Despite having a very mixed reputation, To All a Goodnight is a film that horror fans should try to see even if only for its historical value. Released in January 1980, while Christmas Evil was still filming, it’s the first killer Santa film and the only film directed by David Hess (Last House on the Left, House on the Edge of the Park).
To All a Goodnight was written by Alex Rebar, probably best remembered for playing the title role in The Incredible Melting Man, but he also wrote Demented and had a “collaborating writer” credit on another cult favourite, Beyond the Door. And as if that wasn’t enough, it was the first role for Jennifer Runyon (Charles in Charge, Up the Creek, Bloodsucka Jones vs. The Creeping Death) and has porn superstar Harry Reems (Forced Entry, Deep Throat) in a small role, if that’s possible.
Like many slashers, To All a Goodnight opens several years before the main events with a prank going wrong and leading to a mannequin, I mean a young girl, falling off a balcony to her death. This Christmas six of the students at Calvin Finishing School for Girls, Nancy (Jennifer Runyon), Melody (Linda Gentile), Leia (Judith Bridges, The Kid from Nowhere), Trisha (Angela Bath, Portrait of a Showgirl), Sam (Denise Stearns) and Cynthia (Lisa Labowskie) are staying there for the holidays, with only Mrs. Jensen (Kiva Lawrence, Wrong is Right, Schizoid) to watch over them.
One glass of milk laced with sleeping pills later Mrs. Jensen is passed out and there’s nothing to stop the girls from getting with TJ (William Lauer) and his friends who’ve flown up in his dad’s plane. Nothing except a Santa with a sack full of sharp objects for all the bad girls and boys.
To get the most noticeable problem with To All a Goodnight out of the way, yes, the film suffers from horrible lighting. Several scenes are so dark it’s next to impossible to tell what’s happening. It’s a problem that persists, though to a lesser degree, in the restored Blu-Ray. Thankfully though you can usually see the film’s gore effects and, this being an 80s slasher, the occasional flash of female flesh.
The film boasts a high body count, and several of the kills are impressive including a crossbow bolt through the head, a garroting and double death by airplane propellor. Unfortunately, the effects by a young Mark Shostrom (The Sword and the Sorcerer, Evil Dead II), for whom this was his first film, don’t always rise to the occasion. But given the film’s entire budget was only seventy thousand dollars, (about two hundred and thirty-six thousand dollars today) he did well with what he had to work with.
While the plot has so many familiar elements that it feels generic now, To All a Goodnight was one of the first slashers to reach the theatres, even beating Friday the 13th, with which it shares a couple of plot points, by several months. It does however borrow from the first slasher film, Black Christmas and early prototypes such as Tower of Evil aka Horror on Snape Island.
Which is not to say that the plot doesn’t have its problems. The film takes place over two nights and very few of the cast seem all that bothered by the fact one person has been murdered and several others are missing. They’re almost all more interested in getting laid again. Given that, Runyon’s character seems incredibly out of place as the cute, virginal, pigtailed girl in a house full of sex-crazed females who give a whole new meaning to cockeyed. She’s almost too pure even by final girl standards.
But for all its faults To All a Goodnight has remained one of my favourite seasonal slashers since I first rented it on VHS. It builds to a nice finish with an unexpected pair of twists and a final image that’s both chilling and poetic. It’s an enjoyable slice of early slasher history and one that deserves a reappraisal.
To All a Goodnight is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on various streaming platforms including Shudder.
The very NSFW Trailer