Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Night Fright (Planet Texas, 1967)

Night Fright, a regional movie shot and produced in Planet Texas for the drive-in market (where most of the teenage audiences probably were too busy necking to ever really care what was on the screen), is an amazingly terrible no-budget film that is, at best, an exercise in how to create a 66-minute movie from around 15 minutes of film stock. The progenitors of Night Fright, be it behind or in front of the camera, were either all pulled-in locals or part of shlockmeister Larry Buchanan's (born Marcus Larry Seale Jr., 31 Jan 1923 – 2 Dec 2004) diffuse, regular retinue of non-actors and crew members. But although Buchanan surely had at least a tangential connection to this movie, the credited non-talent calling the directorial shots was regional no-budget film director, producer and cinematographer James A. Sullivan (15 Nov 1934 – 13 Oct 2004), whose greatest claim to film fame is probably that of being the film editor of the anti-classic Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966 / full movie). 
Trailer to
Night Fright:  
The slim and interminably stretched and unexciting "narrative" of Night Fright, which functions at the barest of levels, was supplied by Russ Marker (born Hirom Monroe Kennamer, 11 Oct 1926 – 22 Feb 2010). Apparently, Marker and Sullivan simply reused the narrative and footage of to an earlier, incomplete and abandoned film project of Marker's, The Demon from the Black Lake (1964), to create this cinematic abortion. 
The plot of the earlier film: "Fearing an imminent nuclear war, a group of scientists attempt to replicate Noah's Ark by sending a group of animals into outer space. But the plan backfires when the ship crashes on Earth, and exposure to radiation turns the animals into hideous killer mutants in this sci-fi horror film. [TV Guide]" And, in Night Fright, it is eventually revealed that the funky-looking ape monster — obviously a first cousin of the ape creature of the indefinitely more-entertaining Robot Monster (1953 / trailer) — roaming the Texas countryside and ripping the face of its victims [off-screen and never seen] is from one such crash-landed Noah's Ark experiment, the only mutated survivor of all the other animals (which it probably ate prior to arriving in Planet Texas). 
Filled with bad acting, poorly shot day-for-night scenes, teenagers that look no younger than 25, absolutely horrible background music (composed by future Reverend Christopher Trussel [15 Feb 1937 – 11 Nov 2010], whose only other film composer credit appears to be for the low-rent Jim Kelly action comedy Hot Potato [1976 / a trailer]), interminably long scenes of people walking around, virtually no action, and virtually nothing that can be described as "good", Night Fright is a movie that tries the patience and understanding of even bad-movie fans, if only because there is so little of a movie in its running time. Again, seriously: cut all the extraneous from the flick, and it wouldn't be even 15 minutes long. 
Still, however, one is forced to say "virtually nothing" is good about the filmic fiasco instead of "absolutely nothing" because there are some notable if highly fleeting positive aspects to the film. For one, it has Shirley Temple's first husband (1945 to 1950), the passable actor and bad-film icon John Agar (of Revenge of the Creature [1955 / trailer], Tarantula [1955 / trailer], The Mole People [1956 / trailer], Bert I Gordon's Attack of the Puppet People [1958], Mr. No Legs [1978 / trailer] and so much more), in the lead role as the communication-challenged local Sheriff Clint Crawford. The character might be one-dimensional, but John Agar (31 Jan 1921 – 7 Apr 2002) gives it his best and, even more so than the practiced, Southern-fried character actor Bill Thurman,* who plays Deputy Ben Whitfield, doesn't embarrass himself too much in this otherwise disastrously embarrassing celluloid sleeping pill. 
* Bill Thurman (4 Nov 1920 – 13 Apr 1995) may never have achieved the face and name recognition of the similar Southern-fried character actor R.G. Armstrong, but aside from Buchanan films and fun trash like The Evictors (1979 / trailer), Keep My Grave Open (1977 / trailer) and 'Gator Bait (1973 / trailer), Thurman can be found in A-productions by Spielberg as well as in Oscar-winning flicks like Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971 / trailer), in which he plays Cloris Leachman's closeted, apparently homosexual husband. 
But to continue counting the positives: the over-age college girls also wear some pretty groovy original outfits; they obviously dug their best digs out of the closet for their non-name-making appearances, and many of them would — were it not for the big hair and wigs — easily get all the appreciative eyes today in the hipster dives of big cities like, dunno, Berlin. (Not so with the over-aged college guys, who one and all are on the other side of the fence known as butt-fuck ugly. In regard to the last, particular note must be given to the film's over-aged wanna-be juvenile delinquent Rex Bowers [Frank Jolly], who sports an amazingly immobile Brillo-creamed black object atop his head throughout the film. An eye magnet, to say the least, but for all the wrong reasons.) The original vintage cars are all eye candy, any one of which we would be happy to own today — was there ever a more beautifully ugly car than the 1967 Mustang Fastback? As Wes Blau, the local reporter, Gary McLain (of Buchanan's Hell Raiders [1969 / full film]) sports a nice pair of black-rimmed glasses that really underscore the lost look he sports whenever he's on screen — one keeps expecting him to become mutant chow, but he doesn't. And during the lakeside party scenes, the surfer music the elderly teenagers bop and hop to with rhythmless abandon, supplied by an unknown local garage band called The Wildcats,* is pretty good in an oddly elevator-music way. But kudos must be given to the ending: it takes forever to get to and (like the film as a whole) totally lacks tension or suspense or anything that might make it fun to watch, only to culminate with an anticlimactic mini-BANG! and the closing line, "I'll buy you all of the uniforms you want!" 
* Apparently, Houston lawyer and Death by Injection guitarist Doug O'Brien is a former member (who knows who the other member were). The band also appeared in the unknown and obscure regional film Fulfillment, Something Worth Remembering (1969 / review) and apparently opened for The Who when they played in Beaument, Texas, in 1967 (Houston Press). Over at Dwrayger Dungeon, O'Brien mentions that, "Chris Trussel […] had us record the songs after the film had been shot. The scene at the lake with the kids dancing was shown to us so we could make up a song that would fit." 
So: all that can be viewed as the plus points of the movie, but none (alone or combined) are impressive or intriguing enough to make the snore-a-thon that is Night Fright in any way viewable, even if you take into consideration the occasional memorable scene, like that embedded below, amidst all the rest of the boring non-events of this less craptastic than simply crappy anti-movie. Thus, although this public-domain movie is easy enough to find all over the net, there is really no need to search Night Fright out, for there is no reason to bother watching it. (Unless, of course, you happen to be John Agar completionist.) Night Fright is 100% non-imperative viewing. 
Judy* and Chris* sound like smart Texans
as they get heavy about life in
Night Fright
* Judy the Teen Heroine is played by Dorothy Davis, who happens to share her name with a forgotten and usually uncredited silent-film background actress. Ms. "Teen Heroine" Davis might also found in the background somewhere in The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane (1976) and Cathy's Curse (1977 / trailer). Chris the [22-year-old] Teen Hero is played by the former and long-forgotten regional celebrity Ralph Durwood "Buddy" Baker Jr. (3 Feb 1945 – 16 July 2008), a radio DJ and model (e.g., he was the "The Sanger-Harris Man"). As forgotten and unknown as both are, they were both once more famous than you ever will be.

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