Night of Horror (1981) (part 3 of 6)

In the back of the camper, Steve and Colleen are chatting it up. They’re the only two back there, so I guess Susan was chloroformed and tossed out of the camper while they were heading over the river. Steve asks Colleen what she’s writing, and she says she’s “not writing, really… I’m transcribing!” Apparently, she’s trying to write down something by Edgar Allen Poe from memory [?]. Hey, Colleen, have you heard of these things called libraries? They take care of these kinds of things for you.

“I hope it’s not one of his ghoulish ones,” Literary critic Steve mumbles. “You know, where people murder each other, and wall ’em up with casks!” Colleen explains that Poe didn’t just write horror stories, but also poems. She asks if he wants to hear one, and unfortunately, he sorta nods.

It turns out to be Poe’s 1837 “Bridal Ballad”, a thirty-five line poem that she proceeds to read in its entirety for nearly two and a half minutes. Good God, we are in English class! The only thing even remotely entertaining about this scene is how far her lips get out of sync with the sound, as the audio appears to be running a full ten seconds ahead of the visuals.

When she finishes, Steve’s voiceover speaks for no one and says, “I was terribly impressed with what I was seeing!” Then we cut to Steve and find him staring at the ceiling, causing this remark to make a little more sense.

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“But, believe me,” he adds, “This kind of naïve approach always meant danger for me!” Say what? Still, something about Colleen and “the way she read that poem, it was like, she had seen and experienced it all before. And I knew then that she was for real!” Okay, Mr. Malanowski, now that you’ve let a junior high poetry club write some of the dialogue, how about giving some high schoolers a chance now?

As we stare at old rusted out trains on the side of the road, Steve voiceovers that he went back up front to sit with Jeff. “After that poem,” he explains, “I was really afraid I might go a little too far!” Yes, there really is nothing quite like a little Poe to get the red-blooded American male all hot and bothered.

We’re forced to stare at the back of the camper as we hear Steve’s voice take an inordinate amount of time to explain that Susan would have wanted him to climb up front anyway, because she was in the back trying to sleep. He literally takes a solid minute to make this point.

Eventually, the camper stops and we see the women hop out. Jeff wanders over and announces that it’s “Food time!” and that they can eat whatever they come up with “on the range”. Susan whines that she wanted “outdoor cooking”, and that’s why she “signed up for this crazy cruise!” This utterly pointless argument goes on for an eternity. If you want more details, you can read all about it in a book I’m writing called Things I Don’t Give a Shit About. Ultimately, the women give up and go back inside.

As they duck back into the camper, something appears at the very bottom of the frame. It’s dark and it stays in one place from shot to shot, which can only mean one thing: Our friend, the smudge on the lens, has made its long-awaited appearance. And just as quickly, it works its way into our hearts as this movie’s one and only Nut O Fun.

In his definitive review of Exorcist II: The Heretic over at Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension, reviewer Douglas Milroy coined the phrase “Nut O Fun” to describe any background or incidental object in a shot that provides more entertainment value than whatever the audience is supposed to be focused on. In his case, it was a big octagonal wheel that was supposed to be a toy for autistic kids. In our case, it’s a smudge on the lens. And that in itself is truly the saddest statement yet on the quality of this film.

Looking at the smudge closer, it doesn’t seem to have been on the camera lens at the time of filming, because it stays in the same place from shot to shot. And it’s not a defect in the videotape, either, because others who have seen this film have also commented on it. In all likelihood, it ended up there sometime during the process of transferring the film to a master tape. Either the person who did the transfer didn’t see the smudge, didn’t care, or was one of those autistic kids looking for a new toy. Regardless, the Smudge is going to be with us for quite a while. (No, as a matter of fact, I wasn’t kidding about the Judi Dench thing.)

Anyway, Steve hops out of the camper and Jeff asks him what they’re going to do with the money they get from selling the cabin and the surrounding land. It appears, however, that Steve never thought about selling it. Jeff gets all snippy, asking him what they thought they were going to do with the cabin, “move in and live happily ever after?” We then cut to Steve, who’s got a whole other set of background noises over where he’s standing. “What are you trying to prove?” he asks. Um, what an idiot you are?

