Night of Horror (1981) (part 2 of 6)
Then we cut to a shot of Chris (well, Chris’ back, actually), and the light reflected off the “bar” wall is so freakin’ bright that it almost blots him out completely [!]. “Creative Lighting Director”, indeed. It truly does take something like creativity to be able to set up lights in exactly the right place to totally ruin a shot like this.
Chris points out how every time people have seen Steve over the last six weeks, he’s been “bombed”. At this, Steve explodes. Well, actually, he just kind of shakes his fist and raises his voice a little, but I think that counts as exploding in Steve’s world. “Dammit, Chris!” he says. “Then just replace me! But if you can’t handle… if they can’t handle what’s going on with me right now, then just tell the group they’ll have to find themselves a new boy!” [??]
Chris tells Steve not to give up, because he’s been in the band “since the beginning”, which means he’s been there longer than even “Jimmy and Billy!” That long, huh? Chris reminds him that he “came up through the ranks!” Which band are they in, Menudo?
Chris continues to provide an excellent example of how not to supply exposition as he reminds Steve of how he had to “work for years for the state highway administration [??] during the day, and then play off the wall joints for drinks and tips at night!” Chris desperately needs to stop talking about “off the wall” joints. Yes, I know it’s an in-joke, because the credits will later inform us that a band called “Off the Wall” performed all the songs in this movie. Or, rather, all the song. But it’s a sad comment on an in-joke that once you get it, it becomes even less funny.
Chris demands to know why Steve is pissing all his hard work away, so Steve turns to him and says, “Chris. [long, long pause] You’ve never had your beliefs, your very mind, so completely and totally turned around!” No, but this movie is definitely getting me there. “And… not, not changed,” he says, “But… challenged!” Look, just setting up a light so that it doesn’t reflect into the camera seems to have challenged the minds of most of the people involved with this movie, so this statement doesn’t impress me much.
Chris asks if he’s talking about drugs, but Steve scoffs that “I played every number on that wheel!” [?] No, drugs are something he can deal with, but what he’s talking about is another matter entirely. He says Chris has no idea what it’s like to encounter things that are “so bizarre and strange that you can’t begin to explain them! And you’re straight as a pin! And all you’ve had is a couple of beers!” To illustrate this last point, Steve holds up a beer bottle and shakes it a few times. Thanks for the visual, Steve.
Chris is still clueless, so Steve begins the exposition that will take up the rest of the movie. Yep, this little scene was meant to be a “framing device”, if you can believe that. After watching this movie, however, you will never want to see Tony Malanowski use any kind of storytelling device ever again. As a matter of fact, you will never want to see him use any kind of device ever again, particularly his word processor and home camcorder.
Anyway, Steve explains that he had to go to Maryland three months ago for his father’s funeral. He wasn’t really torn up about the guy’s death because he “walked out on us” when Steve was young, and he only went to the funeral as a “courtesy”. This is probably for the best, as I definitely would not want to see Steve try to act “upset”.
Anyway, going to the funeral meant he would have to see his half-brother Jeff, “and that is something I really wasn’t looking forward to!” If he acts as well as he sets up lights, then neither is anyone in the audience. Steve says that before he went to Maryland, he called up Jeff and Jeff’s new wife Colleen. They asked him to pick up Colleen’s sister Susan along the way, presumably because it said so in the script.
Steve says he had “Excalibur” with him, and unfortunately, this isn’t the sword of legend, but rather his RV [!]. Because all California rock stars have RVs, right? Chris exclaims, “You took the camper all the way across country?” Yes, Chris, and what’s more, we’ll soon be watching this entire journey unfold in real time.
Chris asks what he used for money on the way there, and Steve replies, “Chocolate milk and batteries!” [??] No, really, that’s what he says. Though, if you mix the two in a blender and drink it, you too will be able to direct a movie just like Tony Malanowski.
We fade into a road out in the woods as a camper (presumably Excalibur) slowly rolls into view. In voiceover, Steve explains that his father left him and Jeff a cabin and some land out in “Virginia mountain country”, so they all planned to go out and have a look.
We cut to Jeff, a pudgy, pasty-faced guy with a light brown goatee standing at the front door of his house. He calls out for his wife Colleen, and when she comes out she expresses her apprehension about the trip because “it doesn’t feel right!” Jeff lifts her bag and asks, “What do you have in here, Fort Knox?” You see, Jeff told her she could only take one small bag on their trip, so she packed it with as much stuff as possible. Hilarity! But not as hilarious as how this shot is framed in exactly the right way so that Jeff’s face is completely obscured behind a support column.
Colleen spots her sister Susan debarking the mighty Excalibur and runs over. The two hug and have some intensely dull dialogue where we learn that Colleen is insisting on wearing a big floppy hat and an ankle-length sundress on their trip. Susan cries out, “Don’t tell me you’re going to bounce around in the backwoods in that flimsy skirt!” This is all meant to convince us that Colleen is a wild, unconventional spirit. Personally, I’m convinced, but then again, I’m too conformist to try Pepsi Blue.
