Click Image to Purchase Night Fright From Amazon
Night Fright is a 1967 “monster movie” from director James A. Sullivan. While Sullivan’s only other directorial credit is a 1972 made-for-television western called Fair Play, he did have some genre work under his belt serving as the production manager on two more made-for-television films, 1965’s Attack of the Eye Creatures and 1966’s Curse of the Swamp Creatures. Sullivan would also serve as the editor on one of the most notorious “bad movies” around, Manos: The Hands of Fate. Let that last sentence serve as a warning.
A fiery object is seen crashing to Earth in the hills near a rural college town in Texas. Two young lovers are making out in a parked car in a nearby clearing in the woods that the locals have nicknamed “Satan’s Hollow” when they hear a report about the crash on the car radio. Now, I don’t know if this “Satan’s Hollow” is anything like the early arcade game of the same name, but as that “Satan’s Hollow” was filled with gargoyles, demons, and other monstrosities, it’s really not overly surprising when the couple are attacked by an unknown creature. The boyfriend is left in serious condition after the assault, but the poor unfortunate girl is torn to pieces by the beast.
The following morning, we find college student Chris (Ralph Baker Jr., in his only role) arriving at a sorority house to pick up his date, Judy (Dorothy Davis – Cathy’s Curse, Shivers). Chris has arrived a few minutes earlier than expected, so Judy has him wait outside while she finishes getting ready. While he waits, Annie, a recent ex-girlfriend of his, appears at a balcony above. The two former sweethearts begin to chat, perhaps getting a little flirty with each other. Judy reappears while the two are still talking, and immediately gets a little jealous over the situation.
She’s obviously not too upset over the situation as she still gets in his car and they depart for their date. For whatever reason, their “date” is taking place at another clearing on the side of a dirty road in the woods. Chris spends most of the date philosophizing about the universe, while Judy spends most of her time trying to keep her vertebrae from being pulverized under the weight of the delicately sculpted mountain range that some women of the 1960’s called “hair”.
The date continues on in boring fashion, with Chris spouting soliloquies about his philosophy professor. Judy laughs at his anecdotes, clearly fantasizing about someone much more interesting, like Davy Jones or Jim Nabors. Eventually, Chris attempts to move in for a kiss, but Judy playfully runs away. About a quarter-mile away, to be exact.
The audience is finally bared the burden of having to be the “third wheel” in this cinematic hormonal awkwardness when Judy stumbles across “something”, later revealed to be the mutilated body of the young woman from the “lover’s lane” attack. She emits a loud, shrill scream before the image becomes that of a police siren, leading us to the film’s opening credits….. 11 minutes into a 75 minute film. Yup. It’s gonna be a long ride from here.
The film resumes to find local Sheriff Clint Crawford, played by genre star John Agar (Revenge of the Creature, Tarantula) attempting to investigate the crash site, but being stopped from doing so by the government officials already on site. They inform him that it was a “test rocket” that crashed and send Crawford on his way. A call comes over informing him of the attacked college kids. He and his deputy race out to the murder scene and are aghast at what they find. Aided by a reporter that arrives on the scene, the police scour the woods in search of clues.
Tracks, resembling footprints, are soon found in a nearby clearing, but these aren’t any human footprints. These appear to be gator tracks, only much larger. Also noticed is that the tracks are made in sets of 2, instead of a gator’s usual 4. This means that whatever left the prints was walking upright! Crawford also finds a clump of hair stuck to a tree branch, thus making the chances that the murderer is actually an alligator far more unlikely. Ya know, since gators don’t have hair.
While continuing his search, Crawford is almost ran down by a car full of young adults, one of whom is his girlfriend’s younger sister, Darlene. The guy she’s with is “bad news” in Crawford’s book. You can tell from his Frankie Avalon hairstyle. The gang is preparing for a weekend of partying at the boyfriend’s cabin in the woods, but Crawford makes them cancel their plans and turn around. Moments later, his deputy notices that the tracks seem to be traveling away from the rocket crash site, but Crawford doesn’t seem to see any connection. Around this same time, the young man involved in the attack dies from injuries as well.
The sister and her troublemaker boyfriend, Rex, decide to ignore the sheriff’s warnings and throw a party anyway. While out for dinner, Chris and Judy learn about the party from their waitress. Fearing for the group’s safety, Chris and Judy decide to drive out to the cabin to warn the others about the killings that have been occurring in the woods. They arrive to find the party already in full effect, college kids dancing in the woods surrounding the pad. As there were reportedly a lot of drugs and pre-marital sex going on during that era, we should probably be happy that “dancing” was all they were doing.
The deputy happens to be patrolling in the area at that moment and spots the creature. However, due to the piss poor visual quality of the film (as it’s presented on the multitude of cheap, dump bin, public domain releases that it has received), the viewer does not. Attempting to speed away, the deputy buries the squad car in the soft sugar sand just off the side of the road. This leaves him as easy prey for the beast.
Chris and Judy arrive at the party at the cabin and attempt to give their warning, but Rex isn’t about to have them tell him “where” and “when” he can party. Angered, he attempts to punch Chris, but is beaten soundly for the mistake. The “buzz” now effectively “killed”, the partygoers disband and leave the scene. That is, everyone except the ever-defiant Rex and the blissfully obedient Darlene. As expected, the monster quickly appears to finish the job that Chris started.
It is eventually revealed that the creature is indeed an alligator, one that escaped from the crashed space vessel. The rocket was intended to be used as a sort of “galactic Noah’s Ark”, but due to prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation, the animal mutated. The rocket crash is the result of the mutated creature wrecking the ship in its attempt to eat every other creature onboard with it. Now freed from the craft, it continues its buffet, only with humans now as the morsels.
Much like the monster it presents, Night Fright is far too lumbering for its own good. The film spends far too much time leading us to its final anti-climactic ending and not enough time making us care that we took the trip. Even Agar, who was far removed from the bigger films in his B-movie career, is given little more to do than wander around the woods looking for a plot. As mentioned, as the film has yet to see a home video release of decent quality, even when the monster is revealed, the image quality is just far too inferior to make much out clearly. Then again, maybe you aren’t missing much to begin with.
In closing, it’s also worth noting that Night Fright saw VHS release in the United Kingdom as “E.T.N. – The Extraterrestrial Nasty”, shamelessly capitalizing on the success of a much newer film that it has nothing in common with. That said, it does share one undeniable similarity with the E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial video game in that audiences would be better off staying far away from both.