Written by: Woody Keither, Brian Yuzna, Arthur Gorson, and S.J. Smith
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Starring: Clint Howard, Neith Hunter, Maud Adams, and Reggie Bannister
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"No fucking cheese!"
After garnering quite a bit of criticism for its "Killer Santa" theme, the Silent Night, Deadly Night series gave its hallmark a rest in the fourth installment of this infamous series. Bearing little resemblance to its predecessors, Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 was a direct-to-video affair from Brian Yuzna (of Bride of Re-Animator fame). Surprisingly, the film also features a couple of familiar faces in Clint Howard and Reggie Bannister, a fact that had me somewhat excited to check this one out despite the fact this is possibly the oddest entry in the franchise due to the hard left turn in terms of its plot.
Ricky Caldwell, the infamous "Killer Santa" from the previous film, is nowhere to be found in this installment of the series. Instead, the film opens with a vagrant (played by the aforementioned Howard) witnessing a woman jumping off of a building while on fire. Such a strange event piques the interest of a local journalist, Kim, who decides to launch a one-woman investigation that soon lands her in the company of Fima (Maud Adams of James Bond fame), the proprietor of a local book store, who invites Kim to a picnic after giving her a book about a virgin goddess. Before long, weird things start happening to Kim, like bugs inexplicably showing up at her apartment. It soon becomes apparent that Fima and her cohorts are a part of a cult that has sinister intentions for Kim.
So, you might be wondering if the Christmas holidays play a part in this film at all, and the answer is "no" for the most part. The film does happen to take place during the Christmas season, but it's not a significant component of the plot at all; in fact, this film could have taken place during any other season and it wouldn't change much (besides the fact that we wouldn't get to see Reggie rocking a Santa hat, so I guess we should be grateful for that at least). In a lot of ways, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 is like the Halloween 3 of this franchise in that it's a completely random entry that's completely divorced from its previous film. And while I'll be the first to defend Halloween 3, I can't be as effusive with praise with this one because at least it actually has something to do with the holiday in its name. In the case of this film, it feels like they simply tacked on the Silent Night, Deadly Night moniker as an after thought.
Getting past this fact, however, I was hoping that the film would still end up being an under-rated diamond in the rough, but I can't quite say that, either. Initiation is by no means a terrible film, but it's certainly pretty dull, which was a surprise considering Yuzna's involvement. As a fan of both of his Re-Animator sequels and Return of the Living Dead 3, I was hoping for a bit more than what this film eventually had to offer. One thing is for sure, though: the subject matter is right up Yuzna's alley because it allows for quite a few gross-out "body horror" moments that ultimately serve as the highlight of the film, as there are several interesting sequences (like Kim apparently giving birth to a giant slug-like creature).
Unfortunately, these moments are all too brief and are surrounded by a fairly trite plot that's incomprehensible at times because Fima and her cultists seem to have all kinds of motivations that eventually get jumbled with each other. By the time the film reached its climax, I still wasn't exactly sure what the point of it was. Then again, I guess I should expect as much from a film that involves Clint Howard involved in a rape scene that resembles a mash-up of A Clockwork Orange and Rosemary's Baby. Seriously folks, this flick gets that weird at times, but it's not weird in a good, Euro-horror, Paul Naschy way; heck, it's not even the good kind of weird that you get from Franco at times. Instead, the whole thing ends up being a bit of a snoozer that happens to ride the coattails of an infamous franchise. The film has a lot of lesbian and feminist overtones as well, but it goes pretty much nowhere because the plot eventually descends into cliche territory once we (sort of) find out what Fima is truly after.
I have most definitely seen worse than Initiation, though, and, despite the fact that it was apparently produced for video or television, it's a technically competent film that simply can't overcome its plot deficiencies. Yuzna is a fairly decent director, so the film doesn't spiral completely out of control under his watch. I generally enjoy cult films, but the clash between the occult and the Christmas season just didn't work well here. Plus, the antagonists just aren't menacing; we've seen menacing old ladies in this genre, but the characters here won't rank among them. Instead, like most of the film, they're just bland characters that cause strange things to happen. Even the lead character isn't that interesting, nor is her boyfriend, Hank. Unfortunately, Bannister is also pretty much wasted, as he only has two scenes and never plays a significant role in the plot. I wish Yuzna would have had enough sense to give us a Reggie/Clint showdown, but it apparently wasn't meant to be. It's surprising that Initiation didn't quite come together because, from a technical standpoint, it arguably had the best collection of talent both in front of and behind the camera.
By the end of the film, you'll probably be longing for the more traditional "Killer Santa" entries in the franchise. Also, it doesn't help that some footage of the third film shows up when Clint decides to turn on the tube while Kim and Hank have sex in the background. Yep, take a moment to let that image sink in. Not surprisingly, Initiation hasn't shown up on DVD yet in Region 1. I can't see a lot of people particularly clamoring for it outside of devout fans of the franchise, so it might be a long-time coming. If you must see this for the sake of completeness, you're going to have to check out alternative channels for it. However, if you want to be a part of this initiation, you've been warned. Like I said, it's not a terrible film, but there aren't many redeeming qualities to it either; as such, it straddles the line between trash and a rental. Hesitantly, I recommend this one to those who are fans of either Yuzna or the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise, but just know that both have better to offer than this. Rent it!
*Now available on DVD through Lionsgate Entertainment.
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