Evils of the Night (1985)

At the center of every early 80s slasher is a self-contradictory attitude towards sex. As a genre, slashers are obsessed with teenage horniness. However, they also reinforce old-fashioned values towards sexuality by punishing teen libidos with swift deaths, usually before the desire is consummated. The slasher is an evolution of the classic “road to ruin” exploitation picture in that way, allowing its audience to indulge in the thrill of young people (especially women) misbehaving, only to be brutally punished for the transgression. The 1985 sci-fi horror Evils of the Night starts as a brilliant subversion of that prudish, self-contradictory moralism. Evils of the Night begins the way most slashers do: gawking at teens as they make love in the woods, then are attacked by a mysterious, masked assailant. What’s different is how far the violence-inciting lovemaking goes. Implied cunnilingus & a young woman licking her male partner’s chest hairs immediately indicate that Evils of the Night is willing to push its prurient obsession with teenage horniness beyond the sheepish boundaries of the typical slasher. Then the young dummies start fucking, like, for real. The sex is likely simulated, but it is graphic, falling an insertion shot short of hardcore pornography. A dimwitted teen is still choked to death by an off-screen killer mid-coitus, so the movie easily qualifies as a genuine slasher specimen. It’s also a softcore porno, though, one where 80s pornstar Amber Lynn is joined by the likes of aged television personalities John Carradine, Julie Newmar (Catwoman), and Tina Louise (Ginger, of Gilligan’s Island). And as if that weren’t enough bizarro energy for a 74 minute horror cheapie, the movie is also overrun with 1950s-style space aliens, just because.

On Wikipedia, Evils of the Night is listed as a “science fiction/porno horror” hybrid. This is technically accurate, but it’s difficult to say if any one of the three genres listed in that descriptor are fully satisfied by the film as a finished product. The first half of Evils of the Night is a delightful novelty. Most cheap horror films are usually criticized for having porn-level acting & sets anyway, so it’s oddly refreshing to see one follow through on that (usually unintended) atmosphere. Suntanned idiots pound cheap beer & skinny-dip in a secluded campsite lake while an 80s pop music soundtrack inanely rattles, “Boys will be boys, that’s how they’ll always be.” The only thing that feels out of place is that the genre’s juvenile fixation on naked breasts is dragged out to an absurd length, to the point where two girls are sensually rubbing suntan lotion on each other’s areolas in a display of true, helpful friendship. This gaggle of horned-up teen idiots are incrementally thinned out by elderly garage mechanics in ski masks, who abduct them in small batches and sell them alive to a nearby “hospital” run by space aliens who trade gold coins for teen blood. The sci-fi costuming of the hospital nursing staff looks like an Atomic Age diner-themed strip club uniform, but the nurses themselves never get in on the lurid sex action enjoyed by the pre-abducted teens (outside some mild lesbian caresses). Instead, they shoot stun gun laser beams out of their space alien finger rings and await orders from the bombshell doctor in charge (Newmar), as if this were a colorized Ed Wood picture instead of a slasher-spoofing “porno horror.” Unfortunately, the two halves of the film, the sex slasher and the retro sci-throwback, never converge with any satisfaction. Instead, the movie is seemingly zapped of all its energy (and budget) midway through and wastes an alarming portion of its runtime in the wicked mechanics’ garage, patiently waiting for the credits to roll.

The first shot of Evils of the Night is an impressive special effects display of a UFO landing in the woods, teasing a grand sci-fi spectacle the movie has no intention to deliver. By the time you realize the entire third act is going to be staged in an unadorned garage, however, it becomes clear that special effects footage was lifted from a better-funded production. Had the sci-fi portion of the film led to the hospital staff’s grotesque practical effects transformations into alien beasts it could have made a substantial mark as a late-right cult film oddity. Instead, it drops the two things that make it notable as a variation on the slasher genre (the aliens and the sex) and concludes with two greasy creeps wielding phallic industrial drills, a display we’ve seen pulled off before (and better) in titles like Slumber Party Massacre & Body Double. It’s almost bizarre enough in that opening, pornographic stretch to make the third act’s doldrums worthwhile, though. Evils of the Night only becomes bland once it stops having sex and starts playing its straight-forward slasher beats as if they were inherently interesting on their own. With a more punched-up conclusion (either through space alien transformations or more lakeside skin-lotioning) it could have been a midnight movie classic. Instead, it’s the kind of midnight movie that starts as perversely thrilling, then puts you to sleep halfway through.

