Feb 15, 2018
Night of Horror (1981) (part 1 of 6)
The Cast of Characters:
Steve (Steve Sandkuhler). Supposedly a successful California rock musician. Gets work only because people mistake him for Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath.
Chris (Tony Stark). In Steve’s band. Got hired because he wears a headband and everybody assumed that meant he plays keyboards.
Jeff (Jeff Canfield). Steve’s half-brother. Noticeably light in the loafers. Flames on more often than Johnny Storm.
Colleen (Gae Schmitt). Jeff’s “wife”. Sensitive to spirits and draws the mental images they reveal to her. This makes her a lot like Cheryl in The Evil Dead, but unfortunately she will not get sexually assaulted by tree branches.
Susan (Rebecca Bach). Colleen’s sister. No personality to speak of. You will forget her as soon as you turn off the movie. Who were we talking about again?
A smudge on the lens (Himself). This film’s most consistently entertaining performer. On screen longer than Dame Judi Dench’s Oscar-winning turn in Shakespeare in Love and just as irresistible to watch.
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Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve hit rock bottom. This film, without a doubt, is the worst movie featured on this site, and could very well be the worst movie ever made.
I know people make that pronouncement about a lot of other movies, but trust me, calling this the “worst movie ever made” may be putting it lightly. If I didn’t know better, I’d seriously wonder if this was some deranged experiment to see how little skill and effort can be put into a movie, and how far one can wallow into banality and tedium and still end up with something that can technically be called a movie. Any further into the murk of plotlessness, and this film would rank somewhere around Andy Warhol’s Sleep in terms of excitement and suspense.
Compounding matters is that, presumably, this is supposed to be a horror film. This makes the finished product even more laughable when you realize that squeezing a pimple on your face is a hundred times scarier than anything you’ll see in this movie.
Probably the only reason anyone’s heard of this film is because director Tony Malanowski went on to make another film with some of the same cast and crew called Curse of the Screaming Dead. The rights to distribute this movie were eventually bought up by Troma Studios, who repackaged it as Curse of the Cannibal Confederates and proudly declared it to be one of the worst films in its library. I say again: It’s one of the worst films in the library of Troma Studios. And as terrifying a statement as that is, this film is that much worse.
After Cannibal Confederates was re-issued, rumor got around that it was actually a sequel and/or a remake of Night of Horror. As one of the few crazies willing to seek out and watch both films, I can say with complete certainty that the two are completely different. It’s true that Steve Sandkuhler (“Steve”) appears in both films, but he plays a different character in each. And yes, Rebecca Bach plays someone named “Susan” in both films, but it’s probably not the same character. Admittedly, it’s hard to tell. Neither one of them has a discernable personality, but you’d think that at the very least, she’d wonder why she has two friends who both look exactly like Geezer Butler.
In addition, the plots of the two movies are completely different, which is to say, Curse of the Screaming Dead actually has a plot; Night of Horror doesn’t. Or, rather, Horror has such a flimsy, nonexistent plot that it can be summed up in exactly five words: Campers talk to Confederate ghosts. That’s it. Literally, that’s the whole movie. Now imagine these five words stretched out to fill more than seventy minutes without any embellishment whatsoever, and you have Night of Horror.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it’s time once again for an installment of Video Box Idiocy. Clearly, the front of the video box is the scariest thing about this movie. It almost looks impressive until you realize it’s a picture of a generic zombie head that anyone can buy from an ad in the back pages of Fangoria. Accordingly, it does not appear in, nor does it relate to anything that happens in the movie.
But that’s not all. Flipping the box over, we find this tagline that, if nothing else, is a sterling example of truth in advertising.
Yes, that’s right. Whoever wrote the copy on the video box actually put quotes around the title, thus keenly anticipating the sarcastic tone that most of the audience would later use when recalling the name of this movie.
But there’s more. Here’s what else we find on the back of the box:
This is despite the fact that there’s no gore, no nudity, no violence, and not a single profane utterance in the whole movie. Not being one to let this kind of dubious claim slip by unchecked, I searched the MPAA database and found nothing called Night of Horror. (Keep in mind, this is the same MPAA database that actually contains Parts: The Clonus Horror.) Plainly, what we have here is a distributor (cough) with such contempt for its target audience that a fake (and most likely illegal) “R” rating was slapped on the box as a futile selling point. And would you believe that even more blatant disdain for potential viewers is still to come?
The very moment the video is started, things get mega-cheesy as we cut right to logo of distributor (cough) Genesis Home Video (because an FBI warning at the beginning would have been far and away more interesting than the actual movie). Pitifully, you can tell the logo is not even an actual graphic, but rather, someone has printed the logo on a sheet of paper and videotaped it [!]. One would also have to assume that Tony Malanowski is the one holding up the sheet of paper, because clearly no one involved in this production could have afforded an easel.
Then, using camcorder-style video effects rarely seen outside of cable public access stations, the logo gets all psychedelic and the slogan “THE NEXT WAVE IN ENTERTAINMENT” appears onscreen. This is done in early 80’s home computer graphics that would have the makers of Space Mutiny beaming with pride. Sadly, this will be the most extensive use of special effects in the entire movie.
Then the film itself begins, and things instantly find a way to get even more pathetic. First of all, we hear lots of scratching and obvious warping, as if the soundtrack had been sitting in the trunk of somebody’s car for an entire summer. This is not a good sign, particularly given that the next few seconds are supposed to be completely silent [!].
