Night Shadow (1989)
by Inci German
Welcome back to Horror Revisited!
What's better than watching old horror movies on cold, dark days like these? Reading about them, of course! Let's get on with it, then:
Werewolf meets kung fu! Can it get any better?
Yes, it can.
To tell the truth, most things are better than this movie. Now I’m not the type to kick’em when they’re down and I’m all about supporting independent movie makers but this one is junk even for a B movie, one of the lowest specimens of its kind: a horror movie that’s not remotely scary or repulsive, distinctive 80’s tackiness, some of the worst acting performances these eyes have witnessed, a croaking plot, a concept that rises hopes and then dashes them quite expectedly. It has everything a bad movie needs.
Yet there’s something about it that intrigues me. Maybe its “self-made” aura, maybe the good intention in combining martial arts with demon-beasts, maybe Stuart Quan’s cool kick box moves or maybe that it’s so good at sucking that… it turns out to be somewhat… good again? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve come to enjoy this movie and find myself rewatching it for light entertainment from time to time.
Night Shadow is an action-horror and involuntary comedy directed by Randolph Cohlan, starring Brenda Vance, Rick Scott, Stuart Quan, Tom Boylan, Kato Kaelin (yes, THE Kato Kaelin) and even Aldo Ray.
The story follows aspiring journalist Alexandra Jung (Brenda Vance) who returns to her hometown Danford for a break from her stressful life in LA. On her way there she notices a guy whose car has broken down (Rick Scott) hitchhiking and giving her sinister looks. No surprises or twists here; this is our bad guy. His dirty, hairy and long-nailed WEREWOLF HANDS betray him from the start. Rick Scott is one of those rare cases in werewolf themed cinema history where the actor playing the werewolf looks actually scarier than the beast itself. Good casting there, bravo! What they did with this cast though, not so.
Take the first killing scene in the movie. The sinister hitchhiker is picked up by the lovable town-mechanic Jim, whom he kills by smashing his head on the side window. Now if you’re going to make a werewolf movie, why not let the werewolf act according to its nature? Don’t werewolves attack and eat and tear humans apart? From a well-meant point of view, we can say that Cohlan tries to go beyond the ordinary here. And, as you’ll see later, this is not the only time where he doesn't meet the viewers’ expectations.
In a side story, Brenda’s brother Tai (Stuart Quan) runs around town with his prankster buddies Dean (Kato Kaelin) and Bruce (Orien Richman) playing tricks on people and on each other or kung-fuing bikers and cops. By the way I have to admit I know nothing about martial arts. I couldn’t tell qi gong from tae kwon do if it hit me in the face, so I apologize for my ignorance if I’m using the wrong terminology.
The kung fu scenes not only keep the movie going until the werewolf appears (which means for the majority of the movie) they’re also the reason why Tai keeps on wearing crop tops. Seriously, not once does Tai wear a full t-shirt, all shirts in his wardrobe are cut off from the breast down. We get it, he has fabulous abs, but come on…
After Jim’s dead body is discovered in a trash can and it turns out the sinister hitchhiker had two more bodies in his trunk, the town folk panics and Alex gets assigned to follow the story even though she’s on vacation. All the while she gets closer to her ex-boyfriend, the town sheriff Adam (Tom Boylan) who also investigates the case.
But he’s not the only one she gets close to. At random points, Alex encounters the sinister hitchhiker: When she meets Tai in a restaurant he sits at the bar, when she grabs a coffee with Adam he's on the next table. And stares at her. Maintaining eye contact, she gets hypnotized by him and can’t look away and between them lightning storms start to strike. I mean, literally. The special effects are so sleazy I actually don’t want to talk about it right now. There’s definitely some “animal” attraction between the two of them, that’s all the viewer needs to know.
Meanwhile Tai and his pals break into the motel room of the werewolf (as ridiculous as that might sound) and discover some rotten meat under the bed as well as a mysterious book which Dean steals. This pisses the hitchhiker off and he transforms. The transformation scene is kind of creepy really, but only because the actor can make such eerie grimaces. It’s a shame this remains his only acting credit.
They later read the book and find out it contains a nuptial song: “I am the Dane and I have come for you”. Tai and Bruce freak out, but Dean is still unimpressed and takes off in order to read the poem to his girlfriend. Too bad for her, cause the werewolf attacks him on his way and kills him by sticking a pipe through his torso… What’s wrong with this beast? Why kill people by smashing their heads on windows and slaying them with pipes instead of using claws and teeth? Plus we still don’t see his entirety, only his right arm. Still, to be fair to the werewolf, after killing them he tears the bodies of his victims apart - but not that we see any of it.
Later Bruce picks up some beer and waits in an abandoned building for his friends to come.
Tai is under suspicion of having killed Dean because he masters the art of kung fu, owns a Freddy Krueger-glove and was the last person to see Dean. Even so he outsmarts the cop who wants to arrest him and runs off to meet Bruce. The chase scene is packed with so many 80’s style unfunny gags it makes me cringe. I'm not ready to talk about this either.
While Tai kung fues the cop some more, Bruce is killed by the werewolf. Offscreen!!! Come ooonnnn now.
The cop handcuffs Tai to the police car and goes inside the building to find the werewolf eating Bruce’s body. So it’s ten minutes to the end of the movie and we finally get a look at the werewolf. And even though he looks like a grey Chewbacca with a dog face, my expectations were so low that once I saw it, the beast seemed actually quite ok to me. Not great, but ok.
Alex arrives at the fight/crime scene and is immediately drawn by the mysterious, irresistible force of the werewolf. Lightning strikes again.
Tai somehow manages to get into the car and crushes it into the werewolf. The beast is stuck between the car and the wall and since the bumper isn’t made of silver and can't harm him, Tai keeps shooting at the car until it explodes, killing the werewolf along.
The fact that so many expectations and stereotypes aren’t met – and I’m talking about filmic stereotypes here, not real-life ones like Tai knowing kung fu because he’s Asian-American – makes this movie somewhat interesting to me. I really wished we had seen the werewolf some more. I really wished Tai had kungfued the werewolf at the end and didn’t kill it with a car. The romance between Alex and the beast could have been elaborated some more.
On one hand, half the movie centers on nothing but trivialities. All scenes about Alex and Tai’s godmother are hopelessly obsolete. Endless “suspense” scenes take away valuable time that could have been dedicated to better story-building. On the other hand it's these flaws that make Night Shade so unusual. Plus, there are rudiments of quite nice elements throughout the movie, such as a very gory dream scene in which Alex foresees something wicked coming or the character Gene Krebelsky (Aldo Ray) who is very funny. Unfortunately they're by far not enough to make this film the classic it could have been.
Nevertheless, if you like movies of that era and are into martial arts, you will enjoy this movie far more than I do.
I, on the other hand, will focus my attention on truly terrifying villains in my next article and explore my worst childhood fear in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Muahahaha!