Release Date(s)1964 (February 20, 2018)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C-
Master showman William Castle, fresh off of the success of Straight-Jacket, immediately pumped out another horror film that same year, but with less success overall. The Night Walker, which reunited him with Robert Bloch (author of “Psycho”, amongst many other works), features a story about a woman whose dreams and nightmares begin melding with her waking life, but the cause of this is far more sinister than even she can imagine. One part Twilight Zone, one part Psycho, and all parts William Castle, it’s considered by many to be one of his finer efforts.
There are many appealing qualities about The Night Walker, not the least of which is the starring team of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, which the film’s marketing department unsurprisingly leaned on. As the film’s sometimes illogical plot plays out (with traces of Gaslight and Diabolique, I might add), it becomes abundantly clear that Castle was going more for suspense and atmosphere than simple jump scares, although there are a few of those as well. The wedding sequence, for instance – shot in a church using many odd angles and surrounded by a group of creepy mannequins, is not only disorienting, but also eerie. Anyone familiar with The Twilight Zone episode The After Hours will definitely recognize the similarity.
Stanwyck’s performance as a woman who is slowly going mad over the course of the film is quite good, portraying her vulnerability with class but also not afraid to belt out a scream once in a while. The film’s conclusion, like many of its ilk, isn’t quite as satisfying as the rest of the film, but getting there is one of William Castle’s better endeavors. Some may find its lack of obvious schlock appeal to be a bit on the boring side, but in a run of films where that’s the main draw, its director managed to pull off something more interesting. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a sorely underappreciated one. On a side note, those with an appreciation of voice actors might want to pay attention during the film’s opening, which is narrated by the great Paul Frees.
For many years, The Night Walker was notoriously difficult to see, unless you managed to catch it on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. Outside of an MOD release in the TCM Selects series (a double feature that also included 1965’s Dark Intruder), the film hasn’t had a proper home video release since its VHS release in the 1990s. Scream Factory comes to the rescue with a new high definition transfer from the film’s interpositive element. Looking better than ever, The Night Walker now has a go-to presentation and I can now retire my lower quality DVD-R copy of it. The element used for the transfer is in good shape, but it carries over some scratches and speckling, which are more prevalent in some scenes than others. Fairly heavy but stable grain is on display with crisp detail and decent grayscale. Black levels are deep with some inherent crush while overall contrast is satisfactory. I personally think it could have been brightened up a tad more as it appears a bit too dark, but I digress. The only other thing of note is some minor instability. The audio is presented via an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. Right off the bat, Vic Mizzy’s excellent score for the film stands out quite a bit as the best thing about the track. It has plenty of space to breathe and comes through with the most clarity. Dialogue and sound effects are clear enough, including some obvious overdubs which stick out more than I was expecting. Mild hiss is also present throughout with only occasional distortion coming from Barbara Stanwyck’s amazing screams. Minor flaws aside, this is a fine presentation.
This disc also sports a few extras, including a new audio commentary with film historian and author Steve Haberman, in which he offers up a variety of information about the film, its director, and its stars. It’s not a particularly well-produced track as there’s lots of silence in between statements, but the trove of information is invaluable nonetheless. Also included is the film’s original theatrical trailer in standard definition, a radio spot (or possibly two edited together, I’m not sure), and a still gallery containing 103 images of behind the scenes stills, promotional stills, posters, and lobby cards. According to the sales and marketing pamphlet that’s found in this gallery, there were also TV spots and interviews produced with Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, and William Castle. Castle also shot the six-minute Experiment in Nightmares short film, which was a sort of teaser trailer featuring hypnotist Pat Collins. Unfortunately, none of this material could be included, but a small portion of the short can be seen in the film’s trailer and a low quality TV spot is floating around on YouTube.
The Night Walker is a film that I’ve always championed ever since I originally saw it. It probably won’t win any popularity contests, but being that it’s not had the best home video life, now is a better time than ever to rediscover it. Scream Factory’s efforts in resurrecting this little gem of suspense are greatly appreciated, myself included.
- Tim Salmons