Then it hits us: the Bad Movie Harbinger of Doom. The thing that fills the hearts of even the most jaded B-movie fanatics with dread and despair, an indicator of crap cinema that’s to be feared even more than that dusty, faded video box in a remote corner of your local Blockbuster, the one you keep seeing with the huge, oversized box and the drawings on the back instead of actual stills from the movie (which also applies here, by the way).
I’m referring, of course, to the Opening Expository Crawl. This is a sure portent of painful times to come, unless you happen to be watching an entry in the Star Wars franchise (and given The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, sometimes not even then). If you see a crawl like the one below, immediately stop your VCR, pull out the tape, and drop it into a bucket of cold water. Stand at least six feet away and call Poison Control, because you surely have something toxic on your hands.
We then fade into a couple of guys in Confederate uniforms standing around in a cloud of dry ice. If the lighting looks familiar, you might have seen something similar the last time you drove on a foggy day and turned on your brights. Unfortunately, this will be the most professional example of lighting in the whole movie.
As the two Confederate soldiers simply stand in the headlights and stare straight ahead, a raspy, barely intelligible voice begins speaking slowly. And when I say slowly, I mean slowly: It leaves a one or two second pause after every word. “Hatred… and… fear… ruled… our… lives,” the voice says, “Ruled… our… thoughts… Caused… our… deaths!” The soldiers, meanwhile, don’t move their lips, make any expressions, or do anything other than shift from foot to foot as they stare off into the distance.
“But… love… kept… us… sane,” the voice tells us. “And… now… brings… us… back!” And then they fade out, not to be seen again until near the very end of the movie. This means that in the defective mind of Tony Malanowski, this intro was supposed to serve as some kind of “teaser” to make you think interesting stuff is coming up later. Suffice to say, it’s not.
Then, it’s time for our opening credits. These are accompanied by a keyboard player pounding out the same three minor chords over and over again. And over and over again. Believe me when I say that, by the end of this movie, you will come to know these three chords better than the sound of your own mother’s voice.
During the credits, we learn this movie is based on an “Original Story Idea” (cough) by Tony Stark. Yes, that’s right, Iron Man’s alter ego. I believe he came up with this “original story idea” during the same six-month bender back in the 80’s that found him wandering around town in an alcoholic haze and a dirty tuxedo.
We then learn that the guy responsible for the lights, Jeff Canfield (who also plays “Jeff” in the movie) has insisted on being billed as the “Creative Lighting Director”. At least, I assume he was the one who insisted on it. After watching the scene immediately following, I had to wonder if this was really some sort of subtle in-joke on the part of whoever did the titles.
After the credits, we see what is pretty obviously the screen door leading into the back of somebody’s house. I say “pretty obviously” because the film will soon pretend this is something else entirely. Chris, a thin, pimply-faced, greasy-haired guy wearing a headband comes along and enters through the screen door.
We then cut to somebody’s basement. Hilariously, they’ve actually tried to make it look like a bar [!] by setting up a counter and a grand total of four barstools. This is hokey enough in the first place, but the fact that we can actually see Chris in the shot walking down the basement stairs [!] is not helping matters. Chris spots Steve, a skinny, Geezer Butler-looking guy with a goatee sitting at the bar (cough).
Chris asks Steve what he’s doing here, and the unaware can be forgiven for briefly thinking that they’re watching an old 8MM porno reel that somebody discovered in their dad’s attic. For one thing, everything’s got this nauseating brownish-green tint to it like there was a layer of algae on the print. For another, the dialogue simply cannot be heard unless you crank up the volume on your TV all the way, and even then you’ll only be able make out about 30% of what’s being said. Take my advice and don’t bother. It’s not worth the trouble.
From what I can gather, Headband Chris has been looking for Geezer Butler Steve high and low, and wants to know where he’s been. Steve says he’s been sitting here in this bar (cough) because he’s got some “thinking to do”. Director Malanowski, meanwhile, has propped up the camera on a tripod and gone out for a smoke during this scene, because all we get for the next five minutes is a long, static shot of both actors’ backs.
From the random fragments of dialogue that can be heard, we piece together that both of these guys are in a band together, which we could pretty much figure out just from looking at them. (When you wear a headband or you have hair like Geezer Butler, you’re probably not a probate attorney.) Chris is worried that Steve might be quitting “the group”, but Steve insists his mental malaise is completely unrelated to the goings-on in the band.
As Steve talks, it becomes acutely obvious that his acting is several levels below that of an amateur. To get an idea of his abilities, picture that one long-haired guy back in high school who used to only listen to Ozzy and Judas Priest. Now, think back to the time your English class was studying King Lear and the teacher made him read aloud one of Edmund’s soliloquies. That’s Steve.
Chris and his headband sit down at the bar (cough), which of course means that now both of their backs are towards us. He expositories that they’re supposed to be rehearsing some new songs, reminding Steve how important this album is going to be. Yes, surely these two have the next Blonde on Blonde in them.
Chris fills Steve in on some more stuff he already knows, including the fact that up until now they’ve only been playing at “off the wall dives”, and “warming up for over the hill rock groups!” This new album is supposed to change all that, because “the single” is selling well. Presumably this is because 45’s make for great coasters.
Steve tells Chris and his headband not to worry, because he just has some “personal things to work out!” Chris scolds Steve for trying to work them out with booze, saying, “Man, this ain’t no way!” He tells Steve that he needs to be sober to record their new songs, and then in a bizarre attempt to provide some sort of incentive, he says that Steve will be free to get as drunk and stoned as he wants once they’re out on tour [!]. Yeah, I know KISS does it all the time, but I doubt these two guys combined have as much talent as Gene Simmons has in one of his seven-inch leather heels. And, sadly, that applies to his acting talent, as well.