Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Night Walker
Director William Castle was the king of the film gimmick. You didn’t need 3-D glasses for his movies. Audiences went in, were told they were in for the thrill of a lifetime, offered insurance in case they got scared and didn’t know what to expect. Many film historians remember him best for his movie The Tingler, where he placed buzzers under the seats that were set to go off when the monster was about. A good bulk of his movies were all about the sportsmanship and enjoyment of films. Interactivity and just plain fun where the main ingredients to what gave his films such charm and respect. Something that would later be done and perfected with Midnight Movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pink Flamingos where audiences members throw stuff at the screen and shout lines.
But of all the movies that shouldn’t go unnoticed by Castle, The Night Walker seems to be so underrated that as of this review, it has no DVD release. Thankfully it exists on VHS and laserdisc as well as the opportunity to have an airing on monster movie host Svengoolie’s show. Instead of audience interactivity, the gimmick lies within the movie itself as Castle gives us a story with real suspense and horror. It manages to be eerie, frightening and unsettling at the same time. But does it deserve the cold shoulder it keeps getting?
The opening prologue narrated by Paul Frees does into a depth detail about the nature of dreams. What we know about them and what we fear from them. The surreal nature to the essence belief that if one where to die in a dream, they die in real life. Already by the first minute, we are hooked. Who isn’t interested in the aspect of separating reality from our own personal fantasy? It puts you in the right mood and adds to the theme of the movie. In a sense, I do wonder if cutting this opening out would change anything but the amount of description and set-up for what kind of film we are to embark on does help a bit.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Irene Trent who is married to a possessive millionaire that also happens to be blind. Also, he happens to be an inventor which is strange how you have to take into context his ability to craft such mechanical devices in his laboratory despite the fact he can’t see. Aside from that nitpick, her husband is completely jealous when he hears Irene talk in her sleep about a mysterious man. This results in a very intense yet brief moment when they argue and he responds by beating her with a cane. Its not graphically executed but probably too intense for sensitive viewers.
Things kick off when an explosion at his laboratory takes his life and
Irene has trouble with her dreams. Apparently, she keeps having visions of a strange man (Lloyd Bochner) dubbed “The Dream” in the credits. “The Dream” is very much an exact description of the person she keeps seeing in her dreams and spends a lot of time comforting her. While on the sidelines, the charred and burnt figure of her dead husband haunts her nightmares as well. This changes gears during one of the most unsettling scenes when he takes Irene to a church full of lifeless mannequins as “The Dream” tries to marry her. None of their lips move, voices are heard from them and plays out in a very creepy way. I know your probably reading this and thinking how can that be frightening. And here I say, its part of the atmosphere of the movie. In this scene alone, the haunting organ music, the abundance of dutch angles and the look of fright on Irene adds to the tension. Instead of being scary in scenes, it builds to a creepy feeling that sinks in.
Throughout the Night Walker, we question what state of reality we are in and question the cues to know if Irene is dreaming or just experiencing this in real life. From the way the scenes are shot with an other-wordily manner to how grounded reality tries to be, we find ourselves engaged in knowing where this will all lead. The plot takes many twists and turns to help us piece together what kind of person Irene is and what her “dreams” mean. Writer Robert Bloch, known for his novel Psycho, fills each frame with plenty of guesses and clues to hold our interest. Another big help is the musical score by Vic Mizzy who is more remembered for doing composing music for episodes of the Addams Family. The score is a little cartoonish but adds a nail-biting feeling at the right times.
The Night Walker is a near perfect film but sadly there is one big flaw that nearly ruins it and its the ending. I won’t spoil exactly what the huge twist is but with so much build up, you kind of expect something powerful to match the level of psychological intensity. The twist in question is acceptable but how it pays off in the end is very weak. Regardless, I do feel bad this has yet to receive a DVD release as I can see it gaining a bigger audience. I feel bad this movie didn’t do well at the box office despite being a mixed to generally favorable with critics at the time. The tone has a Hitchcokian feel in the filming as the writing is something close to Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone. If your in the mood for a very suspense filled feature, this is one worth hunting down.
Posted on October 10, 2015, in Horror-Wood 2015 and tagged Dreams, Gimmicks, Horror, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Lloyd Bochner, nightmares, Paul Frees, Psycho, Robert Bloch, The Night Walker, The Twilight Zone, Vic Mizzy, William Castle. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.