Friday, October 5, 2012

Jumping Through Hoopers: "Night Terrors" (1995)

What does the Marquis de Sade have to do with Egyptian archaeology and mermaid worshipping cults? Tobe Hooper tries to answer that question in one weird little film.

Genie is a young cutie who visits her nerdy archaeology father in Alexandria, Egypt. Genie gets caught up with a mysterious hooker (and blatant lesbian) who services daddy on the side. Daddy gets sent back to the site, where he uncovers a tomb with what appears to be a mermaid on it. Genie meets a descendant of the Marquis de Sade, and falls for a hunky Egyptian (providing the film's hottest scenes). Eventually, Genie finds out she is to be a sacrifice and the protracted and bloody climax gets going. Wrapped around this story is footage of the Marquis de Sade in prison, talking to a portrait of what looks like Genie.

Robert Englund is terrific as both the Marquis and his descendant. His acting abilities have always been sideswiped by his makeup requirements, so he is allowed to shine here. His best performance is still in "Killer Tongue," if you have not seen that yet.

The rest of the cast, including young Genie, are pretty and average. The script, however, is problematic. You will quickly learn that the Marquis scenes are completely unnecessary, except maybe the film makers had access to the cool set. The mermaid cult that eventually saves Genie makes no sense whatsoever. Who the mermaid is is never explained, and its link to Christianity (which is hyped throughout the film) is nothing. The film is very anti-Christian, as the archaeologist is a Bible spouting father, but likes to be tied up by the local prostitute. There are plenty of scenes of depravity and violence, but Hooper probably had little idea of what the screenwriters were trying to say. I know I have no idea.

So why am I recommending this film? It is weird. There is an extended sex scene. For the ladies, hunky Egyptian rides a horse completely nude. Englund is marvelous. Do you like snakes? This film is full of them. This is like Roger Corman with a bigger budget. Knowing Hooper somehow came up with "Crocodile" after this is rather sad.

"Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors" is not perfect, but definitely worth a winking, unserious look. (* * * *) out of five stars.