Monday, February 16, 2009

Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors (1993)

Reviewed By: Billy

I used to get really tired of people saying that horror movies were all formulaic. I’d rush to defend my chosen genre, insisting that each and every horror movie was a beautiful and unique creation, worthy of dignity and respect.

Well…then I grew up, and realized that indeed, most horror movies boil down to very simple mathematical formulas. To wit:

Black Christmas + Halloween = When a Stranger Calls
The Exorcist
+ Child’s Play / Star Trek: The Next Generation = Dolly Dearest
My Bloody Valentine
+ Scream + Terror Train – the actual train = Valentine
And, of course, the Law of Infinite:
Friday the 13th + Amy Steel = Friday the 13th Part II + Dana Kimmel = Friday the 13th 3-D + Cory Feldman = Friday the 13th Part IV – Jason Vorhees = Friday the 13th Part V, etc.

To this end, the formula for Tobe Hooper’s Night Terrors was evident within the first
three minutes: The Phantom of the Opera (1989) + "Red Shoe Diaries" to the Witchboard 2-nd power. This is a movie that, at Tower Farm, is a classic of early 90s straight-to-video horror. For years, JM and I actually thought we’d dreamed up the movie, as it’s completely disappeared from sight (probably at Hooper’s insistence). Thankfully, I’ve rediscovered it on the shelves of the greatest little video store in the South, and forced myself to sit through it again to save you the painful experience.

The plot of the movie revolves around…umm…er…

OK, so the movie has no plot. There are a lot of flashback scenes featuring Robert in white facepaint playing the Marquis de Sade. This movie came out at the peak of Robert’s popularity – he was the first, and really only, horror star of the 80s and 90s, and probably thought that his Freddy Krueger-charisma could carry over to just about anything. Unfortunately, in every movie outside of the Nightmare series, he kinda comes across like Bette Davis hopped on amphetamines – the guy overacts like nothing you’ve ever seen onscreen before. He gives basically the same performance here that he did in the aforementioned Phantom, except that instead of the gratuitous skin-stitching scenes, we get the hideous white makeup covering up what appear to be cold sores while Robert prances around reciting de Sade passages about pleasure and pain.

Meanwhile, in some sort of present-day Middle Eastern setting, Zoe Trilling – who was wonderful in Night of the Demons 2 but is looking/acting like a slightly edgier Ami Dolenz here – starts reading de Sade, has sex, and ends up bound in lingerie and about to become the victim in some kind of sex cult that is headed by Englund, also playing a modern-day character (but still chewing up the screen like there’s an Oscar right beside the camera). This is where the "Red Shoe Diaries" connection comes in; if I didn’t already know what it was, I would assume this movie was made directly for late-night Cinemax viewing (of which I’m a proud expert). We’ve got a few scenes of soft-core sex, most of which are intercut with other scenes of belly dancers fellating snakes and waving around silk scarves. Had Maria Ford popped up, no-one would have been surprised.

Speaking of the sex scenes, I believe it’s appropriate here to mention what is easily the most memorable scene in the film. During one of her fantasy sex sequences, Zoe dreams of a Middle-Eastern guy riding toward her on a horse. We see him galloping along the shoreline…waves crashing…wind whipping…and suddenly, we realize he’s naked. And so, we get a surprisingly long scene with this man’s bouncing penis completely filling up the screen. I can tell you that as two middle-schoolers, this was the most shocking thing JM and I had ever witnessed, and is pretty much the only thing we remembered about the movie for years afterward. And, I can tell you that upon re-watching the film, it is still the only shocking and memorable thing about the film, and will remain the only image that sticks with me.

The big problem here is that while each episode of "Red Shoe Diaries" is a perfect 20-some minutes, this movie is 98 minutes long. Could we boil it all down to under a half-hour, it would be very enjoyable; unfortunately, we keep getting those damn flashbacks of de Sade in his prison cell. There’s really no gore to speak of, so there aren’t really any murders to keep us entertained. The fact is, nothing really happens at all. You don’t get anything here that you can’t get by watching each piece of the math equation: Englund is just as nuts in Phantom, Dolenz is a better innocent blond in Witchboard 2, and "Red Shoe Diaries" is a much more concentrated dose of simulated sex. The only thing that makes this movie unique is that bouncing penis. And so, I’m not giving this movie any fingers at all. It gets:


1 comment:

  1. "Take your priestcraft and your palfrey and kiss my ass!" That's a quote, not a criticism.
    Night of the Demons 2, you say...? I feel some research coming on.