John Agar is a B film sci fi and horror
legend from the 1950s. By the late 1960s, however, his once renowned B
film career had sputtered to even sub-Tor Johnson depths. In the
remaining decades of his life he was reduced from B film leading man to
(ugh!) B film character actor. One of the last roles that Agar had, as
a B film leading man was in 1967’s Night Fright.
Whereas the B films of the 1950s usually had a slight bit of
professionalism left in them, as remnants from the days of studio
control, by the late 1960s, B films had fallen into the hands of almost
anyone with the will enough to make a film and had a few thousand bucks
enough to make one. Sometimes the results could be masterful- think
George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. Most times, though, the
results were not just bad, but bad in a haphazard way that showed the
filmmaker didn’t really give a damn about the film. Say what you will
about the films of Ed Wood, but there was an attention to detail that,
while poorly done, did exhibit some pride. The same cannot be said of
James A. Sullivan’s Night Fright.
As the film is one of 50 on the Mill Creek Entertainment 50 pack DVD
set called Nightmare Worlds, there are no extras on the DVD. And,
surprise, surprise, the video and audio quality is atrocious. Add to
that the fact that 70% or so of the film’s action is supposedly set at
night, and shot with poor light filters that make most of the scenes
murky but definitely not nighttime - even with a silly cricket chorus
added to the soundtrack, and, well, the DVD set’s title is apropos.
About the only positive this film can garner is that it only takes 75
minutes to run its meandering and muddy course. It is shot in color,
but even the daytime scenes see color shifting and bleeding out of
focus. The screen aspect ratio is 1.37:1, but even were this in
Cinemascope widescreen it would be a travesty.
The narrative is typical of 1960s cheapo horror films: a bunch of young
kids want to party and dance, a monster is loose in the countryside.
Authorities warn the kids to stay way from a place, the kids go away,
then are egged on to return by a wise guy. The wise guy ends up being
killed, and the authorities, after revealing themselves to be dimwits
for most of the film, eventually subdue the monster. In this case, the
film’s lead, Agar, as the local sheriff of Hollis County, Texas (there
is no such county in Texas), rigs a shapely female mannekin with
explosives to lure the film’s monster out in to the open. One never
really gets a good look at the creature, but it is a shambling gorilla
suit with what appears to be a skeleton’s head atop it. In many ways,
it seems to be the retarded cousin of the villain from Robot Monster.
Unfortunately, this film lacks that film’s unknowing humor.
Yes, there are out of place and anachronistic moments- such as 1967
teenagers grooving to music and wearing clothes (such as go-go boots)
more suited to 1962 than the Summer Of Love, and the fact that all the
college kids look more like thirtysomethings, but one doesn’t laugh so
much as cringe. The oddities are not so absurd they induce guffaws. An
eye roll is the best one can muster. As example, in true Tor Johnson
fashion, no matter how quickly the victims of the monster run- an they
can easily outdistance the plodding beast, the minute we get a cutaway
to a new shot, there the monster is, having miraculously made up the
distance put between it and the next victim.
Of course, a film like this is easy to destroy critically. About the
only thing in its favor is that it is utterly unpretentious- it was
marketed in Great Britain as, get this, The Extraterrestrial Nasty. So
much for pretension. Yet, one gets the sinking feeling that Agar must
have been in some sort of existential hell (especially in one scene
where one of the thirtysomething college kids calls him ‘the fuzz,’ and
this is supposed to anger his character). A quarter century earlier, he
had been a contract player at the studios in Hollywood. He had been in
secondary roles in a number of A films (mostly westerns), then even
married into Hollywood royalty, as former child star Shirley Temple’s
first husband. Then, the marriage fell apart, the roles in A films
dried up, and he got typecast as a B film science fiction actor. Yes,
there were roles in good bad films, like The Brain From Planet Arous,
Tarantula, and The Mole People, but then even film roles dried up, and
he became a one episode ‘guest star’ on numerous television series,
before landing in this garbage.
In some scenes, with ‘actors’ I won’t even bother to name, one can see
Agar truly looking for some spark to cling to, for some muse to drive
his character along. But the screenplay is so dull, so poorly written-
by Russ Marker, that even Agar seems to give up. There are some scenes,
after his first encounter with the monster, that we see his character
has one of his arms in a sling. But, Agar cannot even seem to be
interested enough in the continuity of the film to act as if his arm is
in pain. And, this is in line with much of the film, for the screen
credits don’t even come until eleven plus minutes into it, after some
stupefyingly dull scenes between a wooden white bread teenaged couple
who you just hope will be the first to die in the film, but you just
know will emerge from it without a scratch. On a plus note, we do hear
a good old boy fat white deputy blubbering into his car radio for help
as the monster kills him. Why is this funny? 1) because the deputy at
the other end of the radio is out getting coffee and donuts while his
pal dies, and b) the dumb ass deputy who dies makes the error of
reaching for his radio rather than for his gun when he sees the monster
is nearly on top of him.
In Googling about, I found several references to this film being part
of a B film renaissance centered in the Dallas, Texas area, where this
was filmed, but, truthfully, this film does not do for Dallas what
George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead did for Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, and I somehow doubt that this film paved the way for The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nonetheless, for a quarter a film, this is
what can be expected from most fare in such DVD megapacks. Night Fright
is a bad, bad film, and has no redeeming ‘so bad it’s good’ values.
It’s simply bad, dull, and sleep-inducing. Then, again, that’s why such
films exist, and they are less addictive than most sleeping pills. God
wot to that!
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