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Night Terror (aka Night Drive)
Director E.W. Swackhamer's 1977 film Night Terror (also known as Night Drive) stars Valerie Harper as a woman named Carol Turner. When she learns that her son has been in an accident and has been hospitalized, she tries to get ahold of her husband, Walter (Michael Tolan), who is away on a business trip, but she can't get ahold of him. Understandably concerned about her son's wellbeing, Carol decides to get in the car, leave her home in Phoenix and make the lengthy drive to Denver where her son is and where the family was planning to move. She does this despite the fact that she really doesn't look driving on the highway.
Carols drive stretches a few hundred miles and is a long one to do by herself and the vast majority of it will take her through some pretty barren, empty terrain. When she's running low on gas that night, she sees a police officer issuing a ticket to a man (Richard Romanus). Carol stops to ask the officer where the closest gas station is and becomes a witness to murder when the man shoots the cop dead. Carol gets out of there as fast as she can, hoping to get to safety and process what she's just seen, but the killer gets a good look at her and will spend the rest of the night chasing her down and trying to take her out of the picture to protect his identity.
Night Terror owes and awful lot to Steven Spielberg's Duel made a few years earlier in 1971. The premise is very similar, as is the way that both stories play out. Still, it's an entertaining picture despite the derivative nature of its narrative. And the main reason why that is, is the presence of Richard Romanus. His killer wears military dog tags, has visible scars, speaks through a larynx box and us remarkably unhinged. Romanus plays this role to the limit, chewing the scenery whenever he can, yelling at people, trashing bathrooms and generally just being a villainous lunatic. Harper spends much of the movie in hysterics but handles the material well enough and the supporting players are all fine, but it's Romanus's show from the moment he first appears on the screen to the film's finale.
Director Swackhamer has some trouble with the pacing in spots, some more judicious editing could have easily resulted in stronger and more consistent tension instead of the more uneven feel that it has. The film's ending is pretty funny and definitely memorable and the movie has a couple of creative and inspired murder set pieces. The production values are pretty good here, and while many of the desert locations probably would have looked a lot more impressive in widescreen, the cinematography from Frank Beascoechea and Vilis Lapenieks is frequently very good. We also get a decent, if never particularly amazing, score courtesy of composer Fred Steiner that does a decent job of helping to enhance the tension and drama in the story.
Night Terror arrives on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing and Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 widescreen taking up 19.6GBs of space on a 25GB disc. This is a pretty nice picture. The image is clean and shows nice detail. Colors look really good and there's nice texture and depth. There might be a tiny bit of crush in a couple of the darker scenes but otherwise, this transfer turned out very nicely.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono option. Removable subtitles are available in English only. No problems to note with the audio, the dialogue is always clean and easy to understand and the track is properly balanced.
Amanda Reyes and Dan Budnik offer up an interesting audio commentary track that does a nice job of going over the history of the picture in plenty of detail. There's lots of great information here about the cast and crew, the dirctor, the production's history, the themes that it explores, how it compares and contrats with other made for TV movies from around the same time period and lots more.
The disc also includes trailers for The Chosen, The Psychic, Rollerball, Trackdown, Slow Dancing In The Big City and Last Rites. Menus and chapter selection are also included on the disc.
Night Terror is a pretty fun watch. Not quite a classic, it's entertaining with some stand out moments and a seriously awesome performance from Richard Romanus as the heavy. The Blu-ray release from Scorpion Releasing and Kino Lorber features an interesting commentary as its main extra feature and presents the film in very nice shape. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.