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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Night Fright

This low-budget indie production was probably aimed at the television market rather than the usual theatrical release. Television programming is normally outside the scope of this study, but since Night Fright (NF) starred John Agar -- a familiar name in 50s B movie-land -- and since NF follows the 50s idiom for monster-horror-scifi stories, it has earned a spot here. In fact, if the cars had been older, and it shot in black and white, it could pass for a 50s B movie without question. NF is said to have been released in the UK with the title E.T.N. (ExtraTerrestrial Nasty).

Quick Plot Synopsis
A couple of "teens" are necking on a remote dirt road with the catchy name: Satan's Hollow. They hear a radio report of a flaming object that fell from the sky nearby. They resume necking and are attacked by a lurking monster we don't get to see. The victims are discovered by Chris and Judy. The sheriff's (Agar) murder investigation is hampered by federal investigators who have sealed off the area. The flaming object was a returned space agency rocket. There is some extended time spent on good teens vs. bad teens and a couple of weak but interlocking love triangles. The bad teens all decide to go have "a blast" out by the lake, even though that was where the murders took place. Bad teens don't listen. A professor friend of the sheriff tells him of a space project called "Noah's Ark" that sent animals into space. It was lost of six months, then suddenly crashed just outside of town. Lots of radiation-mutants in the wreckage. Some were half eaten by a larger mutant they never found. Chris and Judy try to warn Rex and the bad teens of their danger. A show of egos turns into a fight which the good teen wins. Everyone leaves except the ego-damaged Rex and his girlfriend Darlene. The monster arrives (a gorilla suit and mutant bald gorilla demon mask). The monster chases Darlene through the woods. She meets up with her sister Joan (girlfriend of the sheriff). The monster almost gets them, but the sheriff gets them to safety. Darlene was scared stiff like a manikin, Joan says. This gives sheriff Clint an idea. He has Chris get him a bunch of stuff and meet them at the danger zone. He does, and several men begin a lot of waiting in the woods. Clint fashions a decoy out of Joan's nurse uniform on a manikin. The monster eventually comes chasing Chris and Judy, (who were not making out, btw). The monster goes for the seated manikin. Clint pushes the plunger, setting off the dynamite. Blamo. No more monster. Everyone is happy. Clint and Joan kiss. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The story is so typically 50s that it has nostalgia value. The acting is amusingly flat or erratic. The "hip" teen lingo brings a smile. The monster is like Robot Monster turned Sith. Rocket science is fraught with danger, but good triumphs over evil.

Cold War Angle
This is peripheral, but there is the customary (if not cliche, by the mid-60s) warnings about the nasty things radiation can do to living creatures.

Aging Agar -- John Agar had been in B movies throughout the 50s. His high points were probably Revenge of the Creature ('55) and Tarantula (also '55). He had the lead in many lesser films, such as The Brain from Planet Arous (57) and Journey to the Seventh Planet ('62). By 1967 he was in his mid 40s and looking a bit less hunky. Nonetheless, Agar gives a fairly good effort as sheriff Clint.

Teen Monster -- The sub-genre of teens (often dancing) and a rogue monster had perking along for several years. Not that the movie featured teens or "teens" played by twenty-somethings. (e.g. The Blob or Teenagers From Outer Space).The movies with dancing / partying teens typicallly fall victim to the monster. In this odd sub-genre are: The Giant Gila Monster ('59), The Horror of Party Beach ('64), The Creeping Terror ('64) and Monster A-Go-Go ('65). These, and NF, featured extended footage of "teens" dancing their crazy kid dances. Often, the dancing scenes have a hint of voyeurism to them, with close ups of girls' gyrating backsides. NF upholds this tradition with multiple shots of Carla's plaid dancing butt. It should also be mentioned that writer Russ Marker's other screenplay, The Yesterday Machine ('63) opened with a long look at short-skirted baton twirler dancing to pop rock. It was a 60s thing.

Traditional Evil -- A regular feature in 50s B sci-fi was the danger of radiation. It turned some hapless sea creature into Godzilla. It mutated humans, and wasps (Green Hell) and causes untold damage. By the mid-60s, space exploration was pulling back the veil somewhat on the mysteries of space. This makes NF more of an anachronism.

Cars Aplenty -- NF offers a nice sampler platter of mid-60s Detroit cars. There are several mainstream staples, like Chevy Impala, and Biscane, and Ford Galaxy and a tidy '66 Mustang fastback. There is a "vintage" '63 Chrysler Newport wagon as the ambulance. It gets lots of screen time. The ill-fated neckers were in a '67 Pontiac Firebird. The good teen, Chris, drove around a hulking (but interesting) Oldsmobile Toronado. Not your typical teen boy choice.

TNT: Man's Best Friend -- Dynamite has been the monster-fighting weapon of choice in many B movies. Sometimes it hasn't worked, but often enough, it does. To keep from being too obvious, Russ Marker did not let the cat out of the bag too soon. Clint just handed Chris a note of some supplies he needed. If he had said "get me some dynamite," viewers would have known too soon. It's always dynamite. Nor did Marker give it away with the manikin. Only the quick cut of the detonator at the last second let viewers know that mankind's best anti-monster tool had saved us all again.

Bottom line? NF is sometimes called one of the "worst movies ever," and not without cause. It has a plot that was a decade old when released, lower-teir actors (Agar excluded), a cheesy monster costume, pointless love triangles and alpha-teen rivalries, and way too much footage of men walking through woods, or sitting in woods. Yet, for fans of movies with monsters and dancing teens, NF has both.

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