Monday, August 29, 2022

“Where the Hell Is My Head?” - Night of Bloody Horror (1969) - Film #236

Night of Bloody Horror (1969) is the first film directed by The Night of the Strangler (1972) auteur Joy N. Houck Jr. Unlike that Mickey Dolenz vehicle, Night of Bloody Horror is a vehicle for a young Gerald McRaney. Like that film, however, it is an incisive portrait of a disturbed individual trapped in circumstances out of their control. It also includes axe and cleaver murders as well as desiccated corpses.

Despite these qualities, some of your universe's critics are somewhat misguided about Night of Bloody Horror. For example, reviewer nogodnomasters writes, "Sound is horrible. Acting is pathetic. Not recommended even for camp value." Reviewer soulexpress writes, "The film is quite tedious between murder scenes. And the murders themselves don't really show a lot. Fans of blood and gore will likely be disappointed." And reviewer grybop writes, "There is almost no suspense, in fact waiting to see if the next scene is worse than the one you are watching is far more suspenseful."
Are these reviewers as misguided as a shirtless Gerald McRaney? Read on for the answers...

The film opens with young adults making love in a bed, then smoking a cigarette. The man (played by a young, rail-thin, non-bald Gerald McRaney) gets out of bed, but he suddenly has a terrible headache, visualized as a blue vortex appearing over his right shoulder. He leaves the room and the woman begins sobbing.

The next day, the woman visits a church and enters a confessional. She admits to the priest, who is dressed in a monk’s robe and hood, that she is sleeping with her fiancé. The priest immediately says, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the lord. Your penance is…death!” Then he stabs her in the eye with a sharp implement.

The man runs away, leaving her in the confessional. Blood runs down the knitting needle with which he stabbed her, though it is not yet the night of bloody horror because it is not nighttime yet.

There follows a beautiful shot of a casket being lowered into a grave from the point of view of the casket.

After the woman’s funeral, Mr. McRaney returns home only to be scolded by his mother about his dead brother Jonathan and his lack of respect for the dead. His mother enters another room and we hear her not-at-all-suspicious conversation with someone else behind a closed door. “He has no respect. No respect at all. I wish you’d speak to him.”

The other voice says, “Now, Agatha, Wes is a good boy. He’s been through a lot these last few days. You know what it’s like, Agatha. You know what it’s like to bury someone you love.”

The film fades to a dark room, where Mr. McRaney creepily rides a rocking horse. The image of his face freezes and we view the cemetery with his ghostly eyes hanging above it.

A year later, Mr. McRaney drinks in a bar with his friend, whom he threatens with a broken bottle. The bartender chases him out of the bar; in the process, Mr. McRaney reveals he is carrying a big wad of cash, prompting a ne’er-do-well and two buddies to jump Mr. McRaney in the parking lot. After they beat him up and steal his money, a nurse finds him and takes him to her house, where he wakes up naked in the morning. “Who the hell are you? Where the hell am I? Where the hell is my head?”

The nurse tells him her name is Kay and she is a nurse. She recaps last night for his benefit (a night that involved a car chase which the audience unfortunately missed): “I was coming home from work, from a late shift, and I see three men bashing your brains in. I stop and they take off like bats out of Hell. I then get out of the car and see you bleeding like a stuck pig. With a little help from the bartender, I put you in the car to drive home. You then immediately become a police siren. It’s all right. I figure you’re drunk, you just got beat up, and if you want to be a police siren, be a police siren. Then those funny friends of your show up and want to play chase. What’d you do to those three guys? So anyway, I finally get you home, clean you up, and put you in bed.”

She leaves the room and Mr. McRaney mumbles, “Things like this just don’t happen.”

When she returns to the room and he discovers he is nude in her bed, he tries to figure out what happened last night. “Did I try…?”


After a well-timed pause, he asks, “Did I do any good?”

The film prefers not to answer the question, fading out with a comedic musical sting and then cutting to a montage of still pictures showing Mr. McRaney and Kay having dinner at a fancy restaurant (a slideshow that clearly would have been created in iMovie if iMovie had existed in 1969).

