21st Jul2015

‘Night of the Strangler’ Review (Vinegar Syndrome)

by Mondo Squallido

1972 | Directed by Joy N. Houck Jr.

(a.k.a Dirty Dan’s Women, Is the Father Black Enough, The Ace of Spades)



“Southern Revenge”



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When Denise (Susan McCullough, in her only credited role) returns home to New Orleans with the news that she is pregnant and due to wed back in New York, her oldest brother Dan (James Ralston, The Terminator) is none too pleased, especially when the father and future husband is revealed to be African American. He is as racist as they come and he doesn’t care who knows about it! Fortunately for Denise, her slightly older brother Vance (Mickey Dolenz, The Monkees) is much more supportive. Not that it really matters as she and her fiancee are murdered back in New York by a Vietnam vet-cum-assassin (Patrick Wright, The Abductors). Denise’s fiancee is shot in broad daylight and her death is staged as a grief stricken suicide. Vance ultimately holds Dan responsible. Cue Father Jessie (Chuck Patterson, The Five Heartbeats), an African American priest returning to his parish. Due to recent events, he is asked to get involved and ultimately try to resolve the feud between Dan and Vance. Not only does Vance have his suspicions about Dan’s involvement in Denise’s death, Vance also has to deal with Dan marrying his ex girlfriend, Carol (Ann Barrett, in her only credited role), but that situation is quickly resolved when she is killed by a poisonous snake in a bouquet of flowers. These unfortunate women aren’t the only ones who wind up dead. Who is this anonymous assassin and who hired him? Does Jessie have anything to do with this? Can detectives De Vino (Michael Anthony, Mosquito Squadron) and Bunch (Harold Sylvester, Innerspace) figure it out before more people wind up dead? If I told you, I’d have to kill you. There are a few twists and turns though!

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At it’s core, Night of the Strangler deals with themes that are still relevant to this day. The concept of mixed marriages is one that still troubles some people. Racism itself is still a hotly debated issue and the fact that a film like this was released when it was, adds a level of historical importance. Those of you who feel uncomfortable with racial language will be shocked at how vile Dan is as a human being. With the racism element put aside, Night of Strangler is a fairly solid, no budget crime thriller that has its moments, but does tend to drag in places. Writers J.J. Milane (Women and Bloody Terror), Robert A. Weaver (The Brain Machine) and Jeffrey Newton (his only writing credit) may have done a more than respectable and tactful job at dealing with themes of race, but their attempts at keeping interest and utilising red herrings effectively often miss the mark. That isn’t to say you won’t be entertained by this film. The final twist does have impact and the film overall, is solidly acted. The kills (even though there is  no actual strangling in the film) are varied and executed well. There’s also the added and unintentionally charming addition of having Mickey Dolenz in the cast. However, I must say that some scenes are badly staged and shot by Dennis J. Clipnic (his only credit… I’m not surprised). If you have an intolerance for out of focus cinematography, you may cringe a few times.

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Overall, Night of the Strangler is a nice little oddity that may not be perfect, but has charm as well as the social context. Some will find this a much more entertaining film than others and fans of Houck Jr who are more familiar with the likes of Night of Bloody Horror and Creature from Black Lake will get more of an insight in to his work. Even though I didn’t find this film a complete triumph, I do appreciate a film such as this getting a newly restored release for both fans and exploitation film buffs a like. Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration of the American Genre Film Archive’s  print may not be their finest work, but it would be extremely unfair to just regard it as a merely passible transfer. It doesn’t help that the cinematography wasn’t exactly brilliant. All in all, it’s another solid job and fans looking to upgrade will be more than happy. There are no special features on the disc, maybe a trailer would have been a nice addition, but I have no idea of the availability (there isn’t even one uploaded to Youtube), so I have reason to complain. For fans of good graphic design, you will more than enjoy the DVD artwork.

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Night of the Strangler is available on DVD from Vinegar Syndrome.

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