Monday, December 9, 2019

“Things Just Sort of Pop Into It” - Night Vision (1987) - Film #164

When last we visited the mean streets of Denver, it was to celebrate the late Michael Krueger's Mindkiller (1987). Let us now visit Mr. Krueger's ambitious follow-up, Night Vision, released the same year.

Reviewer kannibalcorpsegrinder writes, "Among the many problems with this one is that there's just not enough screen-time here to really get invested in the horror angle behind this one as far too much time is taken up with lame and non- frightening scenarios that just don't give off any true horror feel from any of the scenes." Reviewer yourmotheratemydog715 writes, "It's actually very slow-moving, nothing much really happens, it completely shies away from gore and nudity, and it's not really even a horror movie." And reviewer liefcs writes, "Poor acting, virtually non-existent script, and also makes the mistake of taking itself seriously."

Heaven forbid anything take itself seriously! Read on for the truth about Michael Krueger's Night Vision...

The film begins with cinema verity shots of Denver, Colorado as people work and play and drive cars. We watch a trio of hoodlums break into a car and steal it. Meanwhile, across the street, a Satanic mass is being conducted and recorded with a video camera. The ceremony is suggested through a series of artful quick cuts involving someone in a robe and several white candles.

After the mass is over, a man dressed in a suit climbs through the window of the apartment building and steals both the TV and the VCR from the Satanic apartment.

We are next introduced to Andy Archer, a young man who has just arrived in town with two suitcases. He enters a hotel lobby and asks the first person he sees, “Are you the landlord?”

Unfortunately, in a plot point no doubt inspired by the TV series Happy Days, the hotel is the site of a convention of the Mystical Order of Buffalos, a fraternal organization whose members play practical jokes. Andy checks in, though it is clear he is an unusual person who is not used to the ways of the city. The hotel clerk tells a bellboy, “Please show this gentleman to the special suite we reserve for out-of-town guests. You know, way out-of-town.”

Rudely, the bellboy tosses Andy out onto the street.

He next tries a much less fancy establishment, a tenement catering to a rough crowd, including a cross-dresser and a female clerk holding a baseball bat. He rents a room, which includes a lead pipe under the bed for protection. He unpacks his suitcase, which contains underwear and a manila folder titled SHORT STORIES. Then, in the middle of the day, he falls asleep.

Eventually, Andy gets a job at a video store—a store that files The Entity, Visiting Hours, and The Nesting under Sci-Fi.

Andy also interrupts a violent business transaction between a rumpled man with a mustache and two tall, bleached-blond men with sunglasses. Ill-advisedly, Andy rushes to break up the fight, and somehow the man and Andy escape.

The man, named Vinnie, steals a case of Labatt’s beer and invites Andy back to his messy apartment, where Andy tells him he’s a writer. “How do you decide what to write about?” Vinnie asks.

“Every writer has his own way,” Andy explains. “Some rely on dreams. Some on experiences. I just keep my mind open as much as I can and things just sort of pop into it all on their own.”

Vinnie turns out to be the man who stole the Satanic TV and VCR, which Andy discovers when he sees that Vinnie’s bathroom is full of (stolen) electronic equipment. Andy touches the VCR and gets a static shock...which spills his blood. Vinnie gives him the TV and VCR, as well as the videotape that came with it. (“People wearing robes, saying weird things. Not my cup of tea.”)

At the video store, Andy tries to ask out his boss, a sarcastic woman named Jill. He invites her to watch the random videotape he got with the stolen VCR, but she turns him down. “I don’t like horror movies, Andy. They scare me.”

In his apartment, as he tries to sleep, Andy flips through TV channels on his stolen TV. A talk show is discussion cults. “We’ve heard a lot of rumors about a local group that combines ancient rituals with modern techniques.”

“Yeah, I’m familiar with this group. By utilizing the focus of brain waves—alpha energy, actually—which is a modern-day meditative technique—“

The TV goes to static, and Andy starts to dream.

Later, Andy goes to the video store to look for Jill, but her boss is the only one in the store as he closes up. A man who is locked outside asks, “Do you have Mindkiller on VHS?”

The owner replies, “Sorry, buddy, we can’t keep that one in stock.” He says to Andy, “You ever see that one? It’s really pretty funny.”

Later, Andy starts writing his novel, whose main character is an idealized version of Andy who can do no wrong, but he crumples his manuscript and throws it away. “I need some inspiration,” he says, so he turns on the stolen VCR and watches the stolen VHS tape. The movie shows hooded figures, which Andy finds mysteriously familiar, but he is distracted hearing an incident of domestic violence in the apartment next door. With the TV still on, he goes to sleep, curling up next to a lead pipe.

In the morning, Vinnie breaks into Andy’s apartment and gives him some food. Vinnie also reads something Andy does not remember writing: “The energy lives through an innocent” and something about a demon being receptive.

“I’m not about to get swallowed up by this nightmare you call a city,” Andy tells Vinnie eloquently before Vinnie leaves, stealing Andy’s lead pipe.

