Overview: A pathetic old janitor fantasizes about being a pathetic old rapist/murderer. I think.
Directed By: John H. Parr, 1989.
The Case For: Some clever makeup tricks and thematic elements makes the movie feel at least somewhat artistic, not that that is automatically a good thing.
The Case Against: Either this movie came coated in LSD, which I absorbed through my fingertips when I touched it, or it actually does make as little sense as I think it makes.
We run a pretty large risk by trashing movie after movie here at Something Awful. While many of the films we review are absolute garbage with no redeeming qualities other than the fact that they eventually come to an end, we also run across the occasional piece that causes us to raise an eyebrow. Sometimes we have to pause and wonder, is this movie really that bad, or did we just somehow misinterpret the filmmaker's artistic vision? "Nightslave" definitely toes that line. It's just bizarre enough that it occurred to me that perhaps I just didn't get what the movie was going for. Sure, it was bad, that much was clear, but it seemed possible that it was bad only because the small budget did not allow the director to achieve the full scope of his vision. Could it be that this poor, misunderstood piece of cinematic brilliance would be the film that forever changed the way I looked at low budget filmmaking? Then, after the movie ended, I had a chance to think about it some more and I realized that no, it's just terrible. The status quo remained intact, and I was able to sleep knowing that both "Nightslave" and whatever demented "vision" spawned it are both complete pieces of crap.
After an opening credits sequence in which a doll's head, which I believe is supposed to pass for real, floats around in a pool under a red light, the confusion starts off in earnest. The film begins with a modeling shoot, which I believe was required by law in the Eighties. Now, you might say, "Hey, a modeling shoot is a pretty standard setup for a horror film. I don't see what's so confusing about that." Well shut up for a minute and let me tell you, would you? Geez, let a guy talk for a change. The modeling shoot is only a flimsy pretext to introduce Jervis the janitor, who wanders into the middle of the shoot in the course of his sweeping and gets chewed out by the photographer. That's the last we see of the photographer, the models, or anything at all to do with that scene.
Since he is unable to sweep any further, Jervis goes down to his local video store. I should take a moment to mention that I'm calling him Jervis because that's what the end credits call him, even though all the other characters and the blurb on the box clearly call him "Jarvis." Whoever he is, he peruses the horror section until he comes across a tape conveniently entitled "Nightslave." The fact that the producers of Nightslave couldn't even afford to box their own damn video in a decent case is fairly indicative of the rest of the movie - on a shelf full of real videos, "Nightslave" is in a box with a black and white photocopied cover. Jervis takes the tape up to the counter and checks it out from the lazy, self-absorbed girl who works there, but they nearly come to blows when he asks for VHS instead of Beta. Fortunately, the girl simmers down and gives him his tape without giving in to the temptation to put her cigarette out in his eye. Right after he walks out the door, and manager comes to the counter and tells the girl that Jervis rents tapes but never returns them. Now they have to get their tape back somehow. That's right, folks, the first major subplot to be introduced revolves around proper video renting habits. Whoa-oh! This movie better slow down soon before my heart leaps out of my mouth and checks itself in to rehab! For the record, no, I don't know what that means either.
Jervis returns home to his apartment, several hours after he left work if the sky s any indication. He pops "Nightslave" into his VCR and sits back on the couch to enjoy a well-earned joint. The video turns out to be an old silent movie with a typical dastardly villain tying a young woman to some train tracks. I'd give credit to John H. Parr for having the dedication to film his own black and white silent movie, except that he did a piss poor job of it. For instance, in one shot, the letters "REC" are clearly visible in the lower righthand corner of the screen. Throughout "Nightslave," as in the movie I'm reviewing, there are clips of "Nightslave," as in the movie Jervis is watching. They all seem to revolve around this villainous character setting this girl up to be killed in some sort of situation that a Dudley Do-Right-esque hero would be able to save her from.
This has got to be the most passive horror movie ever. Not only does the killer only fantasize about killing people, but he can't even manage to do it in his fantasy. And in real life, he sits around watching a movie about a bad guy who never manages to kill his helpless victim, either. It could be a comment on how media has such a profound effect on our subconscious minds. It could also be a comment on how pot makes you lazy. Alternately, this could be a shitty movie. I'm just saying there are options, here. As Jervis watches his movie, a hideous woman-like bat creature in the next room, presumably his wife, shouts at him to clean the pool. It seems Jervis is also the super of his apartment building. So now we've got two crazy plot threads running around like moose in mating season - Jervis trying to relax and watch his movie while his wife yells at him, and the clerk from the video store calling periodically to threaten him with calling the police. You may want to take a breather to cool down from all this action before reading on.