We then cut back to Jeff and his own personal background noises, and he says they all need the money, even suggesting that Steve could use the cash to buy a new harmonica [!]. Geez, I knew land values in Virginia were cheap, but come on. Jeff says it’s the least they can get out of their dear departed dad, but Steve defends the guy, saying he wasn’t that bad of a father.

This prompts Jeff to do what he appears to have been bursting at the seams to do since he first stepped in front of the camera: He starts queening out. Big time. Getting the same affectation in his voice as Paul Lynde when he was playing Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, Jeff waves his limp hand around and starts lisping like crazy. “After all he put usthhh through,” he says, “You come along calling him ‘Dad’, almosthhht like he wasthhh your real father!”

Night of Horror (1981) (part 3 of 6)

Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

Steve snipes back that Jeff doesn’t have any kids (no surprises there), so “how the hell do you know what a ‘real father’ should act like?” Look, Steve, I’ve never directed a movie, but I know a “real director” shouldn’t put together a film where background noises don’t match from shot to shot.

Jeff angrily points at him, saying, “I’ll tell you one thing, a real father doesn’t run out on two familiesthhh at oncethhh!” Steve accuses him of “projecting again” [?] and excuses Dad by saying he simply “had a different way of looking at things, that’s all.” Yes, his way was along the lines of, “Look at these two families! This sucks!”

Jeff continues to flame out, saying, “That’sthhhh all?” He then starts to pretty obviously forget his lines as he asks Steve if he would he run out on “two familiesthhhh” and buy a cabin that’s “so far out in the backwoods that the [long pause] no one could find you!”

Steve barks back that he can “dig the man’s situation” because he was “an artist!” Jeff queens out some more, sarcastically saying that just because Steve is a “famousthhhh California rock singer” (cough) that he knows all about being an artist.

The women burst out of the camper and put a stop to the argument. Susan begins to remind them that they’ve come through the worst part of the vacation: “The funeral, the reading of the wi—” The rest of her line is abruptly cut off as we jump to Colleen blubbering that they should all get along.

Night of Horror (1981) (part 3 of 6)

No, this movie wasn’t on MST3K. That’s a smudge down there, not a ‘bot.

She whines, “At the funeral… well, it was awfully weird!” Susan groans and tells Colleen not to go on about “that” again. This causes Colleen to look down at her shoes and make a face like somebody just told her there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Right after running over her new kitten.

Susan instantly gets remorseful, explaining that she’s heard Colleen’s “ghost stories” too many times. Susan then attempts to rationalize her unprovoked bitchiness by saying that she works in “a rotten office, with nothing but insurance papers, and clanking typewriters, and getting groped at the Xerox!” The sad part is, this was actually product placement paid for by Xerox.

Then comes the kind of rare, amateurish moment that makes watching movies like these worthwhile. Colleen whines that she got “the worst… vibrations at the funeral!” and as soon as she says this, I kid you not, Steve actually breaks character and starts laughing at the stupid dialogue [!].

It’s not readily apparent at first because he initially just turns away from the camera. However, Jeff soon breaks in, telling them all something that might have been understandable before the soundtrack was left in the trunk of that car. Or maybe not. Regardless, the line includes the word “whatever” and Jeff manages to say it in the gayest way possible. At this, Steve faces the camera and it’s plain that he’s now cracking up [!!] as he shows off the big, goofy grin on his face. I don’t know why any of this was left in the finished film, but it was, and thank God for that.

Night of Horror (1981) (part 3 of 6)

Second take? What’s that?

Anyway, Jeff tells them all to “keep the conversation off of anything heavy until we get there!” Steve stifles his laughter and everyone agrees to take Jeff’s advice and climb back into the camper.

When we fade back in, we get more overexposed shots of the camper from the front, and the Smudge on the Lens is still delivering a virtuoso performance. Steve’s voiceover tells us the women were still all like Rowwrr! Rowwrr! with each other, so he offered to switch places with Susan and ride in the back with his dream woman Colleen. He smarmily adds, “All for the sake of keeping peace in the family, you understand.” All for the sake of getting a piece in the family, he means. As he speaks, we get more flat, ugly scenery rolling past the camera while, up above, Hal Warren smiles down upon this movie.

