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  Night Fright Extra-TEX-estrial
Year: 1967
Director: James A. Sullivan
Stars: John Agar, Carol Gilley, Ralph Baker Jr., Dorothy Davis, Bill Thurman, Roger Ready, Gary McLain, Darlene Drew, Frank Jolly, Bill Hollingsworth, Janiz Menshaw, Russ Marker, Toni Pearce, Christi Simmons, Brenda Venus, Byron Lord, Ronnie Weaver, Olivia Pinio
Genre: Horror, Trash, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  2 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two teenage lovers, dumb enough to go canoodling at a woodland spot called Satan's Hollow, are attacked by a man in a shoddy monster costume. Er, I mean a creature from outer space. Their mauled bodies are found by another couple, college sweethearts Chris (Ralph Baker Jr.) and Judy (Dorothy Davis) who alert stalwart Sheriff Clint Crawford (John Agar). No-nonsense Clint soon has his men on the case but has a harder time keeping the troublesome local teens away from the area. Especially Darlene (Darlene Drew), frisky kid sister of Clint's more sensible girlfriend Nurse Joan Scott (Carol Gilley) her obnoxious boyfriend Rex Bowers (Frank Jolly) and their fun-loving friends. All they want to do is get their groove on beside the lake. Naturally their hip-swiveling shenanigans set the monster on a kill-crazy rampage before Sheriff Clint concocts a daring plan.

By the late Sixties smarter exploitation filmmakers realized drive-in films had to be gorier and sexier to draw a thrill-starved audience. Others decided to stick with the by-now hackneyed teens, rock and roll music and monsters formula established back in the Fifties. Hence movies like Night Fright, a low-budget, Texas made sci-fi monster romp with nary a drop of blood, teen characters that neither swear nor disrobe, but instead crack corny jokes or dance to surf music. Lacking the more overt exploitation ingredients the film may prove something of an endurance test for less tolerant genre fans. Yet those willing to overlook such deficiencies may discern a certain charm to its setting, Sixties hairstyles and fashions, amiable Texan accented performers and corny B-movie dialogue. It's basically a live-action Scooby-Doo episode, minus the moment the heroes expose the monster as old Farmer Brown or whatever.

Not helping matters director James A. Sullivan, while not incompetent necessarily, has no clear grasp how to pace his film. Sullivan, formerly an editor on infamous indie horror Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) and later cinematographer on several exploitation films leading in to the 2000s, keeps the monster off-screen for ninety percent of the run-time. He pads the film with dull scenes of characters rambling through the woods. Or else repetitive close-ups on tight pants and gyrating hips while the teens go-go dance to the surf rock stylings of The Wildcats. What the film has in its favour are some disarmingly earnest performances. Genre regular John Agar channels his experience in proper monster movies like Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955) and The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), lending terse authority to an otherwise stock role. Meanwhile the younger actors exhibit a quality teetering between amateurish and naturalistic that is rather endearing. Particularly laidback Ralph Baker Jr. and intense-eyed Dorothy Davis who later popped up in David Cronenberg's breakthrough Shivers (1974) and cult horror Cathy's Curse (1977). Producer-screenwriter Russ Marker, who plays a small role here as a crusading reporter, was more active also more active as a bit-part actor. Prior to scripting Night Fright he also directed time-travelling Nazi thriller The Yesterday Machine (1965).

Perhaps the one interesting aspect about Night Fright (which was re-released on video in the Eighties under the new title: E.T.N.: The Extraterrestrial Nasty) is how despite being released at the height of Sixties counterculture its social outlook remains deeply Fifties. When pipe-puffing rocket scientist Alan Clayton (Roger Ready) reveals that the monster is the unforeseen side-effect of the U.S. government’s space program, none of the characters exhibit any moral outrage whatsoever. Instead everyone focuses on the task at hand, namely killing the creature before it kills again. At the end of the day, Night Fright was made for a drive-in audience who, like the teenagers in the movie, were too busy making out in the back seat to care what was happening onscreen.


Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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