Written by: Mardi Rustam, Philip Dennis Connors
Directed by: Mardi Rustam
Starring: Neville Brand, Aldo Ray, and Tina Louise
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Alien vampires have just landed from outer space in search of the one substance they need to survive...TEENAGE BLOOD!
For about a decade, producer Mardi Rustam helped to usher some grungy no-budget junk to drive-in screens (including Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Eaten Alive), but, by 1985, he was apparently no longer content to inflict this stuff upon the world in that capacity. Apparently sensing an opportunity to ride the blood-and-boob-crested slasher wave, Rustam directed Evils of the Night, an incredibly bald-faced “effort” to deliver the bare minimum expected of the genre at this point. Arguably, it doesn’t even deliver that much, unless you consider general competence to be disposable--in which case Evils of the Night is barely passable, I suppose.
Rarely has the connection between idiot, sex-crazed kids and an awful fate been stronger; while Scream would codify this a decade later, it’s pretty obvious the formula was already well-known. At times, Evils of the Night feels like a parody of the era’s splatter fare, as its opening fifteen minutes or so are dedicated to a seemingly endless horde of oblivious, horny teenagers with exactly one thing on their minds during their lakeside retreats. Unbeknownst to them, an alien spacecraft has landed nearby, and its inhabitants (lead by genre standby John Carradine) intend to harvest young Earthlings for rejuvenative purposes.
That’s not really a bad idea, but, as we well know, ambition can only get you as far as commitment and budget are willing to take you. There’s precious little of the latter duo on display here, though, as it looks like Rustam committed most of his funds to securing recognizable B-movie and TV stars to play the aliens (serving as Carradine’s emissaries are Tina Louise and Julie Newmar), only to have them mostly stand around and babble about what they’re doing on earth and why they’re doing it. No less than two lengthy conversations are dedicated to this topic, which is pretty easily grasped the first time, yet Carradine has to keep reminding his scientists why they specifically need to target young folks between the ages of 16 and 24 (something about the cloud of death hanging over anyone who is older makes this range a priority—I dunno, I think these guys could have brushed up on their notes about the human life cycle a little bit).
I would be willing to bet that the more familiar faces’ time spent on production was rather limited, which probably explains why they hardly interact with most of their prey, many of whom are played by adult film stars and act accordingly. Calling it “acting” is even a stretch when so much of their early screen-time is dedicated to them literally screwing around, be it on the lake shore or in an old, abandoned house. Rest assured, the film doubles as decent softcore for a while, at least until the slasher elements start to take hold. That’s right—despite the plot revolving around aliens (which are only just regular ass humans in shiny, gaudy suits that were likely raided from a 50s B-movie wardrobe in storage), Evils of the Night is mostly just a really dumb slasher movie. In order to remain hidden, the aliens employ a couple of dimwitted mechanics (Aldo Ray and Neville Brand) to do their dirty work by promising them riches (I swear to god, they only get a handful of quarters during one exchange) in exchange for abducted teenagers.
But what good is a slasher movie that ends with only a few splattery payoffs, really? Admittedly, there’s one great mid-coital gag towards the beginning, but it takes a while for Evils of the Night to feel like it’s actually gone anywhere: characters drop out of the narrative as they’re abducted and reappear during attempts to escape the alien compound (a very thinly-disguised hospital), and the film finally settles on following a trio’s attempt to unravel just what is happening to their missing friends (they initially shrug it off and assume they’ve gone off to elope in Reno). A third-act sequence where these dolts are captured at least gives Brand an opportunity for a memorably deranged swan song; affecting the same unhinged lunacy he displayed in Eaten Alive, he relishes the chance to go overboard, especially once he goes all Driller Killer on his captives. If the gore were up to par with his performance, Evils of the Night would at least have that much going for it, but, sadly, the meager budget haunts what should be an incredible gag involving a car on a hydraulic lift.
You keep waiting for moments like that to justify sticking it out with Evils of the Night. Sure, some charmingly oddball bits pop up here and there (such as the fact that the aliens didn’t account for summer break—these fuckers are pretty ill-prepared, I’ll tell you what), but it’ll have you reaching for the stop button more often than not. It’s such a dull movie considering the premise, and it’s a shame that there isn’t enough gore to sustain the proceedings at least. Still, the loopy climax is actually worthwhile, as it features a goofy combination of deus ex machina and obvious ADR work that allows the film to limp to the finish line with a little bit of decency intact. Given the generally poor quality of this film, it’s no surprise that Rustam went on to direct only one more feature. When people look back on the 80s horror scene and criticize it for its lack of plot, characterization, and style in favor of gratuitous boobs and gore, Evils of the Night is the exact sort of film they’re thinking about. We don’t mind it as much, of course, but it’s tough to argue that this is the film you’d want to trot out as evidence of the era’s virtues.
To that end, the film is a reminder and a history lesson of an age dominated by killer yet deceptive cover art, and kudos to MPI (via the recently resurrected Gorgon Video label) for not allowing us to forget it. For their new DVD release, the studio has retained the original artwork that surely suckered in many a video store patron thirty years ago: emblazoned with a garish logo, a scantily-clad woman, skeletons (?), and a blatant rip-off of the Millennium Falcon (spoiler: in the film, the actual alien craft looks more like an elaborate disco ball), I’m not even sure that a good movie would have lived up to it, much less one that really struggles to even have a pulse at times.
On the bright side, this DVD release represents an improvement over the previous one, as the film has been restored to its widescreen ratio with a fairly nice transfer considering the source material (the film is quite grungy). Gorgon has also provided a trailer, some outtakes, and the television cut of the film, which is actually about eight minutes longer (not that the film needs it—if anything, it needs eight minutes less to be more effective). It’s quite a valiant effort by Gorgon given the quality of the film itself, plus it gives curious horror fans a chance to check the film out after the old release went very out-of-print (earlier this summer, it was fetching absurd triple-digit prices on secondary markets). If you add to your shelf, rest assured it will be one of the coolest looking films there, but the illusion will be up by the time the disc makes it to your player. Rent it!
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