Denise (Susan McCullough) jets into this New Orleans airport and is met by one of her brothers, Vance (Micky Dolenz), who is pleased to see her, but wondering why she has shown up with news she wants to tell him and her other brother Dan (James Ralston) together. They retire to the family home and after a meal Denise feels she cannot keep her secret anymore: she is getting married. Vance is happy for her, but Dan is less pleased, asking how she will complete her college studies if this is the case, and there's more to come once she reveals she is pregnant as well. Dan is very angry that his sister is in such a condition, but he really blows his top when she comes to her final surprise - Denise is white and the father is a black man!
Well, big deal you might think, as long as they're happy, but in this racially themed melodrama turned thriller Dan is quite the bigot. In fact, so prejudiced is he that his racism appears to have made him utterly insane, as we witness early when, on hearing Denise's news, he beats her to the floor in the dining room and has to be held back by Vance. So we have our parameters set out early on as low budget auteur Joy N. Houck Jr sought to tackle racial antagonism head on. But Mr Houck was usually a director of horror pictures, so before long it was clear we were not so much in the territory of chinstroking issue drama, nope, we dealing with in an exploitation movie.
If it was not so apparent to you in the opening half hour or so, which could just about get away with a seriousness of intent, by the last half hour when the bodies are piling up The Night of the Strangler was well and truly preposterous, and any claims to helping confront the issues of racism were left behind in a sea of unbelievability. Now, this was made not long after the civil rights upheavals of the nineteen-sixties, and was one of many which tried to work out where everyone stood now the dust was supposedly settling only to acknowledge that a lot of the problems were still present in society, yet this was difficult to credit with sincerity when it threw up situations that were outwith the realms of good sense, as seen when the first two killings occur.
Not by strangling, it should be pointed out, in fact nobody is throttled in the entire running time, indicating the distributors had something of an obstacle in finding the correct title to sell what was a rather clumsy effort to the public, other titles this went by including the even more misleading Dirty Dan's Women and the more racially appropriate Is the Father Black Enough? though that didn't exactly make things plain either. The Father in this case was Father Jesse (Broadway star Chuck Patterson in a rare film appearance) who tries to sort out the troubles of his parishioners, including Denise's family, and boy do they need it with Vance an alcoholic and Dan, well, Dan's completely round the bend, firing his disadvantaged black handyman because he cannot stand to be reminded of his sister's life choices.
Which have ended when she commits suicide - ah, but we have seen she has done nothing of the kind, she was murdered shortly after her boyfriend was taken out by a bicycle-riding hippie hitman with a hunting rifle, and the body seems to have disappeared, with Denise discovered in the bath with her wrists slit open. A lot of this is plodding and bogged down in getting the racial themes across, but it is enlivened by watching ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz and being baffled as to how he picked this of all projects to appear in after the band broke up (or broke down, might be more apt). He certainly gives it his all, with high-pitched yelling in every other scene and a real dedication to the verging on the deadbeat Vance, so for fans of watching pop stars in acting roles (OK, he was an actor before he was a pop star) Night of the Strangler offers interest. The other intriguing aspect would be the murders as the cast are whittled down with death by gun, rattlesnake and the ol' arrow through the passenger seat trick (the wha?), and just wait till the killer reveals his motives. Music by Jim Helms.