Saturday, April 17

Night of Fear (1972)

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A rat-keeping backwoods lunatic (Norman Yemm- excellent, if somewhat thankless) wreaks havoc and terror on a couple of unsuspecting women (played by Carla Hoogeveen and a horse-riding Briony Behets). Mike Dorsey turns up briefly as Hoogeveen’s lover.

Clocking in at around 50 minutes, this 1972 backwoods terror story from writer-director Terry Bourke (who also made the interesting but very slow and actually over-stuffed horror-western “Inn of the Damned”) was meant to be one part of a TV anthology horror series called “Fright”. It never happened, because this one alone was too much for early 70s Aussie TV, content-wise. Hell, it was even initially banned as a theatrical release. I mean, just look at the film’s most celebrated image of a naked (and creepily grunting) Norman Yemm holding a bloody skull in front of his man business as he approaches a prone Hoogeveen. Yeah. Played today of course, the film seems comparatively milder than not only modern horror films, but those that would immediately follow it, even. However, there’s still a raw power to some of this, undeniably, especially early on.

Given its intended origins though, it’s somewhat understandable that this dialogue-free, short/medium-length terror outing is a bit lacking in…well, an actual movie. This is a horror film or backwoods terror film stripped down to its absolute bare bones of sheer stalk and attack, with very little of anything else at all. You’ll probably either love it, or wonder why you’re watching a 50 minute trailer. For me, I think it’s well-shot, and for about ¼ of its length, really, really creepy. The late Norman Yemm (a veteran character actor of TV and film) makes for a perfect backwoods hulking menace. However, it becomes incredibly repetitive after a while, and the constant beeping and booping of the music score got on my nerves. There’s ultimately not quite enough to it for me, as we get the same basic situation twice over in the space of just 50 minutes. I need more narrative/character to latch onto than I ultimately got here. For me it’s got a great opening ten minutes and a fun closing ten minutes, but nothing much of interest in between. Given the film runs less than an hour, it’s not a hassle to sit through, but it’s pretty thin stuff. There’s the basis for a good, scary backwoods horror film here. I need more than the basics, though.

After a great first 10 minutes, the next 30 or so drag quite a bit, before picking up again at the finale. Norman Yemm is excellent, and some of you will love this for what it is, instead of lamenting what it isn’t. Pretty much the first Australian horror film, it’s not bad, it’s just not much, either. Good or not, it’s worth a look as a curio without question, especially in how it predates the more well-known American backwoods horror classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in the basic elements. At least that film managed to stretch things out to feature length, raw as it was overall.

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