Night Terror (1977)

Article 3900 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-8-2012
Posting Date: 4-18-2012
Directed by E. W. Swackhamer
Featuring Valerie Harper, Richard Romanus, Nicholas Pryor
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

A woman, forced to undertake a long night drive when her son is taken to the hospital, witnesses the murder of a police officer by a criminal. She then finds herself in danger of her life as the criminal sets out after her.

The casting of Valerie Harper as the female lead in this thriller is actually quite clever, though I didn’t realize this at first; I was a little put off by the fact that she played her character as an absent-minded ditz. But the characterization serves a dual purpose; for one thing, it gives us strong character reasons why her decisions during her ordeal are occasionally wrong-headed, and it also plays into a subtle feminist theme hidden in the movie, and which I didn’t realize until the final scene. I’m not sure whether the movie as a whole qualifies as horror or not; a lot depends on how you interpret the actions of the killer. An early scene establishes that he’s involved in some sort of criminal activity (the nature of which is never clearly stated), so his motivations may be purely to cover up a crime. But the movie also establishes that his hot temper causes him to engage in activities that might be termed “psychotic”, and the creepiness involved in the fact that he can only speak through a larynx box (used sparingly in the movie) does give the movie a horror feel as well. The plot itself is heavily reliant on coincidence; in fact, there are times where the foibles and setbacks of both the woman and the criminal give it all a slight air of black comedy. Nevertheless, it doesn’t keep the movie from working as a nifty thriller in its own right, and you’ll really end up admiring the resourcefulness of the heroine.


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