Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In short: Night Creature (1978)

aka Out of the Dark

While hunting a man-eating leopard, Great White Hunter – and in a turn absolutely telegraphing the film’s idea of subtlety also former war photographer, race car driver and so on – Axel MacGregor (Donald Pleasence, for reasons only known to him acting his ass off in a film that really doesn’t deserve him) is nearly killed by the beast, and mauled enough for a decoratively stiff leg. For the first time in his life, MacGregor has to admit he is feeling fear, so he does the obvious thing to restore his manhood: he pays various hunting parties to catch the animal alive, so he can let it loose on his private island and either kill it to restore his manhood or die in a really stupiddignified manner.

Alas, his half-estranged daughters Leslie (Nancy Kwan) and Georgia (Jennifer Rhodes), Georgia’s little daughter Peggy (Lesly Fine), Georgia’s bed buddy (and soon to be Leslie’s boyfriend) Ross (Ross Hagen), use just this moment for a nice family visit. So, while MacGregor is wandering through his island wilderness, the leopard has rather more tasty targets set before it, with a Yorkshire terrier as an aperitif, even.

On paper, Lee Madden’s Night Creatures does sound like a rather good idea, for the deconstruction of the Great White Hunter by confronting him with his failure as a father might not be the newest idea, but certainly is one that by all rights should be a decent base for an animal attack thriller with a bit more going below the surface.

Alas, that’s not this film, because the idea of keeping themes or ideas where someone in the audience might miss them seems to have been anathema to the people involved in the production. Consequently, the actors are permanently telling each other their inner states and the film’s themes beside the whole Pleasence/leopard duel in impossibly wooden dialogue full of bad 70s pop psychology, empty melodramatics and the kind of therapy speech that to me always suggests a complete disconnect with actual human psychology, not to speak a total absence of either believable, or beautiful, or simply effective dialogue writing.

It doesn’t help that only one of the three core actors – Pleasence, obviously - is actually good enough to deliver this dross with conviction and style, while Kwan in particular drones the nonsense with all the emotional involvement of robot, and Hagen’s only there to show off his chest and a lot of hair.

Whenever Pleasence is alone, or just stalking through the jungle, the film nearly becomes worthwhile, though Madden does his best to sabotage even these moments via judicious over-application of stylistic elements like freeze frames as well as random slow-motion and meaningful editing that is on the same level of intelligence and subtlety as the writing. Only from time to time, Madden stumbles upon a moment that actually is meaningful and effective (like the first major character death), but these moments of poignancy are, as is Pleasence’s effort, buried under so much dross I quickly found myself actually annoyed at the film’s empty gestures that only ever destroy the depth they are supposed to create.

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