DISMEMBERCEMBER: Night Visitors (1987)

PRESCRIPT: Credit where it’s due. I wouldn’t even know about this movie if I didn’t see that White Slaves of Chinatown planned on posting it on YouTube this week. Follow them and if you can, donate because they haven’t had the easiest time of it the last few years.

Released in Poland as Nocni goście (Nocturnal Guests), in Germany as a sequel to Don’t Open ‘Till Christmas titled Fröhliche Weihnacht 2 and in nearly every other country in the world other than right here where it was made, Night Visitors is something else, a movie that predates Funny Games in its home invasion theme but unlike other films in that genre like The Last House On the Left, it remains completely bloodless. There’s even a line on some box covers that claims “This year, Halloween has come early,”  yet because it’s set on Christmas Eve, wouldn’t Halloween be late?

Director David Fulk has one other directing credit, 2000s Road to Flin Flon and that’s it, which is a  shame. He co-wrote this with Norman Smith, who edited the films Dead RingerStreamersGraveyard Shift and the videos for “Time After Time” and “She Bop.”

Fulk shot a trailer for the film with actor Daniel Hirsch playing the mysterious Travis, which he also played in the final project. He’d just played the villain in The Zero Boys but this was a role that may have a similar concept but would need some more mental edge and less physicality. Continental Film Group agreed to produce and changed the name from The Whitmores Are Having Company to the much more provocative Night Visitors.

It was shot in February of 1988 in Sharon, PA which is minutes away from my hometown. Sharon is also the home of The Club, that locking mechanism that keeps thieves from stealing cars, and also the device that pays for much of the town staying alive, keeping tourist places open such as Reyer’s, which was once the largest shoe store in the U.S.; the original Quaker Steak and Lube, a chicken wing restaurant that local Trent Reznor (well, Mercer, PA close enough) eats at every Christmas Eve with his family; the Buhl Manor; a cemetery with crosses for every day a hostage was in Iran; Kraynaks, which has an annual Christmas tree walk and The Winner, a place that sells fancy dresses to old women while a dude plays piano for them. It’s an odd place yet perfect for this film.

In the book A Scary Little Christmas: A History of Yuletide Horror Films, 1972-2020 by Matthew C. DuPée, Fulk got into what inspired him: “Not to go into too much personal history, but I did grow in kind of Whitmore-esque environment. At that time in my life, I felt a need to skewer the artificiality, the denial of emotion, the removed-from-the-real-world nature of that milieu. So I aimed to bring the “real world” to them in the form of these four characters — archetypes, really — embodying the aspects of life they most denied and feared. And Christmas seemed to be the logical time to set it, since that’s when families with adult children are. most likely to be together and a time when all that phony good cheer can be magnified. As for the “vibe” of the film, I was always partial to dark comedy during and after my college days in theater and film and it’s a style that lent itself to that story. I didn’t want to do just a mad slasher type of movie. That certainly would have been off-putting for the intended audience and it wouldn’t jibe with the vibe I was trying to get across…I was kind of toying with the viewer’s expectations.”

The film takes place in Shaker Heights — to quote the Hold Steady, “We used to shake it up in Shaker Heights” and also the hometown of WWE jerks the Beverly Brothers, but not really because those guys were from Minnesota and not even brothers — where the Whitmores have gathered for Christmas Eve. Lloyd (David Schroeder, who was in 150 plus movies and is still acting as of 2021) is the father, a man who seems like he’s a sitcom dad from the 50s, while Carolyn (Rochelle Savitt) is the strict mother. They’ve worked hard over the years — “We’ve done the best we can” — to raise their three children, accountant and 26-year-old virgin Tad (Joe Whyte, whose voice you may recognize as Chris Redfield in the remake of Resident Evil; he’s also in Assault of the Party Nerds), Holy Trinity College freshman and ham radio enthusiast Robbie (Richard Gabai, who directed, wrote and starred in two films for Menahem Golan’s 21st Century, Virgin High and Hot Under the Collar, as well as Vice Girls; he also acted in plenty of memorable films like Demon WindNightmare SistersThirteen Erotic Ghosts and Glass Trap) and high school senior Katie (Jeralyn Fabre), who is expected to also attend the same college as everyone else. There’s also the grandmother (Billye Ree Wallace, who is also in Shrunken Heads and was Nana on Seinfeld) who constantly complains about how dirty the house is.

As they prepare for their holiday festivities, we see how the other half lives, that is the antagonists led by the aforementioned Travis, who lords over his assembled family which is made up of his crimped-haired, Madonna-styled lover Lucy (Michele Winding, who is also in Gabai’s Blood Nasty), the bullying Earl (Richard Rifkin, who has nearly thirty movies on his resume, including non-sex appearances in Private adult films and blockbusters like Eragon and The Martian; like many folks here he’s also in Blood Nasty) and Reerah (Gregory Carlton Battle), who surprises dad when he reveals that despite being black, he came from wealth and learned everything the real way on the streets.

Travis and his — well, use the Manson form of family — visit as if they are carolers and burst inside the house, pulling a gun, ruining the traditional dinner and unwrapping all the gifts. The family is led downstairs and one by one brought upstairs as they are interviewed by Travis who has one wish: for someone special to kill him so he can go to Heaven and meet God.

It’s not Tad, who finds himself unable to rise and then does rise in other ways as he shares a bed with Lucy, surprising her with how good he is despite a total lack of experience. Also, as an aside, the JC Penney’s in Sharon’s Shenango Valley Mall once had a big display of MTV fashion in 1984 with the guy’s side basically being neon and sleevelessss Union Jack shirts like Joe Elliot and the girl’s side was all push-up bras and lace gloves so even pre-teens could be Material Girls and I always think about the videos playing while kids begged their parents for rock and roll clothes in the middle of a dying steel town mall.

Robbie is lost inside his world of ham radio — which if you think about it is the less socially respectible social media of the past –and physically can’t compete with Travis, puking all over the doily covered furniture and being sent upstairs to be watched by Earl.

Reerah is in the basement, watching over mom, dad and grandma, who shares a kiss with Travis that shakes her to her core. It turns out that six months after marrying her husband — she never says Lloyd’s dad — she made love to a working man who stole him briefly from her. A man that looks exactly like Travis but 51 years later. As Travis tries to seduce Katie — which isn’t hard, as she wants to scream at baseball games, sing in elevators and dance in New York City — the family attacks, knocking out Earl and Reerah, which brings down a barely dressed Tad and Lucy just in time for Lloyd to push Travis into the Christmas tree, killing him.

Or does he? Because moments later, he’s been transformed, saying how he touched the face of the Almighty and is a changed man. Strangely, the whole family has been transformed by this night and not by violence; this is kind of like their Christmas Carol except, you know, one warped by sex, violence and a lunatic who might be the sanest person in the story.

Night Visitors never came out on VHS in the U.S., nor is it streaming anywhere other than YouTube and it’s also never been on DVD or blu ray. This is a movie where not much happens, a lot of talking occurs, everyone is absolutely strange and there’s not really a protagonist or antagonist  as much as there are characters that interact. I find it incredibly fascinating, a holiday horror movie that is not a horror film at all, one I had never heard of that had somehow been made just feet from where I was often in 1987.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.