Nightmare At Noon

Director: Nico Mastopakis            
Wings Hauser, Bo Hopkins, George Kennedy

There must have been a time for both Wings Hauser and Bo Hopkins, on the set of Nightmare At Noon, where they each individually reflected on their current situation with some amusement. That's not only because they were together in an earlier movie - Mutant - but that the premise in this movie they were reunited in is very close to that of the previous movie. And that's not all - in this movie, Hauser is cast in a role that's pretty much like his role in Mutant, and Hopkins eventually finds himself playing the same role he played in Mutant as well! Coincidence, or not? Who knows. Anyway, I thought Mutant was overall too slow and shabby to work. With that in mind, I thought Nightmare At Noon would be more of the same tedium, especially since I had earlier read several negative reviews of it. But to my surprise, I found myself enjoying it. It is somewhat of a mess sometimes, but in-between the mess there was plenty of entertainment, and of different kinds.

The first way this movie is superior than Mutant is immediately apparent - the production values. Though taking place in the dead of night outside the small town of Canyonland, what happens can be seen clearly, and looks sharp to the eye. We see two mysterious A.P.E. (Agency for the Protection of the Environment) vans creep through the desert landscape to a body of Bet you didn't know Brion James could glow in the dark water, and the mysterious leader of the armed agents (played by Brion James) uses a peculiar gun to fire an eerie green chemical into the water. The superior look of this movie continues when it then cuts to the morning, where we see married couple Ken (Hauser) Cheri (Kimberly Beck) driving their motor home through the desert, towards Canyonland. Here and subsequently throughout the movie, the desert landscape looks spectacular, not just due to the bright and sharp photography, but because of the impressive rugged Utah landscape, as well as some thoughtfully chosen camera angles (including some shots from a helicopter.)

The movie doesn't just look good, it sounds good as well, showing off the first of many examples of its superior stereo sound when the motor home's brakes hiss when the couple stops to pick up ex-cop hitchhiker Reilly (Hopkins). The three of them soon pull into a restaurant into town for breakfast, and rather quickly figure something strange is going on when another patron of the restaurant turns When they got into a fight on the set, Wings Hauser shielded himself from Bo Hopkin's blows with one of the zombie extras ashly white within seconds, then finds it quite amusing to stab the waitress in the hand. It's a big struggle (read: tables and windows break, and one of those baseball bats you typically find displayed on the wall of a restaurant is used during the fight), but the two men manage to wrestle down the man until the town's sheriff (Kennedy) and his deputy daughter arrive to take him into custody. When Ken and Cheri drive off not long afterwards, their motor home mysteriously breaks down on the outskirts of town, and they are forced to walk back. Once back, all the characters find more citizens going on murderous rampages, and all communications out of the city are mysteriously jammed. It's now not just an investigation into just what is the cause of this situation, but it's now a mission to survive.

Of course, this means more attacks from the (I think we can call them this) zombies, though they aren't the typical zombies you see in horror movies. Yes, they are homicidal in nature, but at the same time they act, well, goofy. Their growling and lunging frequently comes across not as being bloodthirsty, but like a severe case of horniness. In most of their attacks, there's some degree of (black) comedy that can be found. They are George Kennedy - ass kicking action star! not the only semi-comical figures to be found; Brion James (billed as "The Albino") is the villain behind it all, but pale makeup has been plastered on his face, and with that, his mustache, and his sunglasses, he can't help but invoke giggles. George Kennedy plays his role straight, but he's made to do some stuff, like acting macho while shooting his pistol at zombies, that willing viewers can see as subtle comedy. Wings Hauser mostly plays it straight, but there are scenes (such as when he's upset) where he acts so incredibly bad, you have to wonder if he's going for laughs. On the other hand, his co-star Bo Hopkins plays everything competently and straight, so you also wonder if Hauser was taking his scenes seriously as well.

Whenever the movie becomes silly - whether it's intentional or not - the silliness is seldom heavy-handed, so you smile at the light touches of goofiness instead of being bludgeoned to death by har-har laffs. So what if in a traffic accident, a big explosion happens just before the two cars collide? It's an amusing mistake, and besides, the subsequent shot of one of the cars launching and twisting around in the air is pretty cool to see. Zombie knife-wielding priests getting shot, spurting green blood! What more do you want? There are several other good action sequences, though it's odd that a lot of them have to do with cars. Yes, there are some good zombie struggles (including a cool and brutal junkyard fight), though you see far more cars and non-zombie personnel getting shot up and/or blown up. Despite the movie going off-track with its promise of zombie rampaging, this other stuff is pretty well done. Even if the climactic action scene has no zombies at all in it, it is still entertaining with its speed, great photography and skillful editing.

The movie doesn't just make the odd decision to forget about zombies in the climax - around the two-thirds point of the movie, the movie gets out of town and turns into a kind of western. I don't know why the movie made this odd decision, because common sense says that if the characters stayed in town, there would not only be the threat from the zombies, but from the new threat that confronts the protagonists. More threat means there would have been more potential, and possibly more action and horror for the movie to milk. There are several other head-scratching moments, including a subplot with Cheri that has an unexplained outcome, Ken objecting to guns while having a big and expensive shotgun in his camper, and the fact that the motives of The Albino and his A.P.E. boys (if they are indeed who they claim to be) are never really explained.

These and a few other peculiarities seems to suggest that the original screenplay had a lot more to it, but that these explanations were edited either for time or budgetary reasons. Despite the lInsert your own "Too many beans at the campfire" caption hereapses in the story and its leaving the town two-thirds through, director Nico Mastorakis keeps us entertained, even managing to mesh together radically different material in a way that makes it palatable, not making it feel awkwardly nailed together. Mastorakis has a talent of making you feel the atmosphere of any location visited in the movie; the small town actually feels like a real small town, and the desert locations feel rugged, isolated, and like they are hiding something.

The action sequences look especially polished, and he manages to sneak in a few moments that come out of the blue and startle us. He does well with the characters as well; though Hauser and Kennedy may look ridiculous at times, overall they - and the other characters - come across much smarter that the characters you typically find in small towns in horror movies. It doesn't take them that long to determine what is happening, and their subsequent plans to save themselves and the townspeople seem like the logical things that should be done. This movie may not be a classic, and may not be exactly what you think you'll get, but it manages to be entertaining all the same.

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See also: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Mutant, Slaughterhouse Rock