All Through The House

Director: Todd Nunes
Ashley Mary Nunes, Jessica Cameron, Melynda Kiring

There's a lot to be said about controversial movies, because... well... they are controversial. With movie controversy, you inevitably get some people protesting whatever the hot topic the movie is concerned with, while often at the same time there are supporters of the movie. I've had my own personal experiences with controversial movies over the years; let me tell you about some of them. One of my first brushes with a controversial movie was when I read film critic Roger Ebert's review of the 1978 I Spit On Your Grave. In his review, Ebert completely trashed the movie in every way you can think of... and his extreme written venom, of course, had me instantly add the movie to my "must see" list, as well as to the lists of many other readers despite protests from a few other critics. Years later, I e-mailed Ebert to inform him that his review had actually saved the movie from obscurity and made it a cult movie, and asked him his feelings about that. Ebert lamely answered that he hadn't seen the movie on any best-selling movie lists. When I wrote back to tell him the popularity came from movie rentals and not sales, he again lamely answered by saying that fans of the movie surely didn't know about him. Some years later, I heard about another controversial movie, that being the 1981 war movie Inchon. That movie had whipped up great controversy in part because funding for it had been accomplished at great expense by Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church, a.k.a. "Moonies", and he supposedly used the money of his followers instead of his personal wealth. This may be why when the movie was released to theaters, it was torn apart by critics, who declared it unintentionally funny and one of the worst movies ever made, adding to its controversy. Of course, that made me want to see it, but for years it was unavailable anywhere. Finally, I managed to track down a bootleg copy of it so I could see what the controversy was really like. My thoughts? Well, let me quote my friend (and sometimes guest reviewer) Michael Sullivan when I arranged for him to see the movie with a warning from me first. He said: "You were right, it wasn't funny at all. Painfully dull and mediocre." I couldn't have said it better myself.

But the controversial movie that I really want to talk about is the 1984 horror movie Silent Night, Deadly Night. For the few of you who don't know, this horror movie concerned an extremely traumatized and troubled young man who finally snapped and went around town on a killing spree while dressed as Santa Claus. Well, when the movie started to be marketed on television and elsewhere, parents, as well as celebrities like Mickey Rooney, quickly got into an uproar. They protested that the ads and the movie itself would seriously freak any children who watched them. Fueled by protests from critics like Roger Ebert, the controversy got to be so big that studio Tri-Star abruptly pulled the movie from release after two weeks despite it having made good money for a horror movie at that point. Not only that, Tri-Star didn't want to even own the movie anymore, selling it off to another party. While all of this was happening, my teenage self was a little confused by the controversy. Why was this movie being picked on? I asked, because at a local video store, there was a movie called Christmas Evil (a.k.a. You Better Watch Out) for rent, which boldly advertised that it was about a killer Santa Claus. I hadn't heard of any protest for that movie then, or earlier when it was in theaters. Also, I had heard about the 1972 horror anthology movie Tales From The Crypt, with one of its stories concerning a homicidal man dressed as Santa Claus - no protest for that movie as well. Years later, I came across the movies Santa's Slay, To All A Good Night, and Violent Night, also concerning killer Santa Clauses, and I never heard a peep of protest about those movies. And when I heard that Mickey Rooney, one of the big protesters of Silent Night, Deadly Night, had signed on to star in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 5... well, it furthered my confusion on the issue.

After years of thinking about this curious anomaly, there is only one theory I can think of to explain why Silent Night, Deadly Night got protested about its portrayal of Santa Claus as a killer. My theory is that at the time of its release, the stars in the sky (including the Bethlehem star?) were All Through The Housein the right position at the right time. The public mentality was in the appropriate mood for protest at that moment. Since the public taste is always a changing thing, it may explain why those other killer Santa Claus movies never got protested before or since. It may also explain why the movie I am reviewing here - All Through The House - never got even a whiff of protest despite it too involving a killer Santa Claus. But since you probably know like me that the public taste can change abruptly at any moment, you may understand why I felt that I had to review the movie immediately upon finding it before any uproar may rise up and cause the movie to be withdrawn. The movie takes place in a small American town named Napa that has a dark history. We learn that years ago around Christmas, a very young girl named Jamie Garrett suddenly disappeared with no trace of her ever being found. Her mother (played by Melynda Kiring) was devastated by the loss of her daughter, and subsequently holed up in her home and became something of an eccentric recluse. In the present Christmas season, a college student named Rachel (played by Ashley Mary Nunes), who knew Jamie all those years ago, comes back to Napa for the holidays to be with her grandmother Abby (Cathy Garrett). Shortly after returning and reuniting with her friends Sarah (Danika Riner) and Gia (Natalie Montera), and bumping into ex-boyfriend Cody (Jason Ray Schumacher), she gets into contact with Mrs. Garrett, who seems to be finally coming out of her protective shell and wants to enjoy life and this holiday season. But soon she, Rachel, and the other citizens of Napa have a real problem on their hands. That problem is a mysterious figure dressed up as Santa Claus who is going all around town and killing various townspeople. And the killer seems to have his or her sights ultimately set on getting to the home of Mrs. Garrett, and woe be to Rachel, her friends, her grandmother, or anyone else who might get in the way of the killer's goal!

