Who'd have thought it would take three direct-to-video sequels to get the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise back to its roots? Not psychopaths dressed as Santa: that playfully tawdry premise had run itself out with the first movie, and wasn't coming back, because that might result in some kind of decent horror picture, and there was an injunction against making decent horror pictures in 1991. But at least Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker returns us to the Christmas season in a big way: while every film in the franchise makes a point of clarifying that it takes place on 24 December, none of the ones in the middle make especially good use of the setting, with Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation doing just about all it could to obscure its seasonal setting. The Toy Maker is, by all means, a piece of shit, but at least it lives up to its title well enough.

In the beginning, there is a little boy, Derek (William Thorne), who wakes up one night during the Christmas season by the doorbell, and the sounds of his parents having sweaty direct-to-video sex. He stares at them briefly before drifting downstairs, and this never ends up having anything to do with anything else, but it's against the rules of DTV not to have softcore fucking in your movie. The much more important thing is that doorbell, which announces the arrival of a present; and inside that present - which Derek rips apart despite it being very clearly marked "do not open until Christmas", the greedy bugger - is a red plastic ball marked with white and black spots. When Derek's dad Tom (Van Quattro) comes down to send the boy back to sleep, he inadvertently activates the ball, causing an angry Santa face with sharp teeth to come out of the top, and long grabby arms to emerge, which attach to Tom's face and fling him around until he falls face-first onto a fireplace poker.

Two weeks after this tragedy, Derek's mother, Sarah (Jane Higginson) is hellbent on getting life back on track, but Derek has been mute ever since witnessing the attack; in an attempt to cheer him up, she brings him to the local independent toy show, where garrulous owner Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney) - holy what the shit, Mickey Rooney? - yes, THAT Mickey Rooney. Don't judge, we all have mafia debts to pay off - I was saying, where Joe Petto tries to help find something for Derek, but the boy will have none of it, and in the meanwhile, he's being creeped out by a mysterious stranger (Tracy Fraim). The situation is not made easier by the arrival of Petto's off-putting son Pino (Brian Bremer), and at this point, you have all the clues you need to write the rest of the movie, but I'll recap the important ones: toy shop owner Joe Petto, his weirdly inhuman son Pino, the title is The Toy Maker, and the filmmakers are disgusting people without a whisper of shame. Though at least inevitable reveal that Pino is a robot is handled such that we're clearly meant to have been ahead of the protagonists on that front. And it leaves the greater question of what, exactly, Pino has been making deadly toys and booby-trapping Derek's life with them. Which isn't giving anything away, because if I wrote the rest of this review in 48pt Arial Black and it consisted of nothing but explaining the "twists", it wouldn't really be possible to give away anything that happens in The Toy Maker.

First-time director Martin Kitrosser, who co-wrote with Initiation director Brian Yuzna, on hand to produce here, was responsible for writing two of the worst Friday the 13th pictures (Part 3D and V: A New Beginning) before somehow ending up as Quentin Tarantino's script supervisor; it is thus perhaps a bit surprising that The Toy Maker isn't in any way, shape, or form a slasher movie. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what type of movie it is, at all. When all is said and done, the whole plot fits together in a way that it's retrospectively obvious what every individual moment was building to, but during the actual process of watching it, all of these scenes flop about, making absolutely no sense at all. Not in the "be patient and all of this will become clear" way, either, but in the, "whatever, we're just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks" way: in particular, everything involving Fraim's mysterious stranger (who, we eventually learn, is named Noah), until at least halfway through the film, is completely arbitrary an doesn't feel like it builds to anything. Even in light of the ending, it's hard to figure out why he gives his landlord what proves to be a killer toy larva, except that it would leave the film with an unendurable gap between death scenes if somebody didn't get killed around the 20-30 minute window.

The end result is a film that registers as horror - as, indeed, a narrative of any sort - solely because we've been promised that's the case. But for a vast long stretch of it, nothing is apparently happening. Scenes are dragged in just to cause incident, even though those scenes don't contribute to the overall development of what is ultimately revealed to be the plot; the worst is undoubtedly the lengthy series of scenes with Derek's babysitter (Amy L. Taylor) and her boyfriend (Eric Welch), wedged in just to up the body count and increase the chances of some sex happening, and in neither case carrying it off as well as it might.

Eventually, Mickey Rooney shows up in a Santa outfit, ready to raise hell, and for the last third, The Toy Maker actually resembles a film. But by that point, it's too little, much too late. This is not the kind of film that has the luxury of goodwill to burn off, and it requires an inordinate amount of patience to survive the first hour of the movie, when there are absolutely no stakes or character arcs we care about. Not even bringing poor Clint Howard back for a one-scene cameo as his (dead) character from Initiation can spark the movie to life. This is just junky direct-to-video pap, and only the fact that it does, for a brief spell, involve a murderous Santa Claus gives it any sort of leg up over the other films in its series. But not nearly enough to justify its own existence.

Worst of all: the scene on the box cover, of Derek surrounded by killer stuffed toys, looking like some horrible little Svengali who's about to destroy everybody with his private menagerie, that scene doesn't happen. Rip-off!

Body Count: 4, plus a robot. Some grand fuckin' finale.

Reviews in this series
Silent Night, Deadly Night (Sellier, 1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night, Part 2 (Harry, 1987)
Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (Hellman, 1989)
Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (Yuzna, 1990)
Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (Kitrosser, 1991)