June 22, 2017

Movie Review: Night of the Strangler

Sometimes I watch a movie and when I consider writing about I have to really sit and think about how to start it and if I am going to have enough to say about said movie. This is one of those movies that I doubt I am going to have a lot to add to the discourse of said movie, but I figured I would try anyway. The movie in question is Night of the Strangler, a film saved by the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome. An oddity of a film that features a Monkee in a lead role and one that may have been completely forgotten about if not for the efforts of Vinegar Syndrome. This bare bones DVD release features a new 2K scan from original 35mm elements and while it does show its age, this is probably the best it’s looked since its 1972 release.

The movie was directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr. As follow ups to his work here, he directed films like Creature from Black Lake and The Brain Machine. The screenplay was written by the team of JJ Milane (Women and Bloody Terror), Robert A. Weaver (Night of Bloody Horror), and Jeffrey Newton. The low budget production often feels very amateurish and made by committee. Seeing the trio of screenwriters, I am left with the thought that the writers each wrote a chunk of the movie, separately, they were never a team. This would help explain the disjointed and convoluted nature of the finished piece. It would also point towards Houck as just directing what was on the page without an attempt to massage it into anything more cohesive.

Now, the movie is called Night of the Strangler, a nice sleazy, eye catching, exploitative title that fits right in with the drive in era, but it doesn’t refer to anything. Seriously. Yes, the movie tries to be on exploitative, button pushing side, but it has nothing to do with the title. The movie features no strangulation and it takes place almost exclusively during the day. Then the fun, well something happens.

As the movie starts you are introduced to Denise and her younger brother, Vance (the Monkee Mickey Dolenz). She has come home to her brothers (the only family she has, despite its dysfunction) to get their blessing for her dropping out of college due to pregnancy and getting married to a black man. This sets older brother, Peter, off in a rage where he threatens to kill her and her boyfriend, revealing some seriously deep rooted racist tendencies. Ahhh, so that’s what this movie is, a southern fried excursion into race relations and murder. Well, maybe a little, but not entirely.

Shortly after that initial racist outburst, Denise’s boyfriend is shot dead. An action you’d think would be traced back to Peter. Then someone breaks into Denise’s room and murders her by drowning her and staging the scene to look like a suicide. Again, you’d think this could be traced back to Peter, but everyone seems to be both a target and a suspect until the reveal in the third act.

The whole thing is poorly acted, paced, and told. It got to the point where I was happy to be watching the movie, but I really didn’t care. Everything just got so convoluted and, frankly, boring, that it no longer mattered to me what happened. What is funny was I was not disappointed for watching it, on some level I was interested.

Night of the Strangler is a product of its time. It never really turns into the race relations film it seems to be at the beginning and it never turns into exploitation thriller the title would suggest. It is just a cinematic oddity with problematic on set audio, terrible acting, and a story that never really comes together. It is worth a watch, but nothing to rush out for. I do, again, commend Vinegar Syndrome for continuing to save and restore these oddball, forgotten films.

Not Recommended.

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