Night of the Strangler (1972)
Director: Joy N. Houck, Jr.
Starring: Chuck Patterson, Micky Dolenz, Michael Anthony & Jim Ralston
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Set in the muggy region of Louisiana, Night of the Strangler centers on the scandalous relationship between a caucasian woman and her black lover. Amidst family controversy and escalating racial tension, a string of mysterious murders follows in its path. Chuck Patterson (Hair), Micky Dolenz (The Monkees), Michael Anthony (Keep Off My Grass!) and Jim Ralston (Thunder Run) star.
Bearing an intriguing yet, wildly misleading title, Night of the Strangler crafts a whodunit murder mystery amongst the segregated south of New Orleans. Returning home from college to inform her brothers of life changing news, Denise (Susan McCullough in her only film appearance) nervously admits to being impregnated by her African-American lover whom she plans to wed. Bigoted big brother Dan (Ralston) doesn’t take kindly to the news of his baby sister shacking up with a colored man and intends to fix the situation. Meanwhile, Denise’s middle brother Vance (Dolenz), equally unhappy with Dan following his own girlfriend being taken for himself, sympathizes with her. With Denise madly in love and excited for her future, Dan’s wealth and power ensures their lives being cut short in order to not tarnish his own reputation. Distraught over his sister’s alleged suicide, Vance seeks refuge in close family friend Father Jessie (Patterson), a black priest. As tension builds between brothers, more murders conducted by a mysterious individual begin. Lacking any kind of strangulation sequences, Night of the Stranglerintroduces viewers to hate spewing antagonist Dan as a character everyone lives to hate. In addition, as victims linked to the brothers are targeted, intriguing murder attempts including a venomous snake hidden in flowers unfold. While each brother is vehemently convinced the other is responsible for the homicides, viewers are left certain they know until a surprising finale proves everyone wrong. Washing away the squeaky-clean image of his television stardom, Micky Dolenz makes an unexpected appearance in this mildly sleazy film, far from the tracks of Clarksville. While overt violence and nudity are minimal, Night of the Strangler is an intriguing mystery centered on a racially-charged family triangle and the brotherly priest stuck in its crosshairs.
Scanned and restored in 2K from the American Genre Film Archive’s 35mm print, Vinegar Syndrome presents Night of the Strangler in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio for the first time ever. Diluted of more vibrant color, the film’s wear is evident with its soft focus and moderate scratches. In addition, dimly lit sequences demonstrate doses of flakes and speckles while the occasional cigarette burn can be spotted. Aging artifacts aside, the less than stellar qualities never make the viewing experience unwatchable. Instead, the film’s grindhouse battle wounds add a level of charm for those with managed expectations. Equipped with a Dolby Digital 1.0 mix, dialogue is relayed as decently as can be while, instances of soft distortion can be heard in quieter sequences. Spared of any overwhelming pops or cracks, sound quality is serviceable but, can be benefitted by increased volume. Finally, no special features are included on this release.
Continuing their fitting collaboration with the American Genre Film Archive, Vinegar Syndrome delivers another peculiar picture filled with racist richies and interracial love affairs. Far from an exploitation free for all, Night of the Strangler boasts a decent murder mystery with a reveal audiences won’t see coming. Starring a formerly well-trained Monkee, Director Joy N. Houck, Jr.’s (Creature from Black Lake) non-strangulating effort makes for a decent stay in the disgustingly sweaty south. While it may not always look pretty, Vinegar Syndrome’s 2K restoration saves the film from permanent extinction and appreciatively presents it in its original aspect ratio for the first time ever. Seeking confession for the lack of racially-charged mysteries starring Micky Dolenz? Night of the Strangler is your only penance!
For more Blu-ray/DVD reviews from Mike Kenny, head over to Mike’s Pop Culture Playhouse!