2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 19: The Night God Screamed (1971)

DAY 19 — CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKIN’?: When you let an unexpected guest in, you may be in for a long night.

Editor’s Note: While we’ve included this — controversial — film as part of our Christploitation genre cataloging, we’ll also briefly delve into the Hagsploitation genre, turn you on to a few “hippie flicks,” as well as discuss other, analogously lost, U.S. made Drive-In horrors released around the time of this film.

Christ, Hags, Manson, and rubber skull masks, oh, my!

I know. I know. Why is an exploration of ’70s Christian Cinema including a crime-horror romp that advises “death is the only way out,” courtesy of Cinemation Industry — the Drive-In shingle that gave us the likes of Teenage Mother (1967), Female Animal (1970), The Man from O.R.G.Y (1970), I Eat Your Skin (1971), Teenage Sex Report (1971), Son of Dracula (1973), Dynamite Brothers (1974), and an X-rated cartoon in the form of Fritz the Cat (1972).

Hey, this ain’t no trope-laden site ensuing with cliched, generalized lazy thinking, buddy pal-o-mine: this is freakin’ B&S About Movies in Pittsburgh, baby: we don’t write for stinkin’ food or for reissue DVD/Blu swag. We choose our God-Christploitation reviews the fracked up way because we dig the film at hand: no reissue promo-campaigning required.

Besides, it can’t always be about Estus Pirkle and Ron Ormond (The Second Coming will get you there, brother), which, if they kept making movies together, a proto-slasher about a serial killer twistin’ the Good Book probably would have been the next, logical celluloid-Pirkle step. Don’t forget: he’s the guy who jammed sharpened bamboo sticks into children’s ear canals. And when he’s not inducing them to puke, he cuts them down from hanging trees onto a field of buried pitchforks, then tosses them in mass graves. (no, really; we’re not making it up). The folks at Mondo Stumpo summed Pirkle’s psychotronic years, brilliantly: Christian Gore.

So, yeah. Estus Pirkle vs. Lee Madden. No contest. Pirkle wins. Hands down.

The Pirks’ celluloid triad If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, The Burning Hell, and Believer’s Heaven (well, it’s a little bit more positive; but kids are still being tossed in mass graves) are still more gag-inducing and horrifyingly sick than this faux-Manson ditty brought to you by Cinemation — again, the studio that gave you the likes of the not-even-close, exploitative bile-inducer, I Eat Your Skin. As Sam the Bossman has opined in his Pirkle-Ormond opuses: all three films are stuck in our collective minds way longer than any blockbuster — or Christian film or horror film — we will see this year. Or any other year. Digital streaming or hard-copy reissues. Period.

Eh, well. Maybe not.

Madden really scraped the offensive bottom of — and broke through the rusted bottom of — the Christploitation barrel. And people lost their minds over The Exorcist and The Omen? I mean, a Catholic Priest crucified on his own cross? Top that, Mr. Friedkin and Mr. Donner. Well, actually — in terms of quality — you did.

Anyway, long before you youngins were exposed to Charles Manson by way of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, there was a mini-cottage industry of “hippie flicks” that borrowed from the Manson myth — courtesy of instilling the idea that all of Haight-Asbury’s flowery-denizens were blood-thirsty killers. So, we got the likes of the hippie-crime romps Psych-Out (1968), the double bill to I Eat Your Skin with I Drink Your Blood (1970), The Cult (1971), The Love-Thrill Murders (1971), the document/reenactmentary of The Other Side of Madness (1971), the Andrew Prine with a goat insanity of Simon, King of the Witches (1971), the really fine Deathmaster (1972), Thumb Tripping (1972), the “Manson as a filmmaker” with Snuff (1976), and, of course, the incredible Steve Railsback as Manson in the exquisite TV movie, Helter Skelter (1976).

Yeah, there’s a “Exploring: Charles Manson on Film” feature to be had . . . someday.

