Premiering April 8 at the Phoenix Film Festival, “Night of Something Strange” showed me things I’ve never seen before and made me feel things I hope I never feel again. That being said, I absolutely loved the pure, unadulterated, unhinged insanity that director Jonathan Straiton spewed into this Grindhouse-style horror flick.
The horror genre is a strange one indeed. Its goal is to elicit reactions from the audience by showing us terrible, terrible things. Even more fascinating is how we respond. Depending on the director’s choice, a character’s bowels spilling on the floor can range from disturbing, terrifying, or hilarious. Others show very little, but can get under our skin with dialogue. (Fava beans anyone?) There’s nothing subtle about “Night of Something Strange”, as it throws absolutely everything at the screen. Thankfully, humor is the driving emotion behind this sexualized gorefest, and the audience is quickly energized in unified laughter, groans, and gasps. (or was it dry heaving I heard?)
The opening scene in which a morgue janitor, Cornelius, (Wayne W. Johnson) contracts a mutant STD, that also turns victims into hormone-crazed zombies, quickly clears the crowd of those who stumbled into the wrong theatre. After that jarring intro, it introduces the ensemble cast via the standard last-day-before-spring-break-high school lineup, a required trope in any self-respecting horror film. We meet the likes of Christine (Rebecca C. Kasek), Samara (Alexis Katherine), Freddy (Michael Merchant), and Jason (John Walsh). (See what they did there?) Once these juveniles begin their trek to the beach, it doesn’t seem to matter how long they drive or which detours they take, they are always only steps ahead of the undead sexual predator Cornelius and his fatal hungers. What follows is an amazing string of gross out gags, effects, and slayings that somehow manages to top one other until the credits roll an hour later. With more bodily functions and fluids than a semester in Anatomy 101, it’s enough to make Elvira blush.
It takes a lot of talent and conviction to make a film this disgusting so enjoyable and entertaining. Tonally it’s very similar to “The Evil Dead” and “Slither”, and contains an awesome nod to “Feast”, but the content is more extreme than all of those combined. Many lesser films of this nature are cheap and off-putting. Could it be that the amount of love put into making this movie somehow transcends all the crass visuals and enchants the audience? Consider this: Following the premier, Jonathan Straiton, Janet Mayson, and Michael Merchant appeared for a short Q&A. While listing off his inspirations for this madness, I noticed a mischievous twinkle in his expression that immediately conjured memories of a beloved pet dropping a mauled reptile or bird at my feet as a gift. I was disgusted, yet it was clear the gift was presented in love. It’s also clear that his team of performers trust his madness implicitly. On the rare occasion I try to describe certain scenes in this film to my associates, I quickly check my surroundings and speak in hushed tones. Somehow Mr. Straiton was able to not only write this script down, but then proceeded to convince people to perform in it, film it, and show it to the public! Merchant’s performance is particularly engaging and courageous. Spending most of the story as the token asshole of the group, he eventually reaches a point where we pity him through a hilariously uncomfortable turn of events. Ironically, an asshole is exactly what brings about the curvature of his character arc. (It should be noted that Merchant is an incredibly friendly person in real life.)
If you can handle the content, and believe me nothing is sacred, this movie should not be missed. To be fair, it’s an exhausting film, but only because so much of it is spent recoiling with legs crossed, eyes wide, and chin dropped. You may also need to spend the next day in confession or repent in whatever fashion your faith requires, but it’ll be worth it. In all honesty, this is the first film in which I have audibly shouted “Oh Shit!” since “28 Days Later.” That my fellow cinephiles, is a raging endorsement.
“Night of Something Strange” took home the Best Horror Feature Copper Wing Award at the festival.