While Silent Night Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out may not be the top of every Christmas horror fans lists at this time of year, it has its own place in horror history.
With multiple writers, an appearance by Bill Moseley as the returning Ricky Caldwell plus a quick shooting schedule it is really exercise in getting a slasher made as fast as possible and released.
Bloody Flicks had the chance to speak to co-writer and producer Arthur Gorson about his experience working on the film.
You played multiple parts in Silent Night… 3, was producer, co-writer and actor, was this a case of all hands to the pump?
Ronna Wallace and Richard N. Gladstein were executives at LIVE Entertainment. Ronna and I first met when I was developing feature films at Universal Studio -and we had spoken about my being involved with other projects. When LIVE decided in early 1989 to revive the Silent Night Deadly Night franchise for a possible #3, Ronna asked me if I was interested in taking it on. The proviso was that it would need to be 100% finished by Mid-Summer of the same year, so it could make the Fall sales lists and Christmas inventory. After the slow pace of developing films at a major studio, this felt like a gift from heaven. A rocket ship. I said yes …”Let’s try to make a real film”.
I had become good friends with Monte Hellman, and suggested to Ronna that perhaps I could get him to direct. (After a run of Jack Nicholson films for Roger Corman, and “Two Lane Blacktop”, Monte was a living legend in Europe.) Though he had not shot a film for a US based production house for quite a while, Monte was a brilliant filmmaker who could work fast and did not fear tight budgets. Ronna enthusiastically agreed. I talked Monte into doing it and we both thought it would be a lot of fun and quick.
There was no script and no concept. We insisted on calling the film “Better Watch Out!”
By the way, I was never an actor in the film. In post-Production, I did dub in the voice or Ricky saying “L a u r a…”
Interesting side notes….
The Barcelona International Film Festival, scheduled for July 1989, had always been planning a major tribute to Monte Hellman. When they got wind that Monte was actually shooting a new film, the made a big deal of it. Unbeknown to us they gave the film the opening night gala slot. We set our edit deadline to be able to carry a 35mm print with us on the plane to Barcelona. We actually picked up the print from the lab on the way to the airport. The first time we ever really saw the finished film on a screen was there in front of over 600 people at its “world premier”. Yipps! Since it was Monte, the Spanish and French film critics managed to find intellectual depth, and allegorical hidden meanings in the films story and
Protagonista. We had never thought of it that way. Many in the audience didn’t fully understand the dialogue and wept,as the credits rolled most cheered wildly. It was a hoot… and we had a great time being hosted in Barcelona.
True Cinema history came out of Ronna Wallace’s experience with our team following SNDN3. Quentin Tarantino had been pitching “Reservoir Dogs” to Ronna’s company. Monte loved the idea and brought in Harvey Keitel. Keitel was just enough of a name to get the film made. Monte Hellman became Executive Producer of “Reservoir Dogs” and Tarantino’s career was launched.In September, 2010 Monte Hellman won the coveted “Special Golden Lion” award at the Venice International Film Festival – for his body of work. He also premiered his new film “Road to Nowhere.” This made Monte one of the very few directors of a low budget horror film to ever win such a high honor at a major film festival. The Head of the Venice Film Festival Jury that year was Quentin Tarantino…
Our Director of Photography was a talented young Spaniard named Josep Maria Civit. Josep had worked with Monte before, but never shot in the US. Based in Barcelona, he has become one of the world’s leading cinematographers, and has lensed 3 films with Monte. Josep and I remain close friends to this day. (A couple of years ago he and I shot a wonderful Damian Marley music video in Jamaica.)
Was the plan always to bring back Ricky from Part 2?
No. We never considered part 2 a serious film. It was mainly rehashed footage from the original with a very thin storyline. As I saw it, its only excuse for existing at all was as a cheap one-off to maximize profits for the franchise owners. No doubting that Ricky was Finally killed in 2. Our challenge was how to bring him back in a way that could be explained , while respecting our audience. We came up with the idea that his brain was surgically recreated in an experimental lab. But then of course, as the pressure of Christmas approaches, he breaks loose driven by his passion for Laura. We feel for Ricky.
Did you ever consider directing the film yourself?
When did Bill Moseley become involved in the film?
Monte had great contacts with actors. We moved very quickly with casting once we had a script. Bill Moseley had horror credits, but he could also really act. He loved the part and was available in our time-frame.
As for Robert Culp. Horror wasn’t his game, but he respected Monte and didn’t mind the extra money.He was an actual TV star, and In the limited scale of things he was our ”bankable attraction”. His police inspector character gets to say the immortal line …”deja vu all over again.”
In a cool cameo, you’ll see a truck driver played by Carlos Palomino. Carlos was the former wealterweight champion of the world. (In an epic fight, he beat Roberto Duran.) Carlos was a friend who wanted to be an actor. He does geat!
The film has multiple writers credited, how much collaboration was there on the script?
Since we needed to create this film quickly, there had to be total collaboration – no time to go in different directions. I was brought in to produce and help guide the creative. Monte Hellman was a strong leader. He and I came up with the original concept and then Rex Weiner (as Carlos Lazlo) joined us to help with the story and quickly write a screenplay. Monte’s long-time writing partner, Steve Gaydos, sat in on story meeting (uncredited). We were all friends, had mutual respect, and could communicate quickly. And… we were being paid to do it.
I believe this was quite a quick production, how long did the shoot take?
3 x 6 day weeks. Plus several days of insert photography.
Did you feel like the production was rushed?
Yes, but that was the nature of the beast. The pressure and limited time worked for us and against us. Time limits forced us to make quick decisions and move on – that kept us on schedule. It did not endulge time for retakes or experimenting with alternate scenes. ‘Tis what it ‘tis, and we were happy to be making a movie together. As an added challenge we had to create holiday lights, snow, and shivers in the heat of a California summer.
We shot just what we needed to cut a film, and edited as we shot. With no budget for Post special effects, or CGI, all tricks were done in camera by highly inventive old-school special efx artists, and we had a blood and make-up department headed by Nina Kraft. We actually had Gallons of secret formula blood.
Budget and time dictated that we be very efficient. It was exhausting for Monte and myself – during production we went with maybe 4 hours sleep a night. The locations in rural Piru, California (Granny’s House and roads) and a Newbury Park, California warehouse (where we built sets for hospital and police station) were over an hour + each way drive from our homes in the Hollywood Hills. We shot 10 days of nights. That meant that after calling wrap,we would drive back leaving the set around 7:00 AM, go look at film dailies at Fotokem Labs in Burbank by 3:PM, and be back on set by 5:30 PM. With no luxury allowance for drivers – almost fell a sleep at the wheel once or twice. (Remember this was before digital, so everything was shot and edited on 35mm film with daily runs to the lab.)
You were also involved in the writing of Silent Night Deadly Night 4, how much of your story made it into the final film?
Very little. I helped create the concept and then decided to go on to other things. Richard N. Gladstein took over #4 and did a great job. Less then 3 years later I was producing Guillermo Del Toro’s first feature “Cronos.” Stayed busy ever since.
Watch the trailer for Silent Night Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out below –