Night of Fear (1972)

Director Terry Bourke
Writers Terry Bourke
Starring Norman Yemm, Carla Hoogeveen, Mike Dorsey, Briony Behets
Genre Psycho
Tagline Hunted and Trapped! Her Nightmare is Just Beginning!

Normally I would throw in a quote here, but for Night of Fear's entire 54 minute running time no one says a single word. The movie is basically images, concepts, and you may just need to concentrate to pick up on where Director/Writer Bourke is going with this one. What's real interesting about this movie is that it is arguably the first ever Australian horror flick, ergo it's of extreme historical significance. By the by it also got banned Down Under due to "indecency" something U.S product of the time didn't have to suffer from, and to be honest it's perfectly tame by today's standard.

If you don't like low budget indie horror flicks then feel free to skip the rest of the review.

Talk us through it

Backwards, decaying cabin, dude with strange obsessions, welcome to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before it was a twinkle in Tobe Hooper's eye. The deranged dude, not Hooper, traps a horse chick in his cabin of ill repute, and then we flash back to

a hot chick rips off some dude in a motel and then implausibly goes to play tennis and have some wild action with some smarmy git. This actually has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but then what the heck Director Bourke is being experimental here. Anywise hot chick, never named in the movie, proceeds to have a car accident and gets molested by some hick in the bush. Toss in some rats, severed heads, and cats for no apparent reason and you have the movie. Something really strange ensues.

Before there was Mick, there was rat boy.


Bourke opens his movie with what we assume is the current day. Chick, not named no one is in Night of Fear, is riding her horse through bushland 100 klicks or so from Sydney. She is being stalked by some deranged dude, though the audience are aware of this before she is. Bourke going with a Hitchcock approach there. Naturally this leads to the cabin that dripped blood, and we are on the edge of our seats wondering just what might be going down here. Bourke throws in a pretty cynical horse death instead though the gore is kept to the screen flashing red. Remembering this is 1972, that's a pretty out there start to a movie of the period. We then flash back in time, and Bourke skillfully joins past action with flashes to the present.

What makes Night of Fear standout is Bourke's attempt to portray the thoughts going on in his deranged rat boy's head. We get past chick holed up in the cabin, and just when we are wondering where the psycho is going to break in he unleashes the rat horde. We then get quick flashes of some pretty depraved stuff interspersed with live action. Rat boy is sitting outside having a good old play with himself, but Bourke informs us of what he actually wants to do. Things really come to a head there, see the movie to pick up on the pun kids.

A solid early attempt at trying to show madness in it's full glory, I was bouncing up and down in my seat to Bourke's beat with this stuff.
You get the impression rat boy has more than a few roos loose in the top paddock and fantasy is his only outlet. Strong, solid, add whatever description you like here.

What Bourke does well is throw in a few short shots which amplify what you are seeing. Rat boy feeds raw meat to his rats, shown and then left for later interpretation. Newspaper clippings on the wall indicate this isn't going to finish well for hot chick. And the quick montages of the interior of the cabin really bring home rat boy's insanity. There's a whole lot more, and Bourke was making dolls appear sinister well before Chucky wanted to play and James Wan made a career out of them. There's nothing being shown that doesn't impact at some stage later in the movie, however Bourke can be pretty obtuse with some of the visuals.

Bourke hits his stride with the chase through the bush, and simply nails the insanity happening at the cabin. The Sawyer family are pussies compared to what's going down with rat boy. For people who hate the whole horror thing of "a bus load of idiots" you are going to burst a blood vessel with Night of Fear. Hot chick escapes the Psycho, then heads back to her car and hits the horn. Good move there, guess her relatives take vacations camping at Crystal Lake. On the bright side of the axe, at least the gene pool is being improved.

The movie does have a few weaknesses besides the clearly low budget. Too much time is spent introducing minor characters, and not a lot is made of a few scenes that really add nothing to the movie. Hot chick rips off some dude in a motel, hot chick roots some rich prick after a game of tennis. Why exactly these scenes are in the movie remains a mystery, they don't go anywhere towards explaining the character, and they don't come into play with how the character reacts. I was happy enough with rat boy getting no background, besides those news clippings on the cabin wall, stock standard horror villain no explanation required.

Behind the camera Bourke knows what he is doing and is pretty restless. We get some great use of crane cam, angles from all over the shop, and the quick shotgun images were used to portray atmosphere like a wild night in Bangkok. The mood is certainly going down, though Bourke is a bit out with his pacing. Night of Fear lags in some scenes, and there's no overall attempt to keep things going to any sort of rhythm. The entire first half of the movie needed some serious editing, as it's not heading anywhere at a glacial speed. Quite a few viewers might want to switch this one off before the second half hits the afterburners. Stick with it folks, your time in country will be paid off by the closing credits.

For the sharp-eyed amongst the audience there is one glaring error in the movie. Check the sign posts and you'll note the main setting manages to move from 120 clicks outside of Sydney to 15. For Aussies the movie was shot on location in Narrabeen.

Norman Yemm (rat boy) presents a pretty good Psycho. All in the eyes and marvelous use of the gammy leg. I certainly wouldn't want to run across this dude in the outback. Maybe he has a few beers with Mick on the weekend or something. Carla Hoogeveen (hot chick) is pretty convincing as the damsel in distress, though the movie is too short to adequate convey her emotions. Carla hits the being scared thing however, and I was right behind her. Mike Dorsey and Briony Behets don't get enough screen time, with Dorsey's character being surplus to requirements. The jury is out on Briony's horse gal, as Night of Fear may have been better as a two shot with just the leads.

Bourke adds some T&A, which no doubt got the censors collective knickers in a knot. Once again pretty tame by today's standards, and the Director was certainly upskirting before it became fashionable. We get a good idea of what undies Carla Hoogeveen had on during the tennis match, and both Carla and Brionry do the heaving breast thing. The ladies have to settle for the rats, who remain nude through out the movie. So no this movie does not really head into exploitation, damn where's William Castle when you need him.

Was amiss in not taking note of who did the score. It starts with pretty standard horror style violin movements going down, before getting right off the beaten track and going totally experimental on our arses. Lot's of percussion, and real discordant notes being hit on a keyboard. Interesting and a break from the full on orchestral style favored by other dark genre movies.

Summary Execution

I was actually quite bored by this movie till about the twenty-minute mark when Bourse made up a lot of ground with me. An interesting enough flick end of day taking into account the issues outlined above. Reasonable performances from the leads, good macabre atmosphere, and plain nasty in places. Overall a good solid harbinger of all things horror to come from Down Under in future years.

Night of Fear was original intended as the pilot in an ABC TV series entitled "Fright", a planned thirteen episode journey into the macabre. Unfortunately the series got shelved before more movies could be made no doubt due to the censors having a cow over this movie. Down Under you can score Night of Fear on a double release with Bourke's later effort Inn of the Damned. A nice package with some surprising extras from Umbrella who are promising a lot more Aussie horror re-releases. Now if we can get someone doing the same for Kiwi product I'll be a happy reviewer.

There are possibly only two sections of the reading audience who will be interested in getting a copy of Bourke's portrayal of madness. Either you are a horror historian or are a fan of Australian Film. Others may find the movie dated, and will be put off by the experimental nature of the whole thing. However if you want to see what contemporary Directors were doing around the time Hooper hit out with TCM then Night of Fear is well worth dialing into. The only cheese going down here is the stuff being feed to the rats.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Worth hunting out on the double release Umbrella have put on. In some ways a ground breaking movie though slightly dated for modern audiences.