Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Night Feeder (1988)

A series of murders hits one of the parts of San Francisco populated by New Wavers, prostitutes and the kind of people who’ll eventually find a reason to become a mob (torches not mandatory). These are very strange killings, too, for the killer sucks the victims’ brains out through one of their eyes. Investigating Inspector Alonzo Bernardo (Jonathan Zeichner) has no idea what’s going on, and I don’t believe his general range of attitudes between very grumpy and painfully rude when talking to witnesses is helping him very much with getting a clue, or clues.

But don’t worry, San Francisco, writer Jean (Kate Alexander) is on the case as part of her rebound attempts following the separation from her insufferable husband. Well, when she’s not distracted by her new boy toy Bryan (Caleb Dreneaux), member of gothy new wave band Disease (gothy new wave band The Nuns), she is.

Quickly, people close to Jean are dying. Might it all have something to do with Bryan’s band and their shady past feeding groupies experimental drugs? Or is Jean right in suspecting a horribly disfigured homeless man to be the killer because she thinks he’s ugly? Or is something much more screwy going on?

Night Feeder is a surprisingly neat little shot on video (and direct to video, of course) gem made by people involved in San Francisco’s punk and new wave scene of the time, directed by Jim Whiteaker. The film mostly features highly enthusiastic amateur actors whose general demeanour oozes the sort of off-beat fun that can result when members and hangers-on of a scene get the opportunity to basically play themselves while possessing enough self-consciousness to laugh about what they see in the fun house mirror of the camera. So, despite - and perhaps thanks to - the low budget, the dubious production values and a lack of professionalism before the camera, there’s a delightfully authentic air about the world surrounding our heroine.

The dialogue wavers between what sounds like people having fun improvising, and stiff and peculiar yet often rather funny lines – Alonzo is the particular gift that keeps on giving, calling everyone he’s talking to at least once by a really stupid name. And don’t get me started on the tear-jerker (of laughter) that is the “romance” between him and Jean, a thing one needs to see to believe, only to doubt it again when one remembers it later.

This doesn’t mean Night Feeder is a stupid film. Whiteaker does his best to get around the typically bland look of shot on video projects of this time with all kinds of imaginative set-ups of coloured lights and peculiar camera angles, and the characters – let’s ignore the romance - are much better written than is typical of SOV affairs. Even Bryan turns out to be a bit more complicated than you’d expect, and Jean is downright like a person!

While the film clearly can’t afford too much monster action and gore, what is there is rather wonderful. Particularly the final reveal of the monster and the ensuing handful of minutes of wondrous madness are as good as SOV horror gets, taking something not completely original and yet making it messed up in the best horror movie way. If you like that sort of thing, there’s also a really icky scene in a morgue with a medical examiner who clearly loves his job way too much.

And even though calling Night Feeder “suspenseful” would be a bit of a lie, all the film’s digressions lead into at times curious and always interesting places in a world that’s just as lost as Ancient Egypt (if Ancient Egyptians had made shot on video movies about themselves), and offering an experience as close to time travel as we’ll get.

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