Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nightfall (1988)

This film is truly something special. Dave Kehr (1988) of the Chicago Tribune probably said it best in his 1988 review, writing, "'Nightfall,' an ultralow-budget production from Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures, is one of those oddball exploitation films that, through impoverishment, desperation and galloping incompetence, inadvertently manages to enter the avant-garde." Based on a short story by Isaac Asimov, and expanded into a full book in 1990, Nightfall (1988) goes beyond the realm of bad and good and into another dimension of pure fascination, incredulity and "frequent breaks for mysterious modern dance numbers" (Kehr 1988). Harrington (1988) of the Washington Post also writes an insightful review, describing Nightfall (1988) as, "so inept, obtuse and absurd that it serves as a celluloid Rorschach, inspiring giggles and groans with virtually every frame." Harrington's summary critique of the film is that it's, "shot. On a weekend. In an outdoor area covering perhaps half an acre. With a budget in the hundreds of dollars and a cast of dozens. With costumes picked up at the "Ishtar" distress sale. With a screenplay credited to director Paul Mayersberg, though it has the feel of communal improvisation. With no beginning, no development, no explication de texte, and, most frighteningly, no apparent end." Frightening indeed. Kehr (1988) was also slightly distressed by movement of the movie, writing that, "It's a film in which no one event is privileged above another, in which the links between those events are either nonexistent or unreadable; and it's a film with a much higher level of confusion and uncertainty at the conclusion than at the beginning." Oh the confusion! To be fair, it does seem like the film used to be an hour longer and that they just sort of cut scenes willy-nilly. Especially those few crucial seconds at an end of a scