March 19, 2011

THE NIGHT CALLER (1965) eerie sci-fi thriller in the Quatermass vein



THE NIGHT CALLER
(UK, 1965)
also called NIGHT CALLER FROM OUTER SPACE
and BLOOD BEAST FROM OUTER SPACE

Now on region 2 DVD in the UK (October 2011)


The Night Caller is a low-budget British ‘B’ movie that I repeatedly revisit. Partly due to the nostalgia factor – I first saw this as a schoolboy in the seventies, only being allowed to stay up late once a fortnight to watch horror films on TV. It reminds me of the excitement and anticipation I felt for horror films back then – they certainly weren’t as easy to see as they are today.


More objectively, I think it's still enjoyable for the mid-sixties London vibe, the tight direction and effortless perfromances. It’s shot in crisp black and white with a creepy use of shadows and ‘dutch’ (slanted) angles when it gets a little crazy! This is before TV’s Batman wore out the technique the following year.


Starting with a UFO landing on wasteland just outside London. The army track it down and bring in three scientists from a nearby Government research facility. Convinced that it was a spacecraft, they're surprised to discover a small sphere, the size of a football, sitting on the ground. There’s no crater, so it must have been guided down. They hold it at their lab for further tests. Surrounded by the army, the scientists discover that, late at night, the object glows intensely and a dark, clawed figure appears.



In the panic, the figure disappears with the sphere, as do dozens of young women a few weeks later. Thinking that they’re going for an exclusive modelling job in the heart of London’s seedy Soho, they don’t realise they’re meeting the monster from the lab. As the kidnappings continue – how can the scientists help the police stop the creature from space?

I forgive the rubber claw that signifies the alien for most of the film. But when it's standing in the shadows completely swathed in rubber, the Soho connection takes dark new meanings. The slightly fractured narrative also logically and faithfully keeps to the original novel ‘The Night Callers’ by Frank Crisp, first published in 1960.




Its many moments of suspense are conjured up by the actors and the intense close-ups, rather than by showing much. Even with so little explicit terror, the film still warranted an X certificate in 1965. (This is a British 'X', only for over-16 year olds, rather than an American 'X' meaning hardcore porn).



Strangely, there’s a scene in the film, ‘blocked' (similar shots, action and set layout) the same way as one in Hammer’s later The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1974) – where Drac poses as a millionaire in a swish futuristic room, backlit by anglepoise lamps so that his face can’t be seen. The same ‘long room and back-lighting’ subterfuge is used halfway through The Night Caller. I've been confusing these two very similar scenes for years without connecting the two.

Director John Gilling peaked in the mid-sixties with this and his Hammer horrors Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile, which he shot back-to-back.



Hard to credit who the actual star is, with the story constantly shifting between characters dealing with the alien, though every actor plays this invasion-from-outer-space plot deadly seriously. A youthful John Saxon (far left) heads the cast, years before Enter the Dragon and Battle Beyond the Stars, or as cops in Argento’s Tenebre, Black Christmas (1973) and several Nightmare on Elm Streets. He’s accompanied by frosty blonde Patricia Haines, who I’m surprised didn’t make more movies. She worked steadily in top British TV series, including three episodes of The Avengers.




The third scientist is the stalwart Maurice Denham, whose most famous role was probably as the panicky recipient of ‘the runes’ in the opening sequence of horror classic Night of the Demon (1957).

Heading the police is Alfred Burke who recently passed away. He specialised in hard-boiled detectives on British TV, notably as the star of Public Eye for ten years. You might have seen him in Children of the Damned, in a very similar role. His last role was in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

There's a star cameo by Aubrey Morris as a creepy porn-merchant, flirting with a granite-faced Burke, "
magic seeing you again”. Morris later played the abusive probation officer in A Clockwork Orange – talk about typecast. More recently he cropped up in Babylon 5 and Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood!

Another bit part has the always excellent John Carson representing the army. Carson played Dr Marcus in Hammer's Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, and the squire in Plague of the Zombies.

For fans of John Cleese's Fawlty Towers, there's a rare straight role by Ballard Berkeley – the only time I’ve seen him onscreen where he's not the alcoholic 'Major'.



Warren Mitchell is in a single improvised scene with Marianne Stone, as parents of a missing teenager. Mitchell is famous in Britain as the bigoted Alf Garnett in TV sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, the original template for the character of Archie Bunker in All in the Family. Despite being typecast, he was versatile enough to play wealthy Russians in a couple of The Avengers episodes and Hammer’s space western Moon Zero Two. Marianne Stone holds the record for most movie appearances by a British actress, a familiar face in the Carry On comedies.




Seeing a good copy of The Night Caller is getting easier. The first DVD was the NTSC region 1 Image Entertainment DVD (pictured above). It's a slightly censored version, with an alternate shot that covers up nudie magazines in the Soho 'bookshop'. More damagingly, it has an awful and dated song over the opening credits, replacing the atmospheric ‘northern soul’ instrumental of the version that's been on telly for decades - one of my favourite movie theme tunes ever! The instrumental is coincidentally called "Image" and is credited to Joe Glenn, Larry Greene and Bob Sande.



A new Italian DVD calls it Madra... Il Terrore Di Londra. Boasting great poster artwork, it's PAL region 2, fullframe 1.33, with alternate English or Italian soundtracks. The Italian subtitles are removable. The instrumental title music has replaced the awful song, though the credits for the song remain onscreen. The opening credits also run slightly long, the end of the music track has been extended to fit by repeating the last few bars. The print used is the same as the US disc, with the same BBFC censorship certificate ('X') at the start, and the slightly censored Soho bookshop scene.



Finally, in 2011, the UK had a DVD release, with the option of seeing the film colorised! It's a 'square' 1.33 full-frame release - I'd have preferred a 1.66 - the colour version is only optional. But this is the UK version that I've been hunting for, with the original instrumental theme tune and thematching title credit sequence. This is therefore the best DVD so far of the UK version - the seedy Soho bookshop scene is even the naughty version!

These 1.33 'fullframe' presentations on DVD cramp the composition, often cutting actors in half if they're at the edge of frame. There've been widescreen presentations on British TV and now there's one on YouTube and it's the entire film in one part.
 The trade-off is that it's also the version with the awful song. The choice is yours.

Of the many presentations I've seen, I've never run into the Blood Beast From Outer Space onscreen title. Never seen a trailer for the film either.

Lastly, here's how the opening instrumental track should sound, with the correct onscreen credits. This is only available in the 2011 UK DVD...



(This article updated November 12th, 2011)







5 comments:

  1. That's John Saxon on the cover. The guy has never been out of work. See some of his very early romance films and you will see quite possibly the sexiest man ever to walk this earth.
    Thanks for Black Hole and all your hard work.
    Sean.

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  2. I love this film and glad to see that there are other people out there that see it's virtue - which is mainly simplicity in the way that the story works out and it's logical ending.
    Great stuff and the US movie theme is SUCH a disappointment!

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  3. I'm glad it's not just me that thinks this! I'm still looking for the good theme tune on CD though...

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  4. I REALLY need to see this! Thanks!

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  5. No special effects credits ! ?. By the way, i remember Patricia Haines 5 years later in that episode of "Up Pompeii" with Frankie Howerd, "PUSSUSS GOLORIA", great name.

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