Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation targets radical feminism
By Thomas M. Sipos
For your viewing pleasure this Christmas season, consider Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation. Despite being a late sequel in a horror franchise, this 1990 film offers a surprisingly informed and critical look at radical feminism.
You needn't watch the first three SNDN films. The first featured a crazed killer Santa who dies at the end. His crazed brother kills some more people in the sequel, then dies. In the third film, we learn the original Santa is not quite dead, but only in a coma. He awakens, kills again, then dies a second time. Perhaps sensing that they had fully explored every dramatic nuance in the Crazed Killer Santa motif, the producers offered an unrelated story for SNDN 4: Initiation.
Initiation is about witches. But not traditionally evil witches. They are PC witches. Career women and business owners. They worship not Satan, but Nature and The Goddess. They are evil feminist witches.
Hollywood has always had its "good witches," but a renewed effort to popularize the witch as heroine -- the eco-feminist Wiccan -- began in earnest in the 1990s, in such TV shows as Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These women are portrayed as modern practitioners of the "Olde Religion," a pre-Christian faith led by "wise women" (the etymology of "witch," some claim) who were healers, experts on the medicinal properties of herbs, and respected by all, until bigoted, patriarchal Christians, jealous of these strong, independent women, burned them at the stake.
And yet, they are the villains in Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation.
Not that the film is anti-feminist. Instead, Initiation pits "equity feminists" (who only want equality at the workplace) against radical, man-hating feminists. This makes for an intriguing dynamic.
Kim (Neith Hunter) is a reporter for a Los Angeles based tabloid. Actually, she works in classifieds, but she wants to be a reporter. She believes that a glass ceiling prevents her boss, Eli (Reggie Bannister), from giving her a chance. Initiation is heavy-handed on that score. Eli is blatant in his male chauvinism. None of the film's characters are subtle. But then, this is low-budget exploitation fare, not David Lynch.
So Kim investigates a news story on her own, covering a mysterious incident of spontaneous human combustion. This leads her to a coven of modern day witches. Career woman and business owners who dress in modern clothes, while making snide remarks about men. The head witch, Fima (Maud Adams), explains her own "Come to Gaia" moment when she realized that all her problems were caused by her husband (from whom she is now happily divorced).
Kim only wants to move up the career ladder. Fima's coven promises to help. But Fima's coven wants more that prestigious jobs. They seek human sacrifice. They want Lonnie (Conan Yuzna), a young boy who is brother to Kim's boyfriend, Hank (Tommy Hinkley). And they expect Kim to deliver the boy -- or else Kim too will spontaneously combust.
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Yes, Fima's coven caused that previous spontaneous human combustion. The victim was Fima's adult daughter, who refused to join the coven. If you're not down with these ladies, and willing to sacrifice a young boy to the Goddess, then you're with the patriarchy.
Initiation is not quite a Christmas story. It's set during Christmas time. We see much Christmas decor around Kim's office, as well as a menorah. A witch in Fima's coven mentions the Winter Solstice. Kim visits Hank's family, all seated before a Christmas tree, where she instructs Lonnie on the similarities between Christmas and Hanukkah. Kim says that all cultures celebrated something around the time of the solstice. "Bullshit," says Hank's dad.
Dad (Ben Slack) appears modeled on Archie Bunker. He is upset upon learning that Kim is Jewish. He is upset that she is pursing a career. Career woman are unsuitable as potential wives for his son. Dad then dishes up some blatant male chauvinism, saying that a woman's place is in the home. He references Adam and Eve, adding, "I believe that's in your Bible too."
Outside, Kim berates Hank for not defending her to his dad. She'd previously berated him for not standing up for her to Eli. Seems Hank is an insensitive oaf who only wants sex. Surrounded by horny or chauvinistic men, Kim is drawn to Fima's pagan sisterhood, though Kim recants when she learns the full extent of Fima's evil.
Initiation is heavy handed in its themes. Its characters are very broadly drawn. Bad Men. Bad Radical Feminists. Good Equity Feminist. Hank is the most nuanced -- Bad Man Trying to Be More Sensitive to Women -- and that's not saying much.
Even so, Initiation is a fun film. Horror fans will appreciate the gory and imaginative makeup effects. Viewers of an intellectual bent will find some thought-provoking themes. And though Christmas is merely an arbitrary backdrop, rather than a catalyst for the story's events, the decor still provides a yuletide feeling for Christmas film fans who want a change from Hallmark's sweet and treacly holiday fare.
Afterwards, if you're wondering whatever became of Kim and Lonnie, they have a cameo in Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker (1991). No killer Santas or witches in this one. SNDN 5 is a modern day retelling of the Pinocchio fable. Hint: do not buy any Christmas gifts from Joe Petto's toy store.
Thomas M. Sipos is the author of Hollywood Witches, a horror satire about radical feminist witches in Tinseltown. Details at: http://www.HollywoodWitches.com/