Friday, September 23, 2016

Retro Review: EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985)

(US - 1985)

Directed by Mardi Rustam. Written by Mardi Rustam and Phillip D. Connors. Cast: Neville Brand, Aldo Ray, Julie Newmar, John Carradine, Tina Louise, Karrie Emerson, Tony O'Dell, Bridgett Holloman, David Hawk, G.T. Taylor, Kelly Parsons, Bonnie J. Karlyle (Dawn Wildsmith), Amber Lynn, Paul Siederman (Jerry Butler), Shone Taylor, Jody Swafford, Lisa Stanyo (Crystal Breeze), Traci Escobar. (R, 85 mins)

Though they've made a name for themselves with their restorations of classic 1970s and early 1980s hardcore porn films, Vinegar Syndrome has also become a devoted curator of some of the worst genre films of the 1980s. After giving new life to forgotten batshit Z-listers like THE EXECUTIONER PART II (1984) and NIGHTMARE WEEKEND (1986), among others, Vinegar Syndrome has just released the 1985 sci-fi/alien/slasher/T&A hybrid EVILS OF THE NIGHT in a new Blu-ray set that includes the 85-minute theatrical cut and an extensively re-edited 93-minute TV version. A legitimate contender for the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE of its decade, EVILS OF THE NIGHT has an inane plot that takes forever to get going, primarily because director/co-writer Mardi Rustam spends an inordinate amount of time on several softcore sex scenes involving minor, extraneous characters played by moonlighting porn stars like Amber Lynn, Jerry Butler, and Crystal Breeze (these actors are completely cut from the TV version). That's not necessarily a bad thing, but by the time everything is finally set in motion, it looks like Rustam is hastily piecing together three or four different movies and hoping it all works itself out. That's actually perfectly fitting, as Rustam got his start producing haphazardly-assembled Al Adamson stitch jobs like the legendarily awful DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971).

There's the extended Skinemax-style sexcapades of the porn actors. There's some camping teenagers (among them Karrie Emerson and HEAD OF THE CLASS' Tony O'Dell, both on their way to the next year's CHOPPING MALL) who appear to have wandered in from a FRIDAY THE 13TH ripoff. There's a team of alien doctors--John Carradine in a silver spacesuit as Dr. Kozmar, Julie "Catwoman" Newmar in a low-cut dress as Dr. Zarma, and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND's Tina Louise looking frumpy as Cora...yep, just Cora--who have arrived and commandeered an abandoned rural hospital where they're harvesting the blood and plasma of abducted teenagers in an effort to keep their species eternally young (one look at 79-year-old Carradine and his arthritic hands and you'll conclude that their efforts are failing). Then there's Kurt (Neville Brand) and Fred (Aldo Ray), a pair of dipshit mechanics being paid in some kind of alien space tokens (unconvincingly portrayed by a handful of quarters) to abduct the teenagers and keep them captive at their garage until Kozmar needs them. This hardly cuts into their workload, since every time we see them, Kurt is sweeping the same spot or thumbing through a Playboy, while Fred paints the same wall red, all of this despite having several cars in the garage that are waiting to be repaired. EVILS OF THE NIGHT is that kind of movie. Nothing makes sense and no one seems to be on the same page. Watch the scene where Emerson's character is fleeing for her life from Ray's crazed Fred, but can't really convey the urgency of the situation because the most she bothers mustering is a leisurely jog to elude him.

Rustam was better known as an exploitation producer, with Ray Danton's PSYCHIC KILLER (1975) and Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE (1976) being his most noteworthy productions. Distributed to the drive-in circuit in the fall of 1985 by Terry Levene's Aquarius Releasing, EVILS OF THE NIGHT was Rustam's first released attempt at directing a movie himself, as his EVIL TOWN was shot mostly in 1977 but unreleased until 1987. Still going strong at 85--he's interviewed on the EVILS Blu--Rustam's third and last film to date as a director is the Casper Van Dien-starring 1997 biopic JAMES DEAN: LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG, which is only notable for being the final film appearance of the legendary Robert Mitchum. Even in his early days with Adamson, Rustam always managed to corral enough cash to get some slumming name actors in his productions, but EVILS OF THE NIGHT goes a bit further by mixing up old Hollywood vets like Carradine, Brand, and Ray (the latter two probably crocked) and veteran porn stars who probably saw this cheap project as their ticket to legit cinema or, at the very least, a SAG card. That extends to Rustam co-writing the script with veteran XXX writer Phillip D. Connors, whose credits include such titles as ORAL MAJORITY 2: THE BIG GULP, DEEP THROAT III, and BACKDOOR SUMMER II.

Carradine, Newmar, and Louise visibly hold the material in contempt while carrying themselves like pros, but Brand and Ray are a pretty sorry sight. Ray was used to junk like this and had even taken a supporting role in the hardcore porno western SWEET SAVAGE a few years earlier. Brand (1920-1992), one of the most decorated American soldiers in WWII and a long way from his days as Al Capone opposite Robert Stack's Eliot Ness on the classic ABC series THE UNTOUCHABLES, was no stranger to Rustam productions (his sustained level of amped hysteria in Hooper's EATEN ALIVE must be seen to be believed, and both he and Ray were in PSYCHIC KILLER). but seeing him here, thumbing through nudie mags, gorily drill-killing a scantily-clad young woman, and grunting "Sure would like to hump one of 'em" after stringing up his latest female victim for the aliens is a little depressing. Brand's career had been declining for years (though he had a solid supporting role in William Peter Blatty's 1980 cult classic THE NINTH CONFIGURATION), but this was hitting bottom, and that includes his jerking-off scene in Bert I. Gordon's insane THE MAD BOMBER. Though it would be another seven years until his death from emphysema in 1992, Brand retired from acting following EVILS OF THE NIGHT, making it a particularly demeaning swan song for the veteran character actor. Also featuring laser beams, future Fred Olen Ray regular Dawn Wildsmith, and some songs by none other than Eddie Mekka (Carmine on TV's LAVERNE & SHIRLEY), EVILS OF THE NIGHT isn't quite on the level of jawdropping insanity as THE EXECUTIONER PART II and NIGHTMARE WEEKEND, though it comes close in the final third, right down to a surprisingly clever and funny climactic callback to Kurt's too-long shoelaces becoming his undoing that's almost proto-Larry David in its timing and execution. EVILS OF THE NIGHT is a total piece of shit, but the bit about the shoelaces shows that at least some thought went into it.

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