Night of Something Strange (2016)

Art has always loved to explore the proximity of love and death; and horror – the genre most closely associated with death – has often taken a positively hyper-erotic approach to its preoccupation with our innate impermanence. More specifically, sexually transmitted horror can be traced back at least as far as David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975), but came into its own recently with a spate of venereal shockers – Éric Falardeau’s Thanatomorphose (2012), Eric England’s Contracted (2013) and David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014) . These have spread like the clap, addressing anxieties, in a digital age of sanitised remoteness, about the contagious transmission of our mortal essence. And now there is Night of Something Strange, perhaps in the poorest taste of them all. Where those other films present their admixture of eros and thanatos in deadly earnest, Jonathan Straiton’s film is the most unabashedly, disgustingly fun, aiming straight and true at the midnight movie crowd. As endlessly outrageous as it is allusive, this is definitely ‘one for the fans’.

Night of Something Strange opens not with a sight, but with a sound – more specifically, the sound of someone urinating – and so introduces from the outset the toilet humour and focus on bodily functions of a film that is literally taking the piss. From here on in, all imaginable (and some unimaginable) fluids that can issue from a human being will be featured and fulsomely feted, with the characters mere vessels for the viral spread of irrepressibly icky id.

The story starts in much the same way as Contracted, with hospital orderly Cornelius (Wayne W. Johnson) picking up something monstrous from having furtive sex with a corpse in the morgue. The first half of Straiton’s title pays homage to George A. Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead – and indeed as a group of co-eds head out for ‘beach week’, Cornelius’ contagion spreads like a zombie plague. If Christine (Rebecca C. Kasek), her naïve cousin Jason (John Walsh), her best friend forever Carrie (Toni Ann Gambale), her other best friend forever Samara (Alexis Katherine) and Carrie’s sex-mad boyfriend Freddy (Michael Merchant) are all named for iconic horror villains – and Samara’s ex Brooklyn (Tarrence Taylor), the only African-American in the group, is apparently named after Wes Craven’s Eddie Murphy vehicle Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) – then perhaps that is because these hapless teens are their own worst enemy, victims as much to their own sexual drives as to the priapic monsters that they must face.

Even before the infectious rot has set in, these kids like to shart in each other’s faces, to enter each other’s orifices, even to masturbate behind dumpsters, so that the creatures that eventually confront them, complete with snake-like phalluses (think Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage and Bad Biology, and Adam Field’s One-Eyed Monster) and vagina dentata (Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police and Mitchell Lichtenstein’s Teeth), come across merely as monstrous expressions of their own libidinous urges. En route to becoming over-indulgent Spring Breakers, they stop at a Psycho-like motel, where they are caught between weirdo hillbilly staff, rape-happy zombies (killed by being shot to the groin rather than to the brain) and an unexpectedly eroticised retake on Freddy vs. Jason (2003).

All this will inevitably play well to a boozed-up audience of genre lovers. Much, however, of the dialogue (from a screenplay attributed not only to Straiton but to the improbably named Ron Bonk and Mean Gene) is perfunctory at best, and the comedy here tends to be as juvenile as the principal characters. Asked why he left the army, Christine’s possibly psychotic love interest Dirk (Trey Harrison) replies: “A long story – bad ending.”  For any viewers who do not regard menstruation, condoms and homosexuality as inherently, hilariously abhorrent, Dirk’s words might also prove the film’s epitaph – but this body horror comedy does indeed offer a strange night of dumbed-down gags, adolescent prurience and film savviness that will find its own level.

© Anton Bitel