“Okay, kid. I want you to make me a film under 80-minutes for $18,000 bucks,” cigar chomps the film executive planting his wing-tips on his desk. “And I got this ratty gorilla suit at an auction . . . they lost the gorilla head, so use this alien mask that I think is left over from 20 Million Miles to Earth . . . and use these reels of NASA stock footage . . . oh, and I can’t afford any lights, so shoot all the night time scenes day-for-night. And you’re using John Agar in the lead.”
“Who’s John Agar?” snivels the fresh-out-of-film-school grad.
“A washed up drunk who boinked Shirley Temple. He comes cheap.”
“Well, sir. Thank you for the opportunity—.”
“Believe me, kid. If I could get Larry Buchanan to shoot this, I would. Now, let’s go to work.”
. . . And so starts this go-go swingin’ adventure: A NASA rocket sent into space filled with test animals flies through a radiation cloud and crashes into the wilds of Cielo, Texas, so a mutated-gorilla monster can munch on a bunch of 18-going-on-30 teenagers in a wooded area known as “Satan’s Hollow.” (Speaking of a “Satan’s Hollow,” check this out.)
“Hey, gang,” head cool kid Chris Jordan calls out. “Let’s go have a swingin’ dance party in the woods! You know, our own ‘private blast’ where that mysterious object crashed!”
“Yeah, and we can do some off-screen shimmy-shammin’ so the Klingon-headed-gorilla space monster can chew us up,” squeals Judy.
“Shit. Let’s go to work, Ben,” says Sheriff Clint Crawford (John Agar) to Deputy Ben Whitfield (Bill Thurman). “It looks like we’re stuck in a movie that’s worse than Robot Monster. Hell, even The Giant Gila Monster.”
“Yeah,” whisky bottle swigs John Agar. “At this rate, we’ll be co-starring in Ed Wood pictures. Damn shame I won’t live long enough to star in an ‘80s SOV stinker. Heck, I would have been great as the detective in Blood Cult.”
“Nah, I’ll do just fine, John. I won’t end up in SOV crap like Spine. Respected directors like Louis Malle, Steven Speilberg, and Lawrence Kasdan will cast me, and I’ll work with Steve McQueen,” chest puffs Bill. “Now go stuff that mannequin with explosives so the dumb space gorilla eats it and we can get the hell out of here and have a beer,” bug neck-smacks Bill Thurman. “And besides, John, don’t you remember? You do that interview in 1986. So it’s not that you died, it’s just that you’ll be so washed up, that the director, Christopher Lewis, wouldn’t want you.”
“Hey, wait a sec . . . Lewis? Loretta’s kid. Yeah, didn’t I bang Loretta Young?”
“Yeah, right, Johnny boy,” says Bill with a back pat. “She married Clark Gable. What would she want with a pug like you? Now, let’s go kill us a space gorilla.”
John Agar was on top of the world. He starred alongside John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima, Fort Apache, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. He was the toast of tinsel town with his five-year marriage to Shirley Temple. . . . Then the marriage failed and his drinking got worse and he became a stock player for Larry Buchanan at AIP Studios in the low-budget frolics The Mole People and The Brain from Planet Arous.
Me: I always cherish Mr. Agar in my late dad’s John Wayne flicks and I’ll always remember John in the Alien precursor and the UHF double-billed, Journey to the Seventh Planet (alongside The Demon Planet, aka Planet of Vampires).
“I don’t resent being identified with B-science fiction movies at all,” Agar reflected in a 1986 interview chronicled at Monster Shack. “Why should I? Even though they were not considered top of the line, for those people that like sci-fi, I guess they were fun. My whole feeling about working as an actor is, if I give anybody any enjoyment, I’m doing my job, and that’s what counts.”
You did, John Agar. You most certainly did. You are at the center of this writer’s Venn Diagram-Borromean Rings of my “Bad Sci-Fi Battle of Evermore.”
In addition to satisfying my John Agar fix, Night Fright also quenches my Bill Thurman completest-compulsions—and gives me an opportunity to talk about Hollywood fringe-obscurity, Brenda Venus.
Brenda Venus, who stars as Sue, grew up to sprout “white nipples” so Eric Swann (Martin Mull) could boink her on the audio mixing console in FM (1978). Oh, you’ve seen Brenda around. She was in Fred Williamson’s blaxploitation spaghetti western, Joshua (1976) and Jack Hill’s Foxy Brown (1974). She starred with Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction (?!) and she endured the wrath of Ankar Moor in Deathsport (1978). Brenda’s Wikipedia is well worth the visit and it directs you to her very cool, official website.
As for Bill Thurman: It’s like shootin’ fish in a Larry Buchanan-AIP barrel. Bill was in everything calculated inside the UHF Venn Diagram of my youth and went on to become the “go-to actor” when you needed a backwoods sheriff or redneck.
He was Sheriff Brad Crenshaw in Zontar, the Thing from Venus.
He was Sheriff Joe Bob Thomas in ‘Gator Bait.
He was Sheriff Billy Carter in Creature from Black Lake. . . .
And get a load of the ‘80s VHS and ‘90s digital-platform repacks of Night Fright: they really are better than the movie. And don’t be fooled by its alternate titlings and confuse it with 1958’s Night of the Blood Beast, which is also available on the Mill Creek Pure Terror 50 Box Set (and my condolences to whomever reviews that stinker. Wait. What? I’m the “whomever” reviewing it? Crap!).
So, yeah, Night Fright sucks. But it’s also one of my cherished UHF snowy memories. Thanks, Mill Creek!