26 Days Until Halloween, 2013: DEMENTIA aka DAUGHTER OF HORROR (1955), NIGHT OF FEAR (1972)


Another double feature today, although both films are no more than an hour long. That’s not all they have in common. Both were initially censored or banned before theatrical release and both feature absolutely no dialogue. These aren’t silent films, though. The lack of dialogue is a stylistic choice in both cases.

DEMENTIA is a stunning mix of experimentation (a’ la Maya Deren and Luis Bunuel) film noir, and B-Movie horror. Variety called it, “the strangest film ever offered for theatrical release.” It’s a pretty intense ride filled with dark, grainy images that are sure to stick with you. This is the “edited” version that was released in 1957 called DAUGHTER OF HORROR. Some voice overs by a young Ed McMahon are added to this version and there are a few small cuts but, as far as I know, this is the music featured in the original: a soundtrack created by the avante garde composer George Antheil with vocals by Marni Nixon. The film has quite rightly developed a devoted cult following but, unlike films like FREAKS and CARNIVAL OF SOULS, it has yet to become a mainstream “alternative”. Give it a few more years. The uncut version, without the voice over, has only been release recently by Kino Films.

Oh, did I mention that this is the movie the soon-to-be-departed children are watching in the 50s version of THE BLOB? Well…it is…

Other than the aforementioned similarities, NIGHT OF FEAR is an entirely different kind of film. It was originally created for Australian television as the pilot for an anthology show called “Fright” but, for reasons that should be clear upon viewing, was never shown on tv. It was then completely banned for theatrical release until the fillmmakers fought for an “R” rating, which in 1972 had only been in existence for about a year in Australia.

Let me digress for a moment… Recently I did a little research project for which I spent 6 hours at the microfiche machine in the Chicago Public Library looking at horror movie advertisements from 1970 through 1975 (mostly in the Chicago Tribune). It’s not until I actually reviewed these advertisements that I had the full sense of how groundbreaking THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE actually was. Before that movie came out, the average film goer only had access to Hammer Horror, B-movie monster mashes, and comparitively tame giallo films with Agatha Christie-esque plots (and that’s in a major metropolitan area). I can’t even imagine the experience it must have been for people to walk into THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE completely blind…perhaps expecting something along the lines of PSYCHO mixed with Herschell Gordon Lewis. Minds were most certainly blown.

That’s what makes NIGHT OF FEAR such an interesting film. Watching it without making comparisons to the TEXAS CHAINSAW is impossible, down to the amazing primitive-chic set design and sanity eclipsing close-ups, and yet NIGHT OF FEAR was made two years earlier. It almost seems as if Tobe Hooper HAD to have seen NIGHT OF FEAR somewhere and decided to make a remake…or reimagining…

Of course it doesn’t have the brutal impact of CHAINSAW (not much does), and there are some grand lapses in logic, but you can see the same subversive reversals of horror movie norms going on (particularly in the editing). There is the same deliberate, nihilistic path drawn for the protagonist, and you can imagine the film set smelled of rotting meat just as badly for NIGHT OF FEAR as it did for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.






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