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
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
|Gary Morgan, before
he became stunt coordinator of the Gods...
|Leave Fanny alone
|Dan Spelling, just
hanging around after a script meeting with Gil Lasky.
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