Night School (1981)

NIGHT SCHOOL (1981)
Article 2238 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2007
Posting Date: 9-28-2007
Directed by Ken Hughes
Featuring Leonard Mann, Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder

A murderer is decapitating women attending night classes at a local night school. Police investigate. Potential suspects appear. More murders occur. Police investigate. We meet the suspects again. Still more murders occur. Police investigate, etc. etc.

If the plot description above didn’t clue you in, this is a fairly repetitive slasher film from the early eighties. The most interesting aspects about it are the appearance of Rachel Ward (and she has a nude scene as well), and the fact that it was directed by the man who directed CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG . It won’t take you much in the way of head-scratching to figure out who the killer is. Still, it does have one amusing scene involving beef stew. It makes up for the stupid final fake-out. And though I’m no fan of the Friday the 13th series, at least Jason has more creative tricks up his sleeve than anything we see here.

 

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The Night My Number Came Up (1955)

THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP (1955)
Article 2129 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-13-2007
Posting Date: 6-11-2007
Directed by Leslie Norman
Featuring Michael Redgrave, Sheila Sim, Alexander Knox

A man relates to a group of people a dream of his in which some of them are involved in a plane accident. The people begin to get nervous when the details of the dream start coming true in a flight to Tokyo.

I really have to give credit to this neat little thriller; it takes one of the hoariest of foreshadowing plot devices (the precognitive dream) and breathes new life into it. What makes this one special is that it is deeply concerned with how knowledge of the dream affects the behavior of those that have it. The cast is uniformly excellent, with special praise going to Alexander Knox as the man who feels most nervous about the dream coming true. The various reactions of the characters to the knowledge helps make it interesting; there are those who don’t know, those who don’t believe but still are hedging their bets, and those who do believe, and those who see it as a joke. A party scene on the ground after the first leg of the trip is especially memorable, as the departure of two characters makes it seem as if the dream won’t come true only to have two new characters enter that make it seem all the more likely; take note of the song being sung when Knox’s character discovers this. It’s a wonderful and suspenseful movie, with a great ending line. Highly recommended.

 

Night Life (1989)

NIGHT LIFE (1989)
Article 2127 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-11-2007
Posting Date: 6-9-2007
Directed by David Acomba
Featuring Scott Grimes, John Astin, Cheryl Pollak

A student who works in a mortuary to raise money for college is tormented by the other teens in his class. When four of his detractors die in an auto accident, they are resurrected by being struck by lightning, and they set out to kill the student.

Thanks to a late additions section in the John Stanley guide I’m using as one of my sources, I find myself once again taking an unexpected leap in time to the late eighties. I think this one is supposed to be a horror comedy. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be horror, what with zombies and gross-out scenes. I’m not so sure about the comedy part; it has several scenes which strike me as if they’re supposed to be funny, but they fall so flat in this regard that I’m not sure whether they were intended that way or not (a scene involving a practical joke with a fat woman’s corpse is a particularly noteworthy example of promised laughs not manifesting themselves). The horror falls fairly flat as well; there’s not a single jolt or surprise in the movie. Scott Grimes is likable enough in the lead role, but after a while watching him get dumped on repeatedly gets fairly depressing. The scenes of corpse preparation are intentionally gross, but I don’t think they’re as fun or funny as they were intended to be. For me, the most interesting thing about the movie is the presence of a few odd faces; John Astin (“The Addams Family”) is a bad-tempered undertaker, Anthony Geary (“General Hospital”) is a seedy race car driver, and Phil Proctor (of The Firesign Theater) plays a visitor to the mortuary. Also, I want to take a moment at this point in the proceedings to mention something; I’ve only seen a very small handful of movies from this era so far, but I’m officially tired of what seems to be one of the most common causes of death in horror movies of the eighties – the 180-degree neck twist. I’ve seen it too often already, and I have a feeling that I’ve only just begun.

 

The Nightcomers (1972)

THE NIGHTCOMERS (1972)
Article 2117 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-1-2007
Posting Date: 5-30-2007
Directed by Michael Winner

Featuring Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham, Thora Hird

A gardener has a bad influence on two children who have been left in the care of a governess and a housekeeper after their parents have died.