So now that we've got what we'll call the "Reality Subplots," we get introduced to the "Fantasy Subplots," in which the same characters from reality play different roles and the boredom of real life is replaced by confusion, insanity, and entirely new kinds of boredom. The clerk at the video store plays Norma (I think), a young woman in the advertising business who is interested in purchasing a home at Thraxstone Hall, A.K.A. Jervis's apartment building. The video store manager is Mr. Fludd, the proper caretaker of the seemingly abandoned Thraxstone Hall, who's job it is to let Norma into the building and then leave as if he has something else to do, even though he clearly doesn't. Norma finds her way to the pool featured in the opening credits, sans red tint. There are multiple close-up shots of Jervis staring at the TV or puffing on his Neverending Joint of Wonder, which are presumably supposed to enforce the notion that all this is going on inside Jervis's head. Of course, when I say "are presumably supposed to," I really mean "in no way serve to." If not for the fact that it says so on the box, it would be nearly impossible to tell that half the movie takes place in Jervis's mind. The makeup jobs are complete enough to pass off the characters as completely different from the ones Jervis has interacted with, and even in his own damn fantasy people spend a hell of a lot of time just sitting and staring at the TV.
In any case, we suddenly see that room with the little pool in it, but now it's tarted up like a cheap whore - surrounded with tacky neon lights, fake gold, too many candles in a vain attempt to give some atmosphere, and a bunch of naked black men. Seriously, a line of black men in garments too small to be passed off as loincloths emerge from the pool and walk over to Norma, who is now mysteriously slumped against the wall. They stand her up on the edge of the pool and allow her to walk into it. Then the scene comes to an end. At no point in the movie will it ever be explained how the room became filled with so much tacky crap, who the black men are, what they were doing in the pool, or how Norma ended up lying there in wait for them. In fact, this scene is disregarded entirely. There's a lot of crap like this in "Nightslave," so you can see how I might be fooled into thinking this movie is trying to pull of something grand. You can also see why I want to personally punch everybody associated with this movie in the face until they either apologize for wasting my time and brain cells or lose the ability to do basic math.
Now, you may be asking, "So if the video store personnel become an advertising executive and a stuffy British guy in Jervis's fantasy, what happens to Jervis himself?" I'll be happy to answer that, but first I have to say that I'm amazed you've paid that much attention. If I was able to follow this movie that well the first time through, I would have bought myself an ice cream. Instead, here I sit, ice creamless, but at least I know Jervis's double identity. It's Lord Thrax, the immortal overseer of Thraxstone Hall, who spends his eternity capturing, torturing, and raping young women when he's not busy talking to an inanimate stuffed animal named Grimstone who responds (probably only in his head, but there's no way to be sure) in a voice that's very reminiscent of the peasants in Warcraft 3. Thraxy is getting up there in years, even in immortal terms. He spends most of his time struggling to move around in an old wheelchair, but other times he gets up and walks about with no problems whatsoever. Just what Lord Thrax hopes to accomplish by all of his foul deeds is not exactly clear. We are told that he's not the first person to hold this post, and that killing these women is actually his job. He refers to some "Uncle" a bunch of times, and I believe that Uncle is represented by a screeching female voiceover, but if you want anything more solid than that, you'll have to give John H. Parr a call and ask him what drugs you need to take in order to gain a better understanding of his masterpiece.
Lord Thrax makes his first appearance over an elaborately set dinner table. He pours some old champagne into two cheapass glasses. Just how old is it? Well, it's thickened and turned bright blue, and the only way he can get it to fizz up is by adding baking soda. So I think it's safe to say that it's no longer the fine vintage it once was. Thrax spies down on Norma, who is once again slumped over by the pool, although the pool itself is plain once more. Norma comes to her senses, but is suddenly spooked when she sees a rat near her foot. Now, I understand that some women have problems with rats. Hell, if I woke up in some strange place and was caught off guard, I'd jump if I saw a rat near my foot, too. But Norma completely spazzes out. She tears ass from room to room, screaming at the top of her lungs, looking for some way, any way, to escape the fiendish horrors of the rat. It's sort of odd, when you consider her reaction here, and then realize that this is by far the most frightened anyone acts at any point in the movie, and it's over a rat. Even when Norma finds some fat dead guy's body hanging from a noose, it doesn't have the impact of one curious rodent. Evil masterminds take note.
A long sequence ensues cutting back and forth between Jervis watching his movie, Norma ignoring the fucking swinging body because God knows there's a rat out to get her, and Lord Thrax dressing himself in preparation for Norma's last meal. It's all the cinematic excitement you could want from a guy sitting on a couch, a woman in hysterics over something the size of a bag of Skittles, and an old man talking to a puppet.