B1169-DES832

DVD Review of Night Fright

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 9/13/11

 

  John Agar is a B film sci fi and horror legend from the 1950s. By the late 1960s, however, his once renowned B film career had sputtered to even sub-Tor Johnson depths. In the remaining decades of his life he was reduced from B film leading man to (ugh!) B film character actor. One of the last roles that Agar had, as a B film leading man was in 1967ís Night Fright.

  Whereas the B films of the 1950s usually had a slight bit of professionalism left in them, as remnants from the days of studio control, by the late 1960s, B films had fallen into the hands of almost anyone with the will enough to make a film and had a few thousand bucks enough to make one. Sometimes the results could be masterful- think George Romeroís Night Of The Living Dead. Most times, though, the results were not just bad, but bad in a haphazard way that showed the filmmaker didnít really give a damn about the film. Say what you will about the films of Ed Wood, but there was an attention to detail that, while poorly done, did exhibit some pride. The same cannot be said of James A. Sullivanís Night Fright.

  As the film is one of 50 on the Mill Creek Entertainment 50 pack DVD set called Nightmare Worlds, there are no extras on the DVD. And, surprise, surprise, the video and audio quality is atrocious. Add to that the fact that 70% or so of the filmís action is supposedly set at night, and shot with poor light filters that make most of the scenes murky but definitely not nighttime- even with a silly cricket chorus added to the soundtrack, and, well, the DVD setís title is apropos. About the only positive this film can garner is that it only takes 75 minutes to run its meandering and muddy course. It is shot in color, but even the daytime scenes see color shifting and bleeding out of focus. The screen aspect ratio is 1.37:1, but even were this in Cinemascope widescreen it would be a travesty.

  The narrative is typical of 1960s cheapo horror films: a bunch of young kids want to party and dance, a monster is loose in the countryside. Authorities warn the kids to stay way from a place, the kids go away, then are egged on to return by a wise guy. The wise guy ends up being killed, and the authorities, after revealing themselves to be dimwits for most of the film, eventually subdue the monster. In this case, the filmís lead, Agar, as the local sheriff of Hollis County, Texas (there is no such county in Texas), rigs a shapely female mannekin with explosives to lure the filmís monster out in to the open. One never really gets a good look at the creature, but it is a shambling gorilla suit with what appears to be a skeletonís head atop it. In many ways, it seems to be the retarded cousin of the villain from Robot Monster. Unfortunately, this film lacks that filmís unknowing humor.

  Yes, there are out of place and anachronistic moments- such as 1967 teenagers grooving to music and wearing clothes (such as go-go boots) more suited to 1962 than the Summer Of Love, and the fact that all the college kids look more like thirtysomethings, but one doesnít laugh so much as cringe. The oddities are not so absurd they induce guffaws. An eye roll is the best one can muster. As example, in true Tor Johnson fashion, no matter how quickly the victims of the monster run- an they can easily outdistance the plodding beast, the minute we get a cutaway to a new shot, there the monster is, having miraculously made up the distance put between it and the next victim.

  Of course, a film like this is easy to destroy critically. About the only thing in its favor is that it is utterly unpretentious- it was marketed in Great Britain as, get this, The Extraterrestrial Nasty. So much for pretension. Yet, one gets the sinking feeling that Agar must have been in some sort of existential hell (especially in one scene where one of the thirtysomething college kids calls him Ďthe fuzz,í and this is supposed to anger his character). A quarter century earlier, he had been a contract player at the studios in Hollywood. He had been in secondary roles in a number of A films (mostly westerns), then even married into Hollywood royalty, as former child star Shirley Templeís first husband. Then, the marriage fell apart, the roles in A films dried up, and he got typecast as a B film science fiction actor. Yes, there were roles in good bad films, like The Brain From Planet Arous, Tarantula, and The Mole People, but then even film roles dried up, and he became a one episode Ďguest starí on numerous television series, before landing in this garbage.

  In some scenes, with Ďactorsí I wonít even bother to name, one can see Agar truly looking for some spark to cling to, for some muse to drive his character along. But the screenplay is so dull, so poorly written- by Russ Marker, that even Agar seems to give up. There are some scenes, after his first encounter with the monster, that we see his character has one of his arms in a sling. But, Agar cannot even seem to be interested enough in the continuity of the film to act as if his arm is in pain. And, this is in line with much of the film, for the screen credits donít even come until eleven plus minutes into it, after some stupefyingly dull scenes between a wooden white bread teenaged couple who you just hope will be the first to die in the film, but you just know will emerge from it without a scratch. On a plus note, we do hear a good old boy fat white deputy blubbering into his car radio for help as the monster kills him. Why is this funny? 1) because the deputy at the other end of the radio is out getting coffee and donuts while his pal dies, and b) the dumb ass deputy who dies makes the error of reaching for his radio rather than for his gun when he sees the monster is nearly on top of him.

  In Googling about, I found several references to this film being part of a B film renaissance centered in the Dallas, Texas area, where this was filmed, but, truthfully, this film does not do for Dallas what George Romeroís Night Of The Living Dead did for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I somehow doubt that this film paved the way for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nonetheless, for a quarter a film, this is what can be expected from most fare in such DVD megapacks. Night Fright is a bad, bad film, and has no redeeming Ďso bad itís goodí values. Itís simply bad, dull, and sleep-inducing. Then, again, thatís why such films exist, and they are less addictive than most sleeping pills. God wot to that!

 

[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Talking Pictures website.]

 

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