Night Vision (1987)

Where does creativity come from? Different disciplines offer different answers to this question. A biological perspective might say that it comes from electrical activity in the right hemisphere of the brain. Psychology might say it’s born out of some necessity imposed upon us by our environment. Yet other fields would suggest that it’s an outcome driven by mere curiosity. Thankfully, we can look back to 1987 for an alternate explanation, some might say the most logical one. In the world of the low-budget horror film NIGHT VISION, creativity is derived from a demonic VCR.

Wide-eyed Andy Archer (Stacy Carson) arrives from Kansas as a simple fellow in a strange new place – the big city. (Exactly which city is never known; New York City is a fair guess, but there are two references to the Boston Red Sox). He lands at a wacky flophouse, host to all sorts of restless souls and odd characters, from Charlotte, a gregarious gender-fluid prostitute, to the hotel’s boisterous manager, Ms. Sapperstein (“Excuse me, I have to kill someone.”)

Andy’s immediate objective to find steady work is demonstrated through a job search montage, and his growing despair is articulated by a conversation that ends with him screaming, “BUT I AM A GOOD WRITER!” into a phone. Indeed, his grander ambition is to soak up the sights and sounds of his new urban landscape – the nightly domestic dispute next door, weird alley smells, a guest passing out while taking a dump in the only bathroom in the flophouse, etc. – and use the surrounding inspiration to author the next great piece of American fiction.

After stumbling into the local video store in search of “natural dialogue,” Andy finds himself in the orbit of a wise-cracking store clerk named Jill (Shirley Ross). He turns in a job application and in an act of good faith, he rents a copy of “Blood Nymphos.” In his travels later that night, Andy helps a mustachioed man evade a group of strange, pale attackers dressed in robes and sunglasses. The would-be victim is a small-time thief named Vinnie Scotto (Tony Carpenter), and as a token of gratitude, he steals a case of Labatt’s beer for the two of them to drink together at his apartment. After showing Andy a spare bedroom filled with electronics, Vinnie has another gift for him: a VCR and television to furnish his crappy room at home. As you may have guessed, the VCR (by Sansui!) and TV were indeed stolen.

Andy and Jill start to work together and grow closer as friends. Like most people who bond over VHS tapes, they have sex. The stolen VCR zaps fingers and draws blood. Green light and distorted chanting from the TV cause Andy to have extremely sweaty nightmares while sleeping. People start dying. The video store gets ransacked. Someone is killing neighborhood cats. Andy’s diet consists mostly of stolen beer and cans of pork and beans. Most important, he’s writing the best short stories of his entire fucking life.

Who are the robed figures lurking in the shadows of the city? Can Andy ride this wave of creative energy out of the poorhouse and into the penthouse? What is the origin of the strange signals from the stolen VCR and TV? And what does his room smell like if he’s only consuming beer and cans of beans?

If you spent 80+ minutes of your life to watch any of LONE WOLF (1988), MINDKILLER (1987), or THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990) and you got a good return on your investment, you have Michael Krueger to thank. As he did for MINDKILLER the same year, he pulled double-duty as both director and screenwriter for NIGHT VISION. And just like MINDKILLER, the screenplay for this film was the result of Krueger’s collaboration with two co-writers. This arrangement can work out fine when those voices are in sync or it can lead to an unfocused vision that wanders in several different directions.

NIGHT VISION is primarily about the desperation of writer’s block, but there are other narrative elements in the mix: a whodunit mystery, the city itself as foreboding force, and a techno-horror leveraging the “evil transmission” trope seen in films like VIDEODROME (1984), TERRORVISION (1986), and PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987). Unfortunately, the bare-bones production values and mostly bloodless style betray any serious attempt at coalescing these high-minded concepts in a convincing way. Green light, a grainy ritualistic montage shot on VHS, and dudes in robes are a fine start to a spooky film about demonic consumer-grade audiovisual equipment, but the film would have greatly benefited from more visual flourishes to distract from the otherwise flat presentation.

There are WTF movies of all shapes, sizes, and genres, and there is an entirely different category of micro-budget films that viewers dig solely because they entertain beyond their means and offer an earnest approach. If you watched LONE WOLF and felt that sort of stirring in your soul, this is another cinematic sacrament on your way to being a disciple in the Church of Michael Krueger Movies.

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