise dull movie, and it’s again a joy to watch Bill Moseley walking around with his brain exposed.
The Valencia, California shoot was completed in a matter of weeks, production wrapping in April 1989 and editing finished by May. Better Watch Out made its premiere on the festival circuit in July of that year, hitting home video on November 17th – a mere eight months after the new screenplay was written.
Director Monte Hellman has fond memories of the production, admitting that it’s not his best film, but nevertheless considering it some of his best work as a director. He says he was happy to have done the movie, and seems to be quite proud of how quickly he and his crew were able to put it all together.
They were all under the gun from the word go, the distributor breathing down their necks to get the film in the can and out in time for Christmas, and though those aren’t exactly the best conditions to make a movie under, they managed to pull it off and succeed in their mission. An impressive accomplishment, regardless of how the movie turned out.
With Ricky once again left for dead at the end of Better Watch Out, whether or not he survived the finale again being left up to the viewer to decide, it would seem that he was primed and ready for a return in another sequel. And though another sequel did soon follow, Ricky was nowhere to be found.
RETROSPECTIVE CONTINUES ON THE NEXT PAGE!