Later, Mr. McRaney fights with his mother because she wanted to finish some gardening while he made plans to go to the beach with Kay. At the beach, they have a heart-to-heart about their relationship. “Remember when we met?” she asks him.

“Not really.”

“This may sound funny, but here I am going with a guy who I found drunk in the street and I still don’t know anything about his family. Oh, I met your mother, I know, but I don’t know anything about your father and brother.”

“I’d rather not talk about it.” Mr. McRaney has another headache marked with a blue spiral superimposed over his head.

Recovering, he decides to leave Kay on the beach while he walks down the beach to get a bear from the local store, outside of which a man chops wood with an axe. Mr. McRaney, still reeling from the effects of his headache, blacks out and has a flashback to an incident from his childhood that involved a gun going off and a lot of bright red blood.

In the next scene, we see the camera’s POV approach Kay on the beach. She says Mr. McRaney’s name, and then a small hatchet is buried in her chest.

Mr. McRaney pulls the hatchet out. “What have I done? What have I done?”

In a clever transition, the film fades from Kay’s blood on the sand to a bowl of tomato soup being eaten by a doctor, soon revealed to be Dr. Moss, a man from Mr. McRaney’s past. He receives a letter from Mr. McRaney’s mother telling him Mr. McRaney is being held for suspicion of murder. The doctor rushes back to help his former patient.

Meanwhile, Mr. McRaney is questioned by two aggressive detectives suspicious that he is killing his girlfriends. “Why would I call you and then stay around and wait to be arrested?  I’d have to be nuts to do something like that.”

One of the detectives says, “You’d have to be a psychopath. Or like you just said, nuts.”

Mr. McRaney explodes with anger at the term “nuts,” which he just used seconds earlier. “Don’t call me that!”

“Call you what?” the other detective asks. “Nuts? We hit a soft spot, didn’t we?” Then he mentions something called the Anderson case, where a man killed two girls. “He was nuts too. But he had another problem. He didn’t like girls at all.” The detective uses two pejorative terms, which causes Mr. McRaney to explode in anger again.

Mr. McRaney is quickly released, and he tells the detectives, “I didn’t kill those girls.”

When he gets home, Mr. McRaney finds yet another beautiful woman sitting on the front steps of his house. “I smell a reporter,” he says, and he is correct. She sets up a time to meet with him and he agrees, wanting to tell his side of the story.

The film cuts to the psychedelic (including negative colors and dripping animation) performance of a rock band in a bar, a performance that lasts what can only be described as an eternity. Mr. McRaney watches the band, and then is assaulted by a man who accuses him of being a maniac who killed two girls. The two men fight in the bar while the rock band continues to play obliviously. At the end of the fight (but, tragically, not the rock song), Mr. McRaney is taken back to the police station without having spoken with the reporter. Fortunately for the audience, Dr. Moss has arrived to offer some backstory. “Lieutenant, just because the boy spent thirteen years in an asylum does not make him a murderer. The shock of accidentally shooting his younger brother…caused the mental breakdown.”

The police release Mr. McRaney again, this time under Dr. Moss’s custody. Dr. Moss drives him back to his mother’s house, where Mr. McRaney makes a big deal of surprising his mother that Dr. Moss is in town. Mr. McRaney immediately becomes angry that his mother sent the telegram to Dr. Moss to get him to come to town. His confrontation with the older man and woman is a marvel of filmmaking, as his mother’s and Dr. Moss’s heads fill the screen, blocking Mr. McRaney’s performance for a a few moments but diminishing his anger not at all. Mr. McRaney ends the confrontation eloquently: “Next time you want to help me, try staying out of my life!”

After Mr. McRaney storms away, his mother tells Dr. Moss that she’s talked to Carl, Mr. McRaney’s father, about this but the father says to leave Mr. McRaney alone. Dr. Moss looks suspicious about her talking to Carl, suggesting to the audience that Carl might in fact be dead. Nevertheless, he doesn’t say anything about her obvious delusion. She shows Dr. Moss to a spare bedroom so he can stay in the house with her. There follows a thrilling scene—perhaps the film’s most thrilling—of Dr. Moss reading a medical report and taking notes in front of a typewriter.

