At the early stages of Night of Terror, I was confused as to why this energetic, entertaining old dark houser didn't have more of a following. The credits immediately set a course for fun, as we meet our characters inside a gypsy's crystal ball, and things just get better from there. But, after about 15 minutes or so, the film starts to falter and shed everything that made it special.
There's a maniac on the loose and, of course, he looks like a cross between Torgo and every hobo at the hobo camp. We open in medias death, with the maniac stalking and slaying a parked couple. Then we get rapid-fire cuts of townspeople discussing these killings.
So far, so good! Then it's off to the rich home of the rich Rineharts and their multi-ethnic servants. One of them Rinehart boys is a scientist who has found a formula that creates safe suspended animation. "Think of all the submarine crew lives this could potentially save!" is seriously his argument. But he has to test it first, which means getting literally buried in a coffin for some reason that's never explained.
Pretty soon, our two plotlines will converge. In the meantime, we get to enjoy gloriously stupid dialogue, like so:
DEGAR: Perhaps you'd like the evening papers?
RICHARD RINEHART: No, there's nothing in the paper.
DEGAR: Nothing...but MURDER!
A+. Besides ridiculous exchanges like that, we also get almost John Waters-style crazy bitchiness, as when one character says, "Think of it, including servants in his will! I'm disgusted!"
Soon enough, alas, the frantic energy burns itself out and we're left a generic thriller that seems to get lazier and lazier as time ticks away. Sometimes, something bubbles up that's worth seeing, such as the baffling performance of Oscar Smith as "Martin the Negro chauffeur". He's here to fill the traditional frightened-black role of hiding behind chairs and such, but his delivery is just impenetrable. We get long pauses in the middle of sentences and stammering that I guess is meant to convey fear, but sounds more like a stroke victim having an episode.
Otherwise, this movie fights hard to squander the good will it's earned and take its place in the serried ranks of horror mediocrity. The very end is a small redemption, but it's not enough to make up for what Night of Terror did to us during its last 45 minutes of life. The early promise it shows almost leads it up to ***, but its crimes and deficiencies mean that it will be stopped at the border.