-Brandon Ledet

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)

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three star

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I’ve been gushing a lot lately about superhero media that dials the clock back to before the adult-marketed era The Dark Knight has unwittingly spawned. Titles like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows & Roger Corman’s infamously discarded Fantastic Four adaptation have been a comforting return to the Saturday morning cartoon era of superhero media for me, a time where kids’ stuff was actually made, you know, for kids. The recent animated feature Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders brilliantly, deliberately calls back to the superhero movie’s goofy past that I miss so much. Especially in the face of Zach Snyder’s glowering realm of DC Comics adaptations, this kind of campy kids’ media is the exact breath of fresh air the world needs before it suffocates on its own doom & gloom. There were four feature films in the Batman universe released in 2016. Two of those films (Dawn of Justice & The Killing Joke) were tonal nightmares of ultra macho self-seriousness. The other two got by on the entertainment value of so-bad-it’s-good camp. Of that enjoyable half, only Return of the Caped Crusaders can claim to have been bad on purpose (with Suicide Squad‘s mild guilty pleasures seeming much more unintentional). I think it’s fair to say, then, that this silly, animated trifle was the best Batman movie of the year, which is an unlikely distinction, considering the crowded field and its dedication to camp & frivolity.

As with most bankable successes in recent years, Batman or otherwise, Return of the Caped Crusaders is a property that survives entirely on nostalgia. Its voice acting crew is a reunited cast from the original 1960s Batman series, featuring Adam West as the titular Caped Crusader and an ancient Burt Ward as his young . . . boy ward. Much like in the original series, the film’s overloaded with Batman & Robin saturating each line with unnecessary puns & alliteration. When they find a sheet of aluminum foil at a crime scene, they exclaim “We’ve been foiled!” They don’t operate regular civilian weaponry, but cleverly named artillery like “the batzooka.” They refer to Gotham’s A-list villains as “felonious fiends” and to Catwoman in particular as “that dominatrix of deviltry.” When Catwoman fights back by poisoning Batman with a substance she calls “batnip,” she gleefully brags, “His mass muscles will be mine to manipulate.” The whole movie is overwhelmed by these over-written punchlines and by the time Batman admonishes Robin for jaywalking with the line, “No one’s above the law, even when you’re trying to enforce it . . . To the crosswalk!”, it’s easy to wonder if the film is maybe a little too silly & self-aware. Think back to the Adam West performance in The Batman Movie (1966) in those moments. Is anything in Return of the Caped Crusaders really at all sillier than the physical comedy gag where Batman’s attempting to ditch a bomb; but ducks, nuns, and children keep getting in his way? The over-the-top goofball sense of humor in this profoundly silly cartoon match the energy of its source material exactly, right down to the “BOFF!”, “OOMPF!”, and “SPORK!” interjections that color its fight scenes. We’ve just gotten so used to a glowering, no-fun-allowed Batman in the last decade that this feels like a bit much; in truth, it’s exactly what we need.

If I could bother to complain about any one aspect of Return of the Caped Crusaders, it’d be easy to fault the film for having too loose & inconsequential of a plot. The episodic story beats of this animated production feel like a several installments’ arc of a new television series instead of a proper feature film. Batman’s unholy trinity of treacherous traitors are all present here: Catwoman, The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler (Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, William Saylers, and Wally Wingert, respectively). They each get in a scheme to stop Batman and each fails in due time, usually because Catwoman is in love with the billionaire brute. This parade of failed crimes leads to some interesting novelty locations (a circus, a blimp, an American Bandstand knockoff, a TV dinner factory, outer space), but the story mostly just serves as an exercise for more puns & more alliteration. The only decidedly modern aspect to the film is that characters openly & frequently imply that Bruce Wayne & his young ward are a romantic couple, mistakenly believing that to be their reason for secretly sneaking off at night. Everything else feels like a low-ambition return to 60s Batman camp, a silly indulgence in returning to a time where Batman was fun and delighted both young children & stoned college students alike. Some of that 60s vibe doesn’t translate well into a modern context (especially in the multiple scenes of characters being drugged & “seduced”), but for the most part it’s a welcome return to the over-the-top absurdity I wish we’d see more of in our modern superhero movies. Return of the Caped Crusaders doesn’t amount to much more than a nostalgia callback, but it’s a callback to a gloriously silly time in comic book aesthetic we should have never left behind.

-Brandon Ledet