Two subplots come together as Vinnie cases a store in preparation for stealing TVs and sees a group of robed men walk to an apartment and chant Satanically. “Something here just ain’t right,” Vinnie says.

After Andy takes a walk with Jill and complains about his life, Andy returns to his apartment and tries to watch the stolen tape again. And he falls asleep again. In a nice visual, the clock on the VCR flashes to 6:66.

A green video distortion surrounds the sleeping Andy, who later writes part of a story about the video store owner that seems to come true.

In a disturbing scene, Andy visits Vinnie in his apartment. Vinnie is clad only in black underwear, an image not easily shaken.

Vinnie explains that, being short, he has to be faster and smarter than the bigger “animals” in the city. The scene plays out with rumbling, grinding industrial sounds on the soundtrack that might be airplanes overhead, or might be the sounds of Lynchian desperation.

“Go to hell, Vinnie,” Andy tells him.

“I’m already there, junior,” Vinnie says profoundly, “and so are you.”

After he finds out the video store has been robbed, Andy returns home, where he relates what he wrote, possibly in a dream, to the store robbery. He goes back to the stolen TV, which appears to be always on, and sleeps in front of it again, which results in him typing some more stories. Soon we find out Andy has published some of his horror stories. “They said they were the scariest they’d ever seen,” he tells his mother on the phone.

In a scene nearly as disturbing as watching Vinnie in his underwear, Jill makes love to Andy in her bed—an act she initiates, though she chews gum the whole time.

Later, Andy is typing when he meets Jill’s roommate, a flirtatious blonde woman.

Later, Jill visits Andy’s apartment, where Andy realizes he just wrote the scene that they are playing out. The next morning, Jill experiences the weird video while Andy waits to use the community bathroom in the building. She touches the VCR and bleeds—but it appears to be a dream.

The story begins moving faster, as Andy writes a story about the death of one of Vinnie’s cohorts after Vinnie tells Andy he expects Andy to drive the getaway car for one of Vinnie’s robberies. The police begin looking for Andy, somehow knowing he’s supernaturally responsible for the death. Vinnie is then visited by a cloaked, Satanic gentleman who threatens him if he doesn’t turn over the cursed videotape, but Vinnie doesn’t know where it is. When Andy finds Vinnie, they decide to go to the mysterious apartment where they heard chanting earlier. They arrive at the apartment, and coincidentally they hear chanting again.

Humorously, the room contains goofy Buffalo lodge members rather than Satanists.

Back at Andy’s apartment, Vinnie and Andy watch the stolen videotape. “The evil force they created was recorded onto the videotape,” Andy realizes. “Of course, it’s not the TV. The force is on the videotape.”

The videotape also shows that Andy was the murderer of Vinnie’s friend after all. Andy attacks Vinnie, but the police and Jill break into the apartment. They take Vinnie away for stealing VCRs, and they take Andy away as a murder suspect.

In the film’s coda, Jill visits Andy, who is typing his stories as a patient in an asylum. Jill tells him, “I’m gonna get you out of here for good, promise, and we’ll go away from all this.”

Andy smiles, but a nurse forces Jill to leave.

Later, a new nurse arrives, and Andy tells her, “I’ve written a story about you.”

The film freezes and fades to black.

Although I have not visited your universe's Denver, Colorado, I must say I am disinclined to do so, based on this film and the brief reference to the city in The Alpha Incident (1977). The city is clearly a hub of non-stop crime, and every character in Night Vision wants to escape its grimy clutches. In fact, based on the visual evidence in this film, it is clearly a surreal, post-apocalyptic ruin of a city where traffic and industrial sounds fill every waking moment and bright lights beam in through windows every second of the night.

The setting notwithstanding, Night Vision is a complex character study centered on Andy Archer, the initially naive character played believably by Stacy Carson. In the opening scenes, the filmmakers present Andy as not just naive but as developmentally delayed. As the film progresses, Andy seems to fit the mold of a young man full of dreams who moves to the big city, but in the end we realize he is in fact a killer--possibly because of the force trapped on the Satanic VHS tape he encounters, perhaps not. Mr. Carson is entirely believable throughout these stages of Andy's character arc, and the finale in the mental institution is chilling indeed.

Few films (The Stay Awake and the aforementioned The Alpha Incident are among them) are able to take a minimalist idea and stretch it to the timespan of a feature-length film. Night Vision performs this trick as well as any of the classics we've discussed on Senseless Cinema. And it does it without the benefit of any wide camera shots (excepting the few establishing shots of the city in the first few seconds).

Night Vision is both more ambitious in terms of story and less ambitious visually than Mr. Krueger's previous film, Mindkiller. While Mindkiller is an amusing comedy with excellent special makeup effects, Night Vision is a serious supernatural character study that takes place mostly in apartments, video stores, and alleys full of trash. Both are fine films, of course, and taken together they display the talent and creativity of Michael Krueger, who tragically passed away at the age of 39. We should do well to remember both works of art as tributes to Mr. Krueger, and as examples of what can be done with minimal resources and maximal talent.