Meanwhile, in Mr. McRaney’s bedroom, a young woman enters wearing a nightgown. She leans over Mr. McRaney’s sleeping body and drags her hair across her face, which fails to wake the man, so she starts kissing him. Finally, he begins to make love to her, but when he looks at her face the woman is his mother. He strangles her to death, but then wakes up with a shout, realizing it was all a dream.

In the morning, Mr. McRaney has another blue-spiral-inducing headache, but he recovers quickly, though his behavior arouses Dr. Moss’s suspicion. When Dr. Moss follows Mr. McRaney to another room, there is a morning of bloody horror in a scene that may have inspired both Andy Milligan and Dario Argento as a cleaver, wielded by an unseen assailant, chops off the doctor’s hand and the stump sprays blood onto the white door.

Mr. McRaney visits the female reporter at her apartment, telling her suspiciously (and red-herringly) that he had to take care of something before visiting her. “I never thought they’d let you go,” she says while she makes him a drink.

“What do you mean by that?” he growls aggressively. Then he towers over her and kisses her for five minutes as she responds with mixed feelings. As soon as they are done making out, she turns on the radio: “We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin. There has been another brutal slaying tonight. The nude body of an attractive young woman was found in city’s park lagoon.” The radio announcer goes on to say that Mr. McRaney is the subject of an all-points bulletin (the announcer does not comment on the attractiveness of Mr. McRaney, oddly). 

Mr. McRaney freaks out. “I didn’t do anything!” Then he says he had to “take care” of Dr. Moss before pleading, “Don’t let them get me!” 

The reporter volunteers to go get Dr. Moss, whom Mr. McRaney apparently believes to be alive. She drives to the house, but before she can enter, someone has dumped Dr. Moss’s body (and the attractive orange paisley robe he was wearing) into the swimming pool. Clearly, the murderer is either Mr. McRaney’s father, who most likely does not exist, or his mother, who most likely does exist. The reporter pounds on the door, asking for Mr. McRaney’s mother to let her in.

Meanwhile, the police find and arrest Mr. McRaney. He pleads with the detectives to go to his house to find Dr. Moss. “The only place you’re going is headquarters,” replies the detective.

In the film’s thrilling climax, the reporter walks through the house, unaware she is in grave danger. The lights go out. She lights a candle and walks gothically through the house, finally discovering the doctor’s severed hand on the floor. She stumbles into a room filled with decorative corpses.

In the police car, Mr. McRaney finally convinces the detectives to take him to his house.

At the house, the reporter finds herself tied to a chair in the corpse room. “You should have gone when you had the chance, my child,” says a muffled voice. “I’m afraid I can’t help you now. He won’t let me.”

The murderer reveals herself to be Mr. McRaney’s mother, to our, perhaps, great shock. She explains that her son can’t have any friends…”not after killing my baby Jonathan. Not after making his father Carl commit suicide thirteen years ago.” Then she starts talking in her dead husband’s voice: “Not for me. No more blood for me, Agatha. Let me die.”

Agatha chops with her cleaver just as the police enter and shoot her dead.

Mr. McRaney screams, “Mother!”

The End

Night of Bloody Horror is a film full of mysteries, chief among them the question of which night is truly the night of bloody horror? Two murders occur at night. The first is when Kay is killed on the beach, which does involve blood. The second is when Mr. McRaney's mother is shot by the police, which involves no blood. All the other murders occur during the daytime, so it is clear that Kay's murder, which occurs in the middle of the film, is truly the night of bloody horror. Some might find it odd that the title of the film refers to a scene in the middle of the film, and that the movie does not build to anything like a night of bloody horror, but I would say those people are too nit-picky and fail to appreciate this accomplished proto-slasher. This is a film with a fine performance by an unbalanced Gerald McRaney; well-staged murders with implements as varied as a needle, a hatchet, and a cleaver; and an early example of a climactic scene that approaches the corpse party climax made famous by later slasher films like Happy Birthday to Me (1981). Night of Bloody Horror is well worth seeing, but be warned that the experience of a headache accompanied by a blue glowing spiral may indicate that your mother is going around killing people. Never forget that important lesson, a lesson made possible by New Orleans auteur Joy N. Houck Jr.'s debut film.