The best stuff here is unintentional: a close look at the go-go era of garish colors, way-out slang, and cool cars. Actually, the premise is pretty good too. The spaceship crashing in a remote area, with its monster running amok, until the partnership of lawmen, scientists, and assorted locals lays a cunning trap for it…that’s a well-worn, but also well-grounded plot line for 50s-60s sci-fi. The monster isn’t so bad either; fittingly for a mutant, it’s a sort of ape/alien mash-up.
The teen/young adult backdrop, with dance parties, fist fights, and make-out spots, should hold this together. But, first we have to troll through a twelve minute lead-in, with the thrilling Chrysler station wagon going down every dirt road in Texas. Ok, there is a black-and-white glimpse of the monster in there, but I was already bored before anything happened. I don’t mind the sheriff griping about “those govmunt boys” throwing a cloak over the spaceship crash, so to speak; that’s an expected local v. big-city device common to this genre. But do we need to hear it repeated a dozen times?
The scientist does the necessary service of trying to identify the critter–although the cast of its paw looks oddly like a huge chicken-fried steak. This useful bit comes near the end of the movie; it should be clear what they’re dealing with much sooner. One major casualty of this delayed response is any sense of tension. We know there’s a monster–though we don’t get a decent look until 46 minutes in. Strangely, the “guvment boys” never actually put in an appearance. Although they apparently want to keep things quiet, it means that the local cops, all two of them, plus their posse, are all the monster has to deal with.
I get that the low budget meant that the cast had to be small; but it’s dumb to make such a big deal out of outside authorities, and then forget that they exist. This only works in films like The Thing, where the setting is so remote that outside help is believably impossible. The explanation that the spaceship was a sort of experimental Noah’s Ark, its critters mutated by radiation, is original. More mutants would’ve been more fun, but, again, another monster suit would’ve probably been too extravagant.
I haven’t really touched on the really weak bits: characters taking turns stumbling through the leaves and branches, the two women who hurry away from their car to escape the monster, and those ever-present woods and back roads. Never have I felt so numbed by a setting; if we’re stuck in one locale at least let the monster get into town for some extra-credit mayhem. I didn’t mind the sort of eternal twilight look going on for most of the film. It doesn’t make sense, but the lake scene looks cool with all the vibrant colors poking through the darkness. Night Fright does take itself seriously, and has plenty of elements to work with. There’s no annoying narrator to tell us what we’re supposed to see; but, excepting the details noted, there just isn’t all that much to see. 3/10.