This is the second release from Vinegar Syndrome in conjunction with the American Genre Film Archive, and despite a slightly weathered print, this is the best this “southern-fried whodunnit” oddity has ever looked; the less said of Paragon’s early-’80s VHS tape, the better!
Returning from Vasser College in upstate New York to her hometown of Baton Rouge, Denise (Susan McCullough) is greeted at the airport by her brother Vance (played by Monkees member Micky Dolenz), a Vietnam veteran. Although happy to see her, he becomes apprehensive when she reveals that she is currently dating a black man and pregnant, knowing full-well that Vance’s bigoted but influential brother Dan (Jim Ralston) will be fuming mad. Demanding an abortion, Susan naturally objects and returns to New York. Upon her return, her boyfriend is soon killed by a professional hitman (Patrick Wright) via a high-end scope rifle conveniently housed in a guitar case. Devastated, but fully aware of who was responsible, she too is killed, drowned in a bathtub and made to look like a suicide. Meanwhile, Father Jesse (Chuck Patterson) is assigned to his former parish and soon becomes embroiled in the family’s soap opera theatrics, which are punctuated by petty jealousies, racism and even more murder.
Misleadingly titled – which immediately brings to mind some low-rent sleazy horror along the lines of Robert Hammer’s DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980) – The NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER is a thriller in the thinnest sense of the word, despite some of the murders that take place: including death by an “Elephant” snake, whose “venom can kill in seconds,” and even an elaborate death scene involving “curare”-dipped arrows. When Dan’s new wife Carol (Ann Barrett) – Vance’s ex-girlfriend – is mysteriously killed by that poisonous snake, which “struck at her from the bouquet” given to her by Father Jesse, everyone becomes a suspect; the list of suspects also includes Vance, his current girlfriend Ann (Katie Tilley), and even Dan’s recently-fired groundskeeper (Warren J. Kenner). Detectives Tony De Vivo (Michael Anthony) and Jim Bunch (Harold Sylvester, Jr. – a busy TV actor primarily known for his stint on Married With Children [1987-1997] as Ed O’Neill’s buddy Griff and for a few film roles from the early-’80s, including Taylor Hackford’s An OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN , Ted Kotcheff’s UNCOMMON VALOR  and Harold Becker’s VISION QUEST ) soon have their work cut-out for them trying to brush off “idle threats” and simply getting frustrated at the convoluted goings-on within this family (“You honkies are crazy, man!”). Further complications arise when Dan won’t honour his contract with the New York outfit that helped get rid of his sister and her boyfriend, which eventually leads to the rather surprising, if equally far-fetched, finale.
|Micky Dolenz (left) and Jim Ralston react to Susan's revelation.|
Notwithstanding his few directorial efforts – including NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR (1969), WOMEN AND BLOODY TERROR (1970), and his Sasquatch/Bigfoot ‘creature’ feature The CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) – Joy N. Houck Jr. was predominantly associated with Howco (later Howco International), a film distribution company originally founded by his father Joy N. Houck Sr., fellow Louisiana filmmaker and director of The MONSTER AND THE STRIPPER (1968), Ron Ormond and J. Francis White, which helped provide films for their vast chain of theatres in the American South.
Like their earlier AGFA release SUPERSOUL BROTHER (1978), Vinegar Syndrome has also released this as a bare-bones affair, and although the print is a little on the rough side with drab colours – the reds tend to look a little pinkish – it’s by far the best option available and worth picking up, especially for the very affordable price tag. Order it at Vinegar Syndrome here.
|Patrick Wright as the hitman takes aim.|