Friday, October 28, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Night of Horror (1978)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

When I was talking about Curse of the Cannibal Confederates some years ago I could hardly suspect that film to be its director's Tony Malanowski's more commercial (aka containing zombies) remake of his earth-shattering first movie, Night of Horror.

Fortunately, Stephen Thrower's wonderful book "Nightmare USA" cured me of my ignorance, and now, finally, the time has come to for me to take a look at Malanowski's debut.

So, there's this guy, sitting with his back to the camera in the bar of his hobby cellar until another guy arrives, who will sometimes turn his face far enough in the direction of the camera that we will be able to see it in profile. They begin to mumble to each other, half of their dialogue impenetrable, the other half unfortunately not - there's something about guy one being in a band. Or something. We are allowed to experience the dullness and emptiness of their lives for quite a while, until guy number one begins to tell his friend a true story (which a block o' text appearing before the movie promised to be entertaining; you can never trust those darn lying text blocks). Some months ago, following the death of his dad (stepdad?), guy number one packed his half-brother and two girls into a caravan, drove around in it and drove around in it and drove around in it until he fell in love with one of the girls - named Colleen -  for the terrible things she did to a Poe poem. Then they drove around some more. Days and days of real-time driving later, Colleen saw the ghost of a dead confederate soldier.

After some more talking and driving, our heroes decided to hold a séance to conjure him and a few dead friends up. The dead soldier then proceeded to slowly, oh so slowly, mumble-snarl through a long and pointless story my at this point in the proceedings mushy brain wasn't able to comprehend anymore. I'm sure it was terribly important though, important enough to warrant a lot of documentary footage from a US Civil War re-enactment, something that's probably supposed to be a country rock ballad, and some more mumbling, all commented on by an off-monologue by cellar guy number one.

Umm, where was I? Oh, right, the friends dug out the skull of the soldiers commanding officer and we're back in the cellar. The end.

As my inability to concentrate on anything about Night of Horror's (and seldom has a film had a more fitting title) plot or "plot" suggests, the film is one of those strange and peculiar examples of the art of filmmaking that completely defies anything, be it basic human decency, the rules of filmmaking or human comprehension, and aims for a very different part of a viewer's brain than more grounded movies do. It's mostly the part of the mind that is hypnotised by static shots of human backs and profiles and/or complete darkness, caravans driving-driving-driving, and the half-comprehensible mumbling from the off of lopsided sentences of great dramatic importance to their author.

In other words, if you are looking for anything resembling a movie as the larger part of humanity (yes, even those people who watched Hot Tub Time Machine) understands it, you are not just in the wrong place, you are on the wrong planet, possibly the wrong dimension and should try your luck somewhere else.

If, on the other hand, you always thought that - say - Manos, the Hand of Fate is a mighty fine example of non-conservative filmmaking, you might probably get something out of Night of Horror, although I can't promise it'll be more than a brain aneurysm.

There's something utterly, freakishly compelling about a movie like this that can't be called a "bad movie" anymore, because it has left simple concepts like "badness" or "being a movie" far behind in the process of becoming something different, possibly an attempt at changing its viewer's brain chemistry than anything else.

Some people probably would call Malanowski's direction inept and his artistic goals dubious at best and would then begin to do a point-and-laugh take-down of his movie, but that would mean ignoring the film's insistent strangeness, the droning, empty feeling watching it for more than five minutes creates in one's brain (quite like the droning and empty delivery of the actors) or the shock of excitement one feels when Malanowski manages to shoot a frame in an even slightly conventional or logical manner. It would also deny the hypnotic power of Night of Horror's emptiness, very much akin to the power of a certain abyss one should not gaze into for too long, just with more US Civil War re-enactments.

Although the film is (if one wants to follow boring facts) just a technically very badly done film made by a small handful of inexperienced people, there is something profoundly different about it, as if these people had in fact conjured up something from a place "normal" filmmaking can't reach, a fleeting feeling of transcendental emptiness that has more to do with Beckett than with "bad movies". I'm not saying that Malanowski and friends intended that feeling to be in their movie, nor am I saying that it is there if you aren't susceptible to it, I'm just saying that I felt and saw it in the movie, its objective existence or non-existence be damned.

As it stands, I'm a little in awe of Night of Horror as a movie fearlessly exploring places neither narrative nor experimental filmmaking usually even attempt to touch, with nothing but the conviction that everything in filmmaking - be it comprehensible dialogue, be it the visibility of actors' faces - is absolutely optional; nothing is true, everything is allowed.

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