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Looking for a different take on Manson family-inspired horror and exploitation? You might want to check out THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED (TNGS). Although not a re-telling of Charlie's antics over at that Tate-LaBianca cribs, TNGS borrows the idea of a young hippy cult leader with a Jesus fixation directly from the headlines about Manson, Billy Joe Harlan, preaches about a different church, one that is "turned on" by drugs, where the man will let them be free to trip and screw in Jesus' name. He has a strong man by his side, his disciple, his Atoner. But this Jesus Christ cum Charles Manson wannabe leaves behind the trappings of the "Helter Skelter" story 3 minutes into the story. When Atoner Baptises a young "traitor." I don't remember that happening in the Vincent Boogooloogoogglyous book.

You see, Willis Pierce and his wife Fanny are ministering in a more traditional sense. They run the inner-city mission, doling out grub to toothless, derelicts with hopes of one day having their own place of worship. Fanny gets robbed of the groceries she is bringing to the soup kitchen on the street, their lives are not easy but at least they got The Lord. Willis books a road gig to raise some funds for his dream church, they have hooked up a local recreation hall to hold a revival and Willis has even blown $50 on a brand new cross which he tells Fanny should help people loosen up the purse strings a little when the collection plate is passed. Don't get me wrong Willis in no scheming evangelist, he truly means well, although Fanny seems skeptical of everything, all the time.

These 2 plot elements meet head on when Willis and Fanny stop at a small grocery to get some supplies for the revival. Atoner and Billy Joe pull up on their motorcycle. Just one motorcycle. Billy Joe is being doubled around by the Atoner, I mean come on, wouldn't Jesus want his own bike? Billy Joe gets a gander at Willis' fancy cross in the back of his pick-up and the 2 strike up a conversation while Atoner checks Fanny's fanny. Atoner does a creepy come on to her, talking about his appreciation of "old" things. When Billy Joe hears from Willis that he is hoping to raise some cash for a church, BJ gets a notion. Steal the money after the service. He and Atoner go to the service and when it is over and Fanny is seeing the rec. center pal of theirs to his car, they ambush Willis. Fanny hears them and hides, by the time all is quiet, she finds Willis nailed to his $50 cross. That's when the voices start. Billy Joe is sent away to prison and she begins to hear whispers of the word "GUILTY!" When BJ's followers surround her outside the courtroom chanting 'VENGEANCE IS MINE!" she begins to hear that repeatedly too. Good judge Goodam, in what can only be dubbed a giant conflict of interest, decides Fanny can baby-sit his 4 teenaged kids (basically all 4 look and act the same age and his wife looks only slightly older than the kids) while he and the Missus go get their groove on for a weekend out of town. Fanny doesn't like teens and knows this will be a pain in the ass. She agrees only after he assures her the kids will not leave the house all weekend. I bet you guessed the kids are pretty happy about that caveat'.

From here our story picks up and to delve into the details will only ruin the tension of the final 20 minutes of the film, which leads you down a couple paths, switches directions, brings you back and leaves you fairly satisfied with this 1971 jewel. Fanny, played remarkably by veteran actress of stage and screen Jeanne Crain, is convincing as a woman teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Crain who was a legitimate beauty in her youth would only make one more film after THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED, the interminable SKYJACKED. Crain started acting in 1943 and was a recognizable face in many B-grade dramas. Crain did some modeling in Italy and eventually made a few films there. She starred as Nefertiti in NEFERTITI, REGINA DEL NILO along side super-scary fag Vincent Price in 1961. Crain was simply drop dead gorgeous in the good old days, and although she is older and Fanny is plain-janed in the film there are moments you still see the beauty in her face. Willis although only logging about 5 minutes of screen time, is effectively brought into being by Alex Nicol, an old-timer in his own right, whose American and Spanish production resume includes THE SCREAMING SKULL and A*P*E as well as BLOODY MAMA and TIERRA BRUTAL. Always a decent stone-faced heavy, he ain't too shabby as the good-willed Willis.

Outside of these 2 veterans most of the cast is made of youngsters just getting a start in the picture game. One standout is Gary Morgan who plays one of the judge's kids, Jimmy. Although not a brilliant performance, it works and Morgan went on to coordinate stunts for over 50 projects including ARMY OF DARKNESS, BATMAN FOREVER and WILD, WILD WEST. Complete nerds may remember him as Billy in LOGAN'S RUN.

Gil Lasky, yep, the crazy producer behind SPIDER BABY and BLOOD AND LACE co-scripted with the help of Dan Spelling, who plays elder son Peter. The story contains the obvious Manson nod, but let's not forget the Jesus fad that was sweeping the youth during that time. T-shirts, patches, black light posters all proclaiming goofy messages like "Jesus is Love" (not that he's not or anything) were the trinkets du jour for the college aged hipster. Hippies were looking for Christ while dropping acid. High school boys were adopting the Jesus "look." Traditional churches were starting youth groups to cater to this new mass popularity of Jesus. It was a different time. Manson showed America how wrong believing in a false prophet could turn, but churches were quick to accept the free lovers into the church even if it was just because they were being "hip." It was a unique time for organized religion during the early 70s. A Christianity boom was taking place at the same time LSD was all the rage and kids were fucking each other just for idle recreation. It is easy to see how a forward thinking future zealot with a strong personality could slightly corrupt The Bible, twist it to fit the alternate universe of hippy, free-love, open-mindedness and become a minister or even a prophet to youth wishing to partake in sinning, yet still believe in the Jesus. Lasky and Spelling used this knowledge of the "scene" to make a taught little thriller. Spelling was in his very early 20s, so no doubt he was "tuned In" to the Jesus scene himself.

TNGS falls into the terror-based drama category more so than just typical slaher-type horror. Think psychological ala' LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH. I have read reviews knocking the acting, editing and script, which I think is all on a more-than-competent level. There is a air of moodiness and the suspense is heightened by a really good soundtrack. THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED may not be a great film but stands out as a nice, different sort of "bad teen." Flick. I'll tell you this it, is far more entertaining than MANSON, the snorefest documentray that just popped up on DVD. Get it, mandatory. Mail Prof. Tread

The Night God Screamed
Gary Morgan, before he became stunt coordinator of the Gods...

The Night God Screamed
Leave Fanny alone dammit!

The Night God Screamed
Dan Spelling, just hanging around after a script meeting with Gil Lasky.

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The Night God Screamed
AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! That was God...screaming.

The Night God Screamed
Billy Joe, he's no Manson.

The Night God Screamed
The Atoner's Baptism style is a little deadly.

The Night God Screamed
Fanny and Willis, serving up the drunks downtown.

The Night God Screamed
If you're happy and you know it then your face will surely show it.

The Night God Screamed
Billy Joe strikes his Jesus Christ pose.

The Night God Screamed
The Atoner talks sweet talk to Fanny.

The Night God Screamed
The beautiful Jeanne Crain...

The Night God Screamed
THe not so beautiful Alex Nicol.

The Night God Screamed
Slack-assed teenagers await their baby-sitter.

The Night God Screamed
Spooky imagery dominates the final 20 minutes.

The Night God Screamed
Fanny is losing her beans!

The Night God Screamed
But she is done fooling around with these hippies.
Brains On Film 2003