Written by: Joy N. Houck Jr., Robert A. Weaver
Directed by: Joy N. Houck Jr.
Starring: Gerald McRaney, Gaye Yellen and Herbert Nelson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“Well, it may sound funny but here I am going with a guy who I found drunk in the street and I still don't know anything about his family! "
It rarely bodes well when a film’s promotion is more infamous than the film itself. When it was released in theaters and drive-ins back in 1969, Night of Bloody Horror arrived with a gimmick that would guarantee audiences $1,000 compensation if any of their family members died while watching the film. While it made for sensational advertising, something tells me the producers were able to cling to their thousands since the film probably didn’t cause minor heart palpitations even in 1969, where it found itself in the shadow of Herschel Gordon Lewis flicks and other schlock-fests.
The story probably even felt pretty familiar back then: Wes Stuart (Gerald McRaney) seems like a well-adjusted young man with a steady girlfriend. However, he’s prone to strange fits and headaches, plus the girl ends up getting stabbed in the face during her confessional one morning. It turns out that Wes has plenty of secrets, including a stint in a mental institution and some tragic past event involving his now deceased brother; still, none of this stops him from striking up another relationship with a nurse (Gaye Yellen) that scrapes him up off the street after he gets the shit kicked out of him in a bar fight (he was mourning the loss of this dead girlfriend). Their year-long courtship (relayed by a chintzy montage of still images) goes well, but Wes’s mom (Evelyn Hendricks) doesn’t seem to be too pleased about it.
Can we consider the Oedipal slasher to be a sub-genre at this point? Ever since Norman Bates went psycho in 1960, mama’s boys and butcher knives have gone hand in hand. Night of Bloody Horror is another example, albeit with some obvious deviations--for one, Mother Stuart is still alive and well, though the same may not be true of her sanity. She’s a suspect by default by virtue of being a strange old bird in a murder mystery, of course, though the film really doesn’t go out of its way to sketch out many suspects--one of Wes’s buddies looks kind of suspicious while peering through some bushes, and Wes himself is the most obvious suspect considering his frequent mood swings that engulf him in psychedelic pinwheels (the marketing called this “Violent Vision”). At some point, though, you’ve seen so many of these things that the most obvious suspect is usually just a big, glaring red herring in plain sight.
Not that it really matters in this case since everyone is so damn dull. McRaney would eventually become more renowned for his television work during his career (he was the title character in Major Dad!), but he’s just sort of pitiful here. For a supposed psychopath, he’s not all that imposing or creepy; instead, he’s just petulant and whiny--not that these qualities keep him from hitting it off well with adoring girls (by the end of the film, he’s bagged another one that could wind up on the wrong end of the blade). His on-screen mother is kind of the same, though Hendricks isn’t given a whole lot to do until the end. The rest of the cast is filled up of the usual types: Wes’s psychiatrist seems to mean well, especially when he saves him from a couple of hard-ass, homophobic cops whose 60s armchair psychology has pinned Wes’s psychotic streak on his closeted sexuality.
Director and co-writer Joy Houck doesn’t really do the ensemble many favors by sticking them in such a sluggishly bad movie. Much of the film plays out like the worst type of exploitation film, where it’s obvious that Houck just doesn’t have much enthusiasm for any sequences that don’t involve gore or nightmares (which unfortunately make up most of the film). Whenever this stuff is on-screen, Night of Bloody Horror manages to be slightly memorable; Wes’s dreams feature a bizarre juxtaposition of a child’s lullaby and horrific imagery, and the gore is slightly explicit for its time. Severed hands, gouged eyes, and a hatchet to the neck serve as highlights to otherwise dull proceedings, though Houck can’t help but indulge himself from employing inverted, acid-trippy colors when some characters take a trip to the bar (where the band playing is called The Bored--make your own joke about that one).
Night of Bloody Horror does at least have that unique homespun quality that began cropping up during this time period, as would-be auteurs from all corners of the country were tossing together cheap trash flicks in their backyard. Because of this, there’s a distinct regionalism in many of these films; Houck shot this film in Louisiana, so the film has a bit of a hick, backwoods charm that must have betrayed its southern roots whenever it toured other drive-in circuits (surprisingly, the film’s generic title is its only one, as it apparently wasn’t re-branded as it traveled from place to place). If nothing else, the film had its marketing tactics to fall back on, which makes it an interesting mash-up of William Castle showmanship and Herschel Gordon Lewis sleaze shows, even if it is the faintest of echoes of each. The film is now in the public domain, so it can be found in any number of budget packs like Mill Creek’s Pure Terror set, where the presentation is typically rough, particularly the muffled soundtrack. I don’t think the original thousand dollar offer still stands, but you can give yourself a pat on the back for making it through without dozing off. Rent it!
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