Saturday, 4 June 2022

The Night Walker (1964)

The Night Walker is one of the lesser-known horror films directed by William Castle, but without the spectacular marketing gimmicks that had become his trademark. It was released in 1964.

The Night Walker opens in typical William Castle style, with spooky images and a voiceover warning us of the horrors that lurk in the world of dreams. It sets us up to expect either grand guignol horrors or science fiction monsters.

Howard Trent is middle-aged, incredibly rich (he is an inventor) and blind. We also soon come to consider the possibility that he might be mad. He is obsessed by the idea that his equally middle-aged wife Irene (Barbara Stanwyck) is having an affair. She dreams of a man every night. Howard knows this because he has a tape recorder hidden in her bedroom.

Howard suspects that his wife’s lover might be his lawyer Barry Morland (Robert Taylor). He confronts Barry. Barry protests that the idea is preposterous.

Irene later tells Barry that the man in her dreams is an imaginary lover. This is of course quite plausible although during the course of their conversation we get a sneaking suspicion that although there is obviously nothing going on between them she may feel some attraction towards Barry. He’s successful, good-looking in a slightly weather-beaten way, polished and he’s the sort of man that a woman like Irene might well find very attractive. We can see why Howard Trent was suspicious.

It’s an explosive situation and it does indeed lead to an explosion. A literal explosion. Part of the house blows up.

Everything has changed and Irene moves out and back into the flat above the hairdresser’s salon where she lived years earlier. The dreams continue. They’re just dreams, except that Irene isn’t convinced that they really are just dreams. They seem too real. Her dream lover seems too real.

She’s not just dreaming about her imaginary lover either. She dreams about the aftermath of the explosion. She’s becoming a bit disturbed.

Barry makes the mistake of asking an awkward question about that explosion and gets slapped, in classic Stanwyckian style. He gets into equally hot water when he suggests she see a psychiatrist. Irene can be a very feisty lady.

Irene’s most vivid dream so far involves certain events in an apartment followed by a wedding in a nearby chapel. It’s her wedding. But the identity of the bridegroom is not so clear.

Irene tries to convince Barry that her dream was real. He of course assumes that she’s mad, until she takes him to the apartment from the dream, and then finds the very chapel in which the dream wedding took place. Those places are real. Now he has to believe her. And he does start to think that maybe she’s not just dreaming.

The story builds to a climax as Barry follows up some leads that may provide the necessary answers but it’s obvious that Irene is in real danger. And can the dead come back to life to threaten her?

Blurring of the line between dream and reality is not a dazzlingly original idea but it can be effectively terrifying if handled well, and Robert Bloch’s screenplay handles it at least reasonably well. That’s if you don’t think too hard about the plot.

Castle pulls off several rather impressive and creepy visual set-pieces. The wedding sequence with the store mannequins is superb.

This is a movie that is much closer in feel to Hammer’s psychological horror movies of the early 60s than to old-fashioned gothic horror but it throws us a few images that are pretty gothic.

The movies Castle had directed up to this point had been essentially drive-in fare. They were definitely pitched at a young audience, which was a sound marketing strategy. Which makes the choice of the two leads in The Night Walker rather puzzling. Taylor and Stanwyck would still have been strong draws for a middle-aged or older audience but they would have had little appeal to a teenage audience. There’s nothing wrong with their performances, and Stanwyck in particular is very good, but they were the wrong stars for the movie’s target audience.

There’s no compelling plot reason for Irene to be middle-aged. In fact the plot might have worked better if Howard Trent’s wife had been a young woman, much much younger than her husband. And there’s no plot reason at all for Barry Morland to be middle-aged - he could have been a young hotshot lawyer. The movie apparently was not one of Castle’s major box-office successes and that’s almost certainly because it lacked characters that would appeal to teenagers. Which is a pity because the movie itself is rather good and with younger stars should have been a substantial hit.

I suspect that Castle realised that he’d made a misjudgment. His next movie, I Saw What You Did, has two teenaged girls as the protagonists.

The Final Cut Region 2 DVD is barebones but the anamorphic transfer is fine. The movie was shot in black-and-white.

The Night Walker is a pretty decent psychological thriller/psychological horror movie. Highly recommended.

This is another movie I discovered through a review at Michael’s Moviepalace.

I’ve reviewed several other William Castle movies, including Strait-Jacket and 13 Ghosts.

1 comment:

Walter S. said...

Dfordoom, I really enjoyed your good write-up of THE NIGHT WALKER(1964). Recently I was going through some of my old vhs tapes and I ran onto my 1993 MCA Universal Home Video release of this, too me, very fun and enjoyable movie. I first recall viewing the movie on Memphis, Tennessee local tv's WREC Channel 3 EARLY MOVIE in 1970. As a youngster, THE NIGHT WALKER caught my attention immediately with its eeriness and the wonderfully quirkiness of Vic Mizzy's music. Also, as far as scream queens go, Barbara Stanwyck holds her own very well. Robert Taylor portrays the, at first skeptical, attorney convincingly well. The almost unrecognizable Hayden Rorke, Lloyd Bochner, Judi Meredith, Rochelle Hudson, Jess Barker, and Marjorie Bennet are all good. This William Castle directed and Robert Bloch written thriller has a lot going for it and I think it is well worth viewing.