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Sunday, 30 May 2010

FILM REVIEW - Night of Fear (1972)

Long before Wolf Creek or SAW... there was Night of Fear.

Hell, long before Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Australia came out with a psychological "chase" thriller that beat Hooper on the deranged backwater dead animal lovin' weapon wielding maniac stakes by a good 2 years. Chainsaws? pffft... just give me a shovel...

Originally banned by censors for 'indecency' back in 1972, and unseen now for over 30 years, this vintage piece of Australian horror cinema it is believed by some to be the 1st real example of a 'modern' Aussie horror movie (Wake in Fright is probably sighted as the 1st by most reviewers).  Thanks to Umbrella Horror DVD, it has been carefully restored from original prints and released to DVD.


It must be said straight up that this is an independent experimental lo-budget cinema release from 1972. It is first and foremost a period piece of Australian independent cinema, so don't go into it expecting Wolf Creek, otherwise you will be disappointed. But if you want to see where Wolf Creek, SAW and even Texas Chainsaw Massacre's inspiration came from, with shades of Willard and Ben thrown in for the animal lover in us all, then you've come to the right movie...

Oh yes, there will be rats!!!

As far as horror movies are concerned, this falls into your typical psychological chase thriller category. Unfortunately, a lot of the first quarter of the movie is spent on non-related events that do nothing for the actual story at hand. Again, this was experimental film making in the early 70's, and the movie itself was originally meant to be a pilot for a television series called FRIGHT. FRIGHT never went into production, presumably due to the censorship issues surrounding Night of Fear. This also explains the films 54 minute running time during a period when most motion pictures clocked in at 90 minutes plus.

Despite the slow start, once the build up of hysteria begins, you can certainly feel the horror/ chase atmosphere creeping in through some very clever cinematography work, and some very unique set design. This ramps right up about the three quarter mark when we enter the cabin of the movie's antagonist, and meet with all manner of hoarded perversions strewn throughout his ramshackled abode. This movie, despite its age, had a plethora of risqué subject matter and content that certainly provided a solid base for experimental and creative cinema of all genres both in Australia and abroad. That alone makes Night of Fear worthy of consideration for all serious horror aficionados.


Basically, we've got your deranged and reclusive cabin in the woods brand of psychopath who delights in dismembering unwary travellers, and keeps company with a massive colony of rats that have been raised on fresh meat and blood. Along comes the movie's damsel in distress, decked out symbolically in Little Red Riding Hood red, crashes the the car after being run off the road by a passing truck, and ends up being the target for said psychopath as she runs, screaming, through the Australian outback bush.

And be prepared for a lot of screaming, because it's the only dialogue in the movie apart from grunts and really weird noises by the psychopath, and the sounds made by blood hungry rats. Nobody speaks at all for the entire 54 minutes the film runs.

There's only 2 kills all up in the movie (human kills that is. there's a lot of horse heads hanging from trees, so animal lovers be warned), neither of which has any visual time on screen, apart from insinuation and the final scene of our damsel where the rats are eating her arm off. That doesn't mean we don't get to see any gore or disturbing visual sequences. They're in there alright, but it's no Rambo as far as body counts go. It's 1972 guys...

But there is a bit of T&A, which during the early to mid 1970's in Australia was a bit of a mainstay in our movies. And this movie was one of the 1st to try and push the envelope in this regard. Which is why it got band when originally released. By today's standards this movie would probably show less T&A than an episode of Spongebob, but hey, that's the 70's for ya... 


It feels like a 1972 movie. Bottom line. There's no CGI, no big name Hollywood A-Grade listings, but at least there's no happy ending. A ridiculous ending, but at least it's not happy. If you ever want to see THE worst police force investigators on the planet, then Night of Fear is your baby. Keep your eyes out for the skull in the cat cage... priceless.

It's hard to review such a dated piece of cinema up against today's endless outpouring of cinematic horror films, as it just won't stand a chance. But taken on its own merit, and considering the place it occupies in independent lo-budget cinema history, it does have a lot going for it. It was shot in pristine 35mm celluloid, and the quality of that really is apparent from a visual perspective. As mentioned, the set design, in particular inside the the cabin, was very inventive for its time; creepy dolls, taxidermy, newspaper murder clippings stuck to the walls. Stock standard fare now, but back then.. uh uh.

Even the musical score was a mile ahead of your standard horror feature back then. Looking at the Hammer movies, you got the same old pipe-organ style music with an orchestrated theme score and more incidental organ throughout. Night of Fear went Moog on your ass and had some very chilling sound scapes scattered throughout. Which is pretty integral considering there's no dialogue.

I must admit I enjoyed it a lot more with the commentary on, as this added a lot of time period information to the production and story behind the movie. But by the same token, even if you're not interested in the historical side of the film and just take it on as a horror film, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Night of Fear. I know I have...



Director: Terry Bourke
Writer:Terry Bourke
Starring: Norman Yemm,  Carla Hoogeveen, Mike Dorsey, Briony Behets


Trailer - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rrydr60oop0
Review - http://www.michaeldvd.com.au/Reviews/Reviews.asp?ID=5989
Night of Fear - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0130905/

Written review by stonerphonic © May 2010
All rights reserved


thhjasmine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thhjasmine said...

go the skulls ;-} i saw this as a kid,,i will defitnitly need to rewatch it,its been so long,i know who i can watch it with...... great review!

stonerphonic said...

the skulls do rock if i don't say so myself! i'd love to watch it again with someone who shares my love of historical horror cinema... my kinda partner indeed winks*. thanks babe for reading the review and leaving a lovely comment. besos xoxo

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