Now, back to the Godsploitation, aka Christploitation, portion of today’s programming: a weird genre to begin with, depending on the critical whims of the writer (in the case, Sam Panico and yours truly), the films included, can be controversial choices. Even B&S contributor Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum questioned today’s movie choice. And when BVR furrows his brow, well, you’ve just hit celluloid pay dirt. And only God knows what the dude who hates it when we use the word “trope” in our reviews (and takes a moment from his day to let us know), will think. . . . The night the critic screamed, indeed.

Offensive: When a priest purchases a cruciform for his church, transports that sign of Christ in the back of a pick up truck, stops at a gas station, and a white-robbed hippie takes a siesta on said cruciform, you’ve just exploited the Holy Savior.

Now, one would never consider a British horror film starring Christopher Lee as a “Christploitation” piece: but when your film is based on occultist author, paranormalist, and “secret society” founder Dennis Wheatley — a friend and collaborator of fellow occultist and Thelema religion founder Anton LeVey — the movie based on his book, The Devil Rides Out (1969), in which the big guy of the underworld, Baphomet, and his buddy, the Angel of Death himself, shows up — and both ultimately defeated by Christianity — the film ends up on the (my) list.

The same could be said for Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). Although it’s part of the psychobiddy sub-genre (i.e, old, crusty women terrorizing “sinning” young women, aka “hagsploitation”), when you have Tallulah Bankhead in crazed, full-on religious hysteria exorcising a corrupt Stephanie Powers, that films ends up on the stone immaculate perimeters of Christ/Godsploitation (my) lists. And our speaking of Tallulah Bankhead attempting to reignite her career in a horror film brings us to — gulp — Jeanne Crain, the star of The Night God Screamed.

Remember how the Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio lamented about British model Jeannie Shrimpton in the lyrics of “Behind the Wall of Sleep”; how he’d gleefully commit a murder if she so purred the request? Yeah, for me, it’s like that with the Academy Award for Best Actress-nominated Jeanne Crain — for her title role in 1949’s Pinky.

Yeah, I had it bad for Jeanne Crain. Sigh. Remember how Superman time-travel willed himself back to the past to hook up with Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time (1980): Calling Dr. Gerard Finney, time-hypnotize me to a Jeanne Crain romance.

As with Veronica Lake making her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970), Joan Crawford appearing in Berserk! (1967) and Trog (1970), and Wanda Hendrix (zoinks!) closing out her career at the age of 44 with a Gothic, Civil War tale, the really fine The Oval Portrait (1972), ex-20th Century Fox studio-starlet Jeanne Crain attempted an early ’70s comeback — her last film was Hot Rods to Hell (1966) — with a horror film: inspired by Charles Manson. Sadly, it was not meant to be. When her “big horror move” failed to spark interest, the divine Ms. Crain called it a day after working with — fifth-billed, mind you — Charlton Heston in Skyjacked (1972).

So, with Alex Nicol — an actor/director in The Screaming Skull (1958) and director for Peter Carpenter’s Point of Terror (1971) — thespin’ it up with an early James Sikking (Outland, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) — Jean Crain stars as family matriarch Fanny Pierce in a tale directed by Lee Madden.

Wait? Not Lee Madden of the biker flicks Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969) and Angel Unchained (1970), and the hunter-on-private island romp Night Creature (1978).

Oh, hell, yes. Strap on the popcorn buckets. Let’s unpack The Night God Screamed.

Lee Madden’s second — and final — horror film, which he also wrote, during his all-too-short, six-film career. His others were the sexploiter The Manhandlers (1974) and, get this: the abysmal horror-comedy, Ghost Fever (1986), with Sherman “George Jefferson” Hemsley.

The reason this offensive, yet stunning movie failed: it’s a slow-burn, psychological thriller that, instead of the shocking gore and violence you’d expect from a Manson-inspired film, it’s all about the atmosphere. Another reason: due to its provocative title, small town and rural communities with theaters refused to carry the film; they acquiesce to the alternative title of Scream. The third reason: Jerry Gross was against-the-sprokets and Cinemation was going under . . . while barely releasing it in 1971, the film stumbled around as a second-biller until 1974, never to find its well-deserved audience. The same marketing snafus happened to the youth-seeking devil worshipers romp, Brotherhood of Satan (1971), the exquisite gaslighter, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), the dreamy The Velvet Vampire (1971), William Girdler’s debut Asylum of Satan (1972), the weirdly, Clint Eastwood-connected and released-stalled Die Sister, Die! (1972), the toy-making Devil worshiping of Necromancy (1972), Jean-Marie Pélissié’s art house-beauty, The Bride (1973), the utterly bonkers and also questionably-rated, The Baby (1973), the stellar post-Romero craze of Messiah of Evil (1973), and the flawed but captivating Warlock Moon (1973).*

Eh, so what else is new in the puritanical bread baskets of America?