I know that if you were to ask your typical slasher movie fan what he (or in a few cases, she) likes about slasher movies, that person would probably immediately say things like shocks, scares, and gory going-ons. Yes, those things are important, but I do think that a good slasher movie also has to have good characters so that the shocks, scares, and gory can have the appropriate impact. There's not much to care about a victim who is just passing through, and unfortunately the first half of All Through The House concentrates the horror towards bit part characters. Since they are knocked off just a minute or a few more after their introductions, I didn't have a chance to care about them and get involved in their struggle to stay alive. However, I will admit that I did care about them getting killed, because even in their brief appearances, these small players manage to be blunt, crude, and quite unlikable. Getting them out of the way quickly was, quite frankly, a relief and pleasure. What about the main characters, you may be asking? Well, some of the actors that play them do manage to do something with them. Grandmother Abby has some spunk, even if it feels a little contrived at times. And Mrs. Garrett and Rachel manage to come across as... well... somewhat believably. That may not sound all that great, but it's pretty amazing when you consider how these main characters and the others have been written. For the most part, we learn nothing about these characters, like their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, or their past and present relationships with each other. These aren't characters, they are just placeholders put in the first draft of the screenplay to wait to be fleshed out, but simply weren't in the end.

It's simply hard to care about these characters, despite the fact that there is a killer who can't wait to cut them up. It's even harder, because the portrayal of the Santa Claus-dressed killer is absolutely underwhelming. The killer never really talks, though come to think about it, that's pretty much a given in these kinds of movies. I can, however, safely complain that the killer hardly shows any personality, or even a feeling of unstoppable sheer menace. The blame for this rests completely on the shoulders of director Tom Nunes; for much of the movie, he makes it difficult for us in the audience to get a handle on this killer. Until near the end, the killer is mostly seen in fleeting shots, and often we just see part of his body instead of his entire dangerous self. In the last part of the movie when the killer is better showcased, his actions and body language don't seem any different than that of other slasher movie killers. Yes, this particular slasher movie killer does manage to build a fairly impressive body count, and I will admit that when the gore and blood spills, it is indeed quite gruesome and spectacular. However, the kills still for the most part flop down with a thud. There is usually a surprising sudden and matter-of-fact feel when people are slaughtered; Nunes seems really reluctant to milk out the slaughter to the very last drop, even when he does show not one but two severed penises. Come to think of it, Nunes repeats himself with the horror in other aspects too, like having two shower sequences, and with the killer murdering almost all of his victims with garden shears instead of using multiple different kinds of killing techniques.

The lack of horror variety, plus the slow, mechanical, and drab feeling throughout All Through The House may have been consequences of what was clearly a limited budget. Not having a lot of money to spend would also explain that there's very little in the way of production niceties, among them being a remarkable lack of establishing shots, a bedroom that's obviously a soundstage with a large sheet used to make the bedroom's back wall, and (get this) NO SNOW, despite the events of this movie taking place at Christmas. Actually, to be honest, I wouldn't mind very much the cheapness of the enterprise had not only the direction of Nunes been more original and energetic, but the issues with the script (which Nunes also was responsible for.) I am not just talking about the thinness of the characters, but some really stupid touches. Would a child at Christmas, upon letting inside his home Santa after seeing him at the window, immediately go back to sleep? Do people wake up in the middle of the night to take a shower? Would someone housesitting for someone seemingly innocent for one night decide to break open a padlocked door in the person's house? Would news of a person's sexual mutilation that's known by the authorities stay unknown to regular citizens in a small town for many years? If you, upon fighting a bloodthirsty killer, managed to give him a blow that momentarily stunned him, would you really immediately try to run away without first hammering him hard a few more times while he's down for the count? (The last one happens more that once in this movie.) I could give more examples of questionable plot points in All Through The House, as well as list many other shortcomings, but I think I've already made my case regarding this movie, so I don't think I need to bother going all through them.

(Posted November 15, 2023)

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See also: Don't Open Till Christmas, Santa's Slay, To All A Good Night