I’m not particularly keen on the idea of a prequel to “The Turn of the Screw”; I always feel that if Henry James wasn’t explicit about the full story of Quint and the previous governess, there was a reason. Still, someone decided to go ahead with the project, and here I am covering it. I had to think about this one a bit after it was over; despite the fact that Brando gives an excellent performance as Quint, I didn’t quite feel satisfied. Part of my problem is that the movie doesn’t go back far enough; the story begins after the death of the parents and with Quint already having a hold on one of the two children. I would have liked to have seen the children with the parents before Quint arrives on the scene to better appreciate the change they undergo; things are pretty far enough along when the story starts. This should have been possible; as it is, the script wastes a lot of time retreading the same themes and covering the same ground (for example, the theme of hate and love being two sides of the same coin is constantly and annoyingly resurrected). I suspect that the story was devised to give Brando as much screen time as possible. Then there’s the question as to whether this is strictly a horror movie at all, or just a dark drama; without the ghost theme to play with, one can only rely on the sense of madness to add the necessary genre touches. Perhaps the biggest impression I got from this movie is that the real villain of the piece is the Master of the House, whose refusal to take any real hand in the rearing of the children is probably the primary reason they were left in irresponsible hands.

 

The Next Victim (1976)

THE NEXT VICTIM (1976)
Article 2115 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-30-2006
Posting Date: 5-28-2007
Directed by James Ormond
Featuring Carroll Baker, T.P. McKenna, Ronald Lacey

A woman confined to a wheelchair fears that she has become the target of serial killer.

Though it is classified as a movie in some quarters, this is actually another episode of a British television series called “Thriller”. This is the third one of these I’ve seen, and I liked it better than the other two, but that may be because my expectations are a lot lower; the other two episodes I saw thoroughly underwhelmed me. If I liked this one better, it is only because it did a little better job of working the suspense; it isn’t for the overly familiar story, because at the five minute mark I had a good idea where ninety percent of the movie would be going, and at the twenty minute mark, I figured out what the final twist was going to be. I think the main problem I’ve had with the series overall is that the episodes are just too long; at 65 minutes each, they feel slow and padded, whereas if they were only about thirty minutes, they could have been quicker and more streamlined. I’m probably going to see only a handful of these (from what I’ve seen so far, it’ll be those episodes with psycho killers) as I suspect that most of them have little in the way of fantastic elements to them.

 

Night on Bald Mountain (1933)

NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN (1933)
aka UNE NUIT SUR LE MONT CHAUVE
Article 2105 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-20-2006
Posting Date: 5-18-2007
Directed by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker
No cast

Weird and eerie visions permeate a playing of Moussorgsky’s masterpiece.

I didn’t feel that yesterday’s THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN really deserved to be compared with Disney’s take on the Washington Irving story, but I freely invite anyone who wishes to to compare this visual representation of the Moussorgsky composition with Disney’s; this one is strong enough hold its own. It uses a rare type of animation known as pinscreen, in which pins are pressed into a screen lit from the side to produce some stunning shadow effects. The downside of this process is that sometimes it is hard to make out what you’re seeing, but the texture is unique, and some of the transitions (especially one in which the scene turns into its own negative) are breathtaking. There’s no plot to speak of, but plenty of moody horrific visions, including a scarecrow, ghostly faces and a dead horse. This is a rare and fascinating animated short that is worth catching.

 

Night Slaves (1970)

NIGHT SLAVES (1970)
Article 2002 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-7-2006
Posting Date: 2-4-2007
Directed by Ted Post
Featuring James Franciscus, Lee Grant, Scott Marlowe

A disillusioned man tired of the grind of life takes his wife (who loves another man) to a small town to start over. At night in the small town, he discovers that the residents (and his wife) become mindless zombies bent on a mysterious task, of which he can discover nothing. He does discover a strange woman who also doesn’t become a zombie, He tries to solve the mystery, but finds himself under suspicion of murder.

I’m not overly fond of TV movies because I find most of them too bland for my tastes. However, blandness can sometimes translate into subtlety, and with this movie, it’s a plus. In most movies, when a character finds himself in possession of hard-to-believe knowledge, he (or she) usually puts it forth with a strident hysteria that only makes the belief that he’s crazy seem accurate. In this one, James Franciscus keeps his head and remains aware of how unbelievable his story will seem to be when he tells it, and it’s quite refreshing to see this for a change. The story itself reminds me of several movies, including IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE, and it is superior to at least one of them. The cast does a fine job, and includes Lee Grant, Andrew Prine, and Leslie Nielsen. Elisha Cook Jr. is apparently in there somewhere as well, but I didn’t spot him. My only real complaint is the slightly dated quality; in particular, the corny scene where lovers run through a field in slow motion. Incidentally, the revelations are more science fiction than horror.