So, rightoff the bat, the Fundamentalists are loosing their nuts: we open with a monk-hooded figure dragging a six-foot tall cruciform through the woods. And our faceless monk looks down from a hill upon a lakeside baptismal ceremony conducted by our ersatz Jesus, aka our ersatz Charles Manson, i.e, “Billy Joe,” as he complains to God about “the man” coming down on his faux-Chuckness because they dig Jesus, and do dope only to “turn on to” Jesus, and that they’re not a phony, money-grabbing ministry, lying and stealing from their flock. . . .

Oh, and the dude in the robe: he’s The Atoner. And the baptism? The Atoner drowns you, the “Judas,” into the afterlife.

So, with that bit of Christ exploiting out of the way; we finally get to this review’s raison d’étre: Jeanne Crain is Fanny, the put-upon wife of Pastor Willis Pierce (Alex Nicol) who oversees a small chapel and soup kitchen in a rundown, crime-ridden neighborhood.

The prim n’ snobby Fanny hates her life and wants out. And I want her to move in with me.

Anyway, the “path” to the way out leads the Pierces to run afoul of Billy Joe and his sidekick, The Atoner. And yes, they crucify Pastor Willis to a cross inside his church because, well, God has advised Billy Joe that the Pastor is a false prophet.

So, a year passes: Fanny is PTSD’d (I’d still put up with her; I’ve cohabited with far worse), hearing her husband’s and Billy Joe’s voices — even though hubby’s dead and our faux-Manson is in prison.

Then, taking cues from Charles Manson seeking revenge on Beach Boys associate Terry Melcher for reneging on a “deal” to record his music**, Billy Joe’s clan descends on the convicting Judge Coogan’s house to extract revenge: instead, they find Fanny, who came to work as a housekeeper and assistant to the judge, his wife and four teen (well, casting older-than-teens, natch) children.

Well, not really. Do we really have to explain “gaslighting” to you?

My poor, dear Jeanne really goes through the ringer in her final, leading role. Put your head on my shoulder, let me whisper in your ear, baby.

While not exactly graphic-bloody in A Bay of Blood (1971) sense, The Night God Screamed is, never the less, like The Baby before it, still a pretty brutal and intense movie — filled with religious imagery — for a PG-rated film. The trailer isn’t doing the film justice. As for “exploitation” critical descriptors, aside: Jeanne Crain is still a friggin’ hotter-than-hell MILF. Paging Dr. Gerard Finney, R.D Francis is seeing rainbows and skyrockets, again.

It’s hard to believe that, in a ’70s UHF-TV world that played A Bell from Hell (1973) — a movie with human-sized puppets playing pianos and women hanging upside down in an abattoir — The Night God Screamed never playing on TV is a crime against the ultra-high frequencies that white-noised my brains with the Drive-In delights that I was too young to see back in the day. Thank god for the VHS ’80s.

Although there’s earlier issues, the Trans World Entertainment 1987 VHS reissue was the best-distributed/courtesy of Paul Z at VHS Collector.com.

Sorry, kiddies. There’s no freebies or with-ads streams to share. But the DVDs are all over the online marketplace, VHSs are out there, for the ever-the-analog purist. And if there’s one, pure ’70s horror DVD to add to your collection, The Night God Screamed comes highly recommended. Do it.

* Other early-70s, poorly-distributed and lost, U.S. Drive-In horrors to venture — each with their own, special bit of crazy — are Touch of Satan (1971), Legacy of Satan (1974), and Satan’s Children (1975).

** That’s finally been all squared away with Tom O’Dell’s stellar, 2019 documentary, Manson: Music From an Unsound Mind (Tubi).

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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