In the back of the camper, Steve is playing his harmonica for Colleen. To give credit where it’s due, Steve Sandkuhler was actually the harmonica player for Off the Wall, and currently plays professionally (in, of all things, a Jimmy Buffet tribute band [?!]). This scene, however, appears to have been filmed ten minutes after he was first introduced to the instrument.

Night of Horror (1981) (part 3 of 6)

The Smudge ditches this movie and goes on its own road trip.

Colleen, probably eager to stop this awful caterwauling, tries to engage Steve in conversation. She asks him where he lives in California, and he tells her he’s just outside “beautiful Marin County!” She recognizes this as the place where “all those rich, movie-type people live!” Right. “All those” movie-type people. I defy anyone involved with this film to name more than one.

Steve wastes several minutes babbling, the gist of which is that he likes to drive through Marin County on hot days because it’s cooler there. This is all fascinating, really. Sadly, however, we must bid farewell to the Smudge, who now does a little dance and abruptly disappears, leaving almost exactly seven minutes from the moment he first appeared. Goodbye, my dear, dear friend. You’ll be missed.

Anyway, Steve decides to rock Colleen’s world and shatter all her preconceived notions by saying that the rich folks in Marin County “get their morning paper in their pajamas, just like everybody else!” Whoa. My mind is now officially blown.

The two continue to have the most boring conversation ever caught on film. (Did I mention that book I’m writing?) It culminates with Steve referring to himself as a “wanderer” and saying that’s why he didn’t make it to Jeff and Colleen’s wedding. He then expresses amazement that Jeff is thinking about having kids (and who wouldn’t?). Suddenly, Colleen puts a hand to her forehead and says that she’s “getting these awful feelings!” Geez, what took her so long?

Then she lurches forward as a “screeching” noise is dubbed in. I guess the camper just came to a sudden stop, but since the vehicle itself obviously isn’t moving, the actress flung herself forward to simulate this happening. Unfortunately, there’s one little problem that prevents this from being a triumph of low-budget filmmaking. You see, there are drapes in the shot directly behind her, and these didn’t move.

Night of Horror (1981) (part 3 of 6)

Those are some sturdy ass drapes.

We find the mighty Excalibur stopped in the middle of the road. Everyone except Steve jumps out, with his voiceover explaining that because Colleen “knew something before it even happened”, he was too freaked out to move. Translation: Steve wasn’t available for filming on this particular day.

Jeff says that someone was standing in the middle of the road, but “it’s like he just… disappeared!” Now, we’ve had to endure a lot of pathetic things in this movie so far, but they’ve truly reached a new low here. They couldn’t even be bothered to hire a guy to just stand in the road and pretend to get hit by the camper, so instead they have him “disappear” so that all the characters can stand around and describe him.

And what a description they provide! Susan, for example, says, “He was dressed in gray, with a… country kind of hat!” After a deathly pause, Jeff adds, “Yeah! But… there’s nobody here now!” Thanks, but we got that already.

Colleen comments that she felt the guy’s presence, calling him a “spirit of some form!” She adds that “there’s a wrong feeling here” (no kidding) because it’s “cold”. Susan and Jeff, meanwhile, continue to stare at the empty road and insist someone was standing right there. Finally, Jeff says they need to get to the cabin before nightfall, so the subject is quickly dropped and they all hop back in the camper.

Now, my personal theory at this point, particularly given the (presumed) appearance of ghosts, is that the characters in this movie were modeled after those of Scooby Doo. You’ve basically got four teenagers who cruise around in a big van (The Mystery Machine/Excalibur) and have run-ins with spirits. Among them is the overly “stylish” guy (Fred/Jeff) who either wears an ascot, or might as well be wearing an ascot. Then you have the sarcastic, dykey, “smart” chick who wears glasses (Velma/Susan). Then there’s the guy who’s really skinny, has a lousy goatee, and is easily spooked (Shaggy/Steve). By default, this makes Colleen out to be Daphne, but going by appearances alone, she’s a lot closer to Scooby.

Unfortunately, we will not get a final scene where a rubber mask is ripped off of a pirate, or a ghost is revealed to actually be a movie reel being projected onto fog. No, the ending we get instead will be about a million times lamer.

Multi-Part Article: Night of Horror (1981)

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