Tuesday, March 10, 2009

CULT TV MOVIE REVIEW: Night Slaves (1970)

Night Slaves (1970) may just be the dullest, cheesiest, most deeply silly TV movie of the seventies. And remember, I've seen Killdozer. It's a long, difficult slog through 75-minutes of ridiculous melodrama.

Directed by Ted Post, Night Slaves (written by the late, great Jerry Sohl) depicts the emotional journey of a man named Clay Howard (James Franciscus). He is disenchanted with his hot wife, Marjorie (Lee Grant), who is having an illicit affair with Clay's lawyer, Matt Russell.

One day, Clay is involved in a car accident and must undergo emergency surgery. The doctors implant a metal plate in his skull during the operation (though -- miraculously - they don't have to shave his head to do so...). Afterwards, Clay's surgeon recommends a vacation, one with "no pressure at all."

So Clay and Marjorie head off together to not-very-scenic Eldrid, California, a dusty old town that advertises itself as "a bit of the Old West." Translation: it's a studio back lot.

Clay soon notices that everyone in Eldrid is suspiciously sleepy, much like the audience of Night Slaves. He soon learns the reason.

By night, the townspeople including - dear god! - Sheriff Leslie Nielsen, turn into hypnotized zombies and are "herded like sheep" onto trucks and transported out of town to perform menial tasks for Noel (Andrew Prine), an alien life form who has taken the human form of the village idiot. Noel's space craft suffered "internal damage" while in flight and now Noel steals "four hours a night" from his human servants.

And here I thought Wal-Mart had atrocious labor practices...

Because of the metal plate lodged conveniently in his head, Clay is immune to Noel's dictatorial work orders. Instead, he falls immediately in love with the alien leader's only crew member, a naive technician named Nailil (Trish Sterling). Nailil shows Clay her damaged spaceship, as well as a selective invisible force field which she can pass through, but which Clay cannot. It blankets the town and prevents egress during the nightly work shift.

Even though they've just met -- and for a grand total of maybe an hour -- Clay and Nailil fall madly in love with each other. So when Noel's spacecraft plans to lift-off at 5:30 am one morning, Clay means to shed his Earthly form and be on board it...

Flaccidly paced, directed and performed, Night Slaves is an extremely tepid interspecies romance. Personally, I'll take combatants/would-be-lovers Angie Dickinson and Lloyd Bridges in Love War over Franciscus and Sterling here. They share no chemistry and it's not even remotely believable that the cynical Clay, so "unhappy on the treadmill" would drop his defenses in a mysterious town long enough to fall in love with...an alien. With the central romance generating no feeling whatsoever, Night Slaves is simply unconvincing.

I'm not totally clear on the details of Noel and his alien nature, either. He says he comes from a "psychokinetic race," one of "pure mind." He has taken human form to oversee the laborers, but his spaceship is clearly corporeal in nature, which baffles me. I mean, he needs humans to do metal work for him. Now explain to me why a formless alien would build a ship he can't repair himself? It sure is lucky he happened by Earth, a third-world sweatshop for free labor, I guess...

More importantly, without any corporeal form, how do Noel and Nailil actually fly their dinky white space ship? Don't they have to push buttons?

And would a 20th century man -- especially an attractive, athletic sort like James Franciscus - really want to surrender physicality to be forever with a "pure mind?" I mean, you can't have intercourse if you have no body to do it with. And Trish Sterling's character is super hot in the body department, but not much in the "pure mind" category, if you catch my drift.

Devoid of interesting locations, special effects, make-up or production values of any and all variety, Night Slaves is a laborious waste of time. When the climax arrives and Nailil and Clay run together through a meadow and embrace each other in slow motion, it descends to total camp.

"I'm sorry you were subjected to all this," Neil the alien declares near Night Slaves' finale.

Apology accepted.


  1. Anonymous6:25 PM

    The thing that I *used to like* about your writing was the total lack of snarkiness. Sorry to see you've lost that admirable quality and fallen prey to the lower rungs on the genre media criticism ladder.

  2. Your criticism would mean a lot more to me if you didn't post anonymously.

    I keep the snark to a minimum...except when it is utterly deserved; as in the case, surely, of Night Slaves.


  3. Even though you don't know me, I think you know me well enough to realize... I HAVE TO SEE THIS FILM! It's a made for TV movie! I actually have a practically unwatchable copy of it (although even if it played fine, it sounds a little unwatchable still!)...

    I am shocked to read that Ted Post directed this. His TVMs are pretty on the money. The one that comes to mind is Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate, which is a great flick.

    I have kind of a high tolerance for these kinds of movies, so my interest in piqued here. Can I survive Night Slaves? I mean, I just got through Supertrain, so I must be able to watch anything! :)

  4. somebody posted this movie on youtube:


  5. Suesilla11:55 AM

    I love this movie. It is the most utterly seventies romance I know of and I will pay good money to own my own copy. When she says, "But I mean it, I really mean it" my heart thrills. Okay, I must be crazy but at least I know it.