Jeff comes over carrying a guitar that thankfully will never be seen again. He packs it into the camper and then bitches at Susan for being an hour late. She explains there was an accident on the way there, but quickly tells them, “Oh, don’t worry. It was nothing.” Thank God, I don’t think I could have taken much more excitement.
Susan tells Jeff he had better be the one to drive, however, because his brother Steve “has been out on the west coast too long!” Because out here on the west coast, we drive on the opposite side of the road or something. Jeff agrees and asks where the accident was. When Susan tells him, he gets frustrated because this will add another forty minutes to their trip (and, consequently, this movie).
We cut to Steve sitting in the driver’s seat of mighty Excalibur, and bless his heart, he’s trying his darndest to make an “excited” face. In a voiceover, he describes seeing Colleen for the first time and inexplicably finding himself taken with her. “The way the morning light hit her,” Steve rhapsodizes. Then we cut to Colleen’s profile, leading me to conclude that the way the morning light hit her with was the Ugly Stick.
“The way she smiled,” Steve’s voice continues. “Almost… glowing, creating an inner light all her own!” That’s a nice sentiment, but then again, much the same thing has been said about radioactive phosphor.
“I knew then that I definitely had to get to know her better!” Of course, Colleen is his brother’s wife, but Steve the West Coast Rocker certainly wouldn’t be all uptight about that kind of stuff. Plus, this is Virginia mountain country, after all. Jeff and Colleen are probably first cousins, anyway.
Jeff announces that everything’s packed, and somehow finds a way to completely overact while simply asking Colleen if she’s sure she brought everything. They actually thrown in lines here to explain how Jeff and Colleen have a cat who will be staying with Colleen’s mother, in case you care. And if you do, I weep for you.
Gesturing broadly, Jeff tells Susan and Colleen to get in the camper, while he declares he’s going to “pry Steve away from his precious steering wheel!” One can’t help but detect a slight lisp from Jeff on the word “preciousth” that will only get worse as the movie progresses.
We cut to Steve still in the driver’s seat of Excalibur, with his voiceover explaining how Jeff wanted to take over the driving chores. I mean, why show an actual conversation when you can just have a narrator describe it? Steve’s voice tells us that he pretended to put up a fight, but in reality, “I was going to be very happy staying in the back” with Colleen, his new infatuation.
The camper takes off, which leads to, without exaggeration, the single most tedious sequence of driving footage ever caught on film. It easily makes the driving scenes in “Manos” look like the car chase in Bullitt, and seems deliberately designed to inflict as much mental anguish as possible. It’s almost as if Tony Malanowski were determined to teach a lesson to anyone foolish enough to rent this thing.
For the sake of my own mental health, I was forced to keep a detailed journal on this harrowing journey to the edge of sanity as the scene progressed. (The times noted all correspond to the clock on my VCR.)
Journal of Pain
13:07 – First of all, as if things weren’t bad enough, the whole thing is accompanied by the three minor chords from the opening credits. (Decades from now, I’m going to hear another song with three minor piano chords and be instantly driven into madness.) At this point, all we see is the back of the camper as it rolls down the highway.
13:28 – After twenty seconds, we cut from the back of the camper to (brace yourselves) the front of the camper. Then we get a shot through the passenger side window and see some flat scenery and a bridge off in the distance. Then they cruise past some run-down factories that look like they went out of business five minutes after this thing was filmed.
14:18 – We’re now over a minute into this and watching a really murky brown river through the passenger window. Then Malanowski points the camera through the windshield and we see that same bridge approaching up ahead. As the camper crosses the bridge, he makes the artistic decision to point the camera up and film the beams and girders passing overhead. (Wow!)
14:41 – Again we see the river through the passenger side window as this reviewer begins to hear voices in his head. Meanwhile, a lonely tugboat cruises through the frame. Poor tugboat. It didn’t ask to be in this movie.
14:58 – We again get a shot of the murky brown water, and it’s almost impossible to tell where the horizon ends, because the sky is murky and brown, too. Actually, the whole damn movie is murky and brown. There’s a little islet in the middle of the river, and we zoom in on it. Suddenly, the islet becomes the most fascinating thing in my world. I love the islet. The islet is my lord and savior.
15:18 – It’s now been over two minutes. If I don’t survive this, tell ’em I fought the good fight, and I died with my boots on. We get another shot of the camper, this time from the POV of a car pulling up alongside it. After a few seconds of this, we switch to a head-on view of the camper.
15:41 – Still seeing a head-on view of the camper. Giving serious thought to regressing to a child-like state to escape the trauma.
16:17 – At long last, the solid three minute sequence of driving footage ends, and I don’t think we’ve been so close to the end of humanity as know it since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Did you hear me? It’s over! You’re all free to come out of your caves now! The world is safe! I love Big Brother, and Tony Malanowski! We’re free! Free, I tell you!
What the— ? It’s still going? You mean this thing isn’t over? There’s another fifty minutes left? Perhaps entering that child-like state isn’t such a bad idea after all. A-tisket, a-tasket, a green and yellow basket… we’re going to get you, we’re going to get you, not another peep, now we go to sleep… Oops, sorry, I was regressing to a better movie instead. I guess we’d better get back to this one.