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Retro Review: NIGHT VISITOR (1989)

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NIGHT VISITOR
(US - 1989)

Directed by Rupert Hitzig. Written by Randal Viscovich. Cast: Elliott Gould, Allen Garfield, Michael J. Pollard, Shannon Tweed, Richard Roundtree, Derek Rydall, Brooke Bundy, Teresa Vander Woude, Scott Fults, Kathleen Bailey, Teri Weigel, Henry Gibson, Bruce Kimmel, Ann Dane. (R, 93 mins)

A ludicrous "Satanic Panic" riff on the '80s horror favorite favorite FRIGHT NIGHT with a bit of Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW, 1989's NIGHT VISITOR (just out on Blu-ray from Scorpion because physical media is dead), was pretty much swept under the rug by MGM/UA, who only got it on a handful of screens in a very limited release before it turned up in every video store in America. Horndog high school prankster and bullshit artist Billy Colton (Derek Rydall) gets pretty excited when sultry tease Lisa (Shannon Tweed) moves in next door. His mom sends him over with a gift basket and he gets a peck on the cheek goodbye as Lisa welcomes an older gentlemen friend at the door. His bedroom window happens to face hers, so he digs out a long-unused telescope and watches her having sex with the man, and from her look toward his window with a smile and wink, she seems perfectly OK with his newfound interest in voyeurism. When another guy stops over the next night, Billy is convinced she's a high-class prostitute but his dork buddy Loomis (Scott Fults) and platonic crush Kelly (Teresa Vander Woude) think he's full of shit. Determined to convince them of his hunch, Billy gets a ladder and takes a camera up to Lisa's roof to peep in her candle-illuminated bedroom window to get proof. Of course, it's the exact moment when a screaming Lisa, handcuffed to the bed, is stabbed to death by a robed figure wearing a horned goat mask as part of a Satanic sex ritual. Billy is attacked through the window by the killer and manages to snap some shots in the process before ripping off the goat mask. And wouldn't you know it? The killer is Billy's asshole history teacher Mr. Willard (Allen Garfield), who just had him suspended for excessive tardies and setting off an explosive whoopee cushion in class, which was actually dumbass Loomis' doing.






Capt. Crane (Richard Roundtree as yet another irate police captain in a late '80s B-movie) seems skeptical of Billy's story, especially with his history of pranks and dog-ate-my-homework lies, the fact that there's no photos of the killer since he forgot to take off the lens cap, and that he was on Lisa's roof peeping in the first place. But Crane is dealing with a series of serial ritual-style murders of prostitutes, with Lisa the latest victim, so he visits Willard's house and finds him and his half-wit brother Stanley (Michael J. Pollard, cast radically against type as "Michael J. Pollard") weird enough to consider Willard a person of interest. As well he should, since Willard permits Stanley to keep a hooker (Teri Weigel) chained up and ball-gagged in the basement as a human toy, and Willard starts threatening Billy over the phone and after class (cutting off a snip of his hair for a future ritual) since he knows his secret. With no one to turn to, Billy reaches out to his late father's buddy--alcoholic, retired forensics cop Devereaux (Elliott Gould)--to help prove Willard's guilt.


Cranked out in two-and-a-half weeks by debuting director and former producer (ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, WOLFEN, JAWS 3-D) Rupert Hitzig, NIGHT VISITOR never takes itself too seriously. Or rather, the legitimate actors working through a career slump because they've got bills to pay never take it too seriously, with Pollard in particular grinning and smirking throughout and looking openly contemptuous of the material. Top-billed Gould doesn't even appear until halfway through and doesn't really look like he wants to be there, even though a hilarious climactic showdown pitting a shotgun-toting Gould against a chainsaw-wielding Pollard is almost worth the price of admission. NIGHT VISITOR might've worked more effectively if Garfield (also Gould's nemesis in Peter Hyams' amazing BUSTING) and Pollard weren't goofing off like a comedy team most of the time. From Mr. Willard's first appearance being a fussy, irritable prick to his students, a toupeed Garfield--a Character Actor Hall of Famer in the news a few months ago as one of the first Hollywood figures to succumb to COVID-19, contracted in a nursing home where he was living after a massive stroke in 2004--plays the character like a comical creep, coming off less like a malevolent threat along the lines of Chris Sarandon's vampire in FRIGHT NIGHT and more like a Satanist George Costanza.


As played by Garfield and Pollard, there's no way a pair of clowns like Willard and Stanley could get away with these murders for as long as they do. The name actors probably got onboard because they knew Hitzig from his producing days, which would explain Henry Gibson's improbable casting as a police department psychologist (Gibson, Garfield, and Gould were all in Robert Altman's NASHVILLE in better days). The best part of NIGHT VISITOR is Tweed, who's killed off rather early but is an absolute charmer in her brief screen time (the wink and the goofy grin she gives Billy as he spies on her from his bedroom feels like something she came up with on her own), and was always a better actress than her prolific career in countless unrated DTV erotic thrillers in the '90s would indicate. This also marked the beginning of Rydall's very short-lived career as a horror star, following this with the title role in the same year's PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE and the 1991 cult favorite POPCORN before quitting acting to become a writer, scripting several episodes of POWER RANGERS WILD FORCE and the sixth BEETHOVEN movie.


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