Another reason to adhere to rules as much as possible when participating in Hooptober: I don’t think I ever would have seen the (or even been aware of) some of the regional low budget horror that was prevalent throughout the 70s. Is that a blessing or a curse when it comes to Night of the Strangler, a blaxsploitation inferno directed by Joy N. Houck, jr. and featuring Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees? It’s an earnest attempt to heave your cake and eat it too, as Houck tries to say something about the racial tensions of the time while cashing in on the bloody horror craze that was slowly taking hold. The results are a little uneven, but I admire the twists the movie churns out.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: You know what what Dan hates more than his slacker brother Vance? BLACK PEOPLE! When Dan and Vance’s sister Denise tells them that she’s dropping out of college because she’s pregnant with her black boyfriend’s baby, Dan is enraged. Soon enough Denise’s boyfriend is assassinated which triggers a chain of events that leads to multiple deaths? Who is the killer? What does all of this have to do with Father Jessie, the recently returned priest who’s just trying to bring everyone together? And can anyone get over Mickey Dolenz in this thing? IS THE FATHER BLACK ENOUGH?
Yea, the alternate title for Night of the Strangler was Is the Father Black Enough? and it speaks to the deep anger and rage Houck, jr. tries to bring across in his weird amalgam of slasher and thriller. He does so through some really weird plot mechanics, twists that will have you wondering what the hell is going on until the end is revealed and you realize just how angry the film is.
But to get to that ending, you need to get through some rough filmmaking. Yeah, you can see boom mikes. You can see the shadows of the camera crew in the shots. The performances are, uh…well, I defy you to see Mickey Dolenz’s earnest performance as Vance and not think of Davey, Mike, and Peter just off screen. As the primary heel of the piece James Ralston as Dan is completely unafraid to be as disgusting and revolting a person as possible. It’s the complete opposite as Chuck Patterson as Father Jessie, who feels completely invested in his role. Or should I say ROLES?!?! Elsewhere we can this whole side relationship with Michael Anthony and Harold Sylvester as the detectives working the case that is as fun as it is ridiculous (check out Anthony’s pronunciations).
I think a film can be technically rough but if the earnestness and intent is there, it can still work. That’s definitely the case with Night of the Strangler – you can laugh at the execution, but the way the story twists and turns makes it work. Just don’t look for any actual strangling in this film: you’ll get drowning, snake attacks, knife fights and long distance assassinations, but nary a throat is choked.
The why of that is a mystery for another time.