Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Night God Screamed (1971)

          If you’re able to accept that The Night God Screamed is essentially two different exploitation movies fused together by the presence of a shared protagonist, then you’ll be able to enjoy the picture for its sensationalistic pleasures. The first and far more interesting half of the flick concerns a Manson-eseque cult leader who presents himself to followers as a religious messiah, then leads his acolytes through criminal acts including murder. The second half concerns a babysitter and a houseful of teenagers getting terrorized by mysterious assailants. Holding the pieces together, more or less, is the character of Fanny Pierce (Jeanne Crain). In the first half, she’s the wife of a man who gets killed by the cultists, so her eyewitness testimony helps put the bogus messiah behind bars. In the second half, she’s the babysitter. Ostensibly, the connection is that the assailants in the siege portion of the picture may or may not be followers of the imprisoned cult leader, bedeviling Fanny for purposes of revenge. Both halves of the movie are basically adequate for their respective purposes, but the shift in style and tone from one to the other is jarring.
          The movie starts with a whopper of a scene, when cult leader Billy Joe Harlan (Michael Sugish) preaches to his flock during an outdoor baptism ceremony. “The heat won’t leave us alone,” he proclaims while addressing remarks to God up in the sky. “They want to bust us for being hooked on you!” Then Billy Joe compels an underling to drown a traitorous follower, “re-baptizing” her in the cult’s faith. Things stay just as kicky for the next 40 minutes or so. Billy Joe targets a traveling evangelist, Willis Pierce (Alex Nicol), who has a giant decorative cross that catches the cult leader’s fancy. Soon enough, Billy Joe compels his followers to ritualistically murder the evangelist. Later, after Billy Joe’s trial, Fanny accepts work babysitting some willful high-school kids, and the aforementioned siege begins. Top-billed star Crain, whose heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s, delivers a spaced-out performance that’s either effectively meek or weirdly dispassionate, while Sugish summons the requisite intensity for his role. Otherwise, the movie is routine in all aspects of its execution, so interest stems from the gonzo storytelling of the first half and the highly questionable twist endings—there are two of them—in the second half.

The Night God Screamed: FUNKY

1 comment:

Guy Callaway said...

Man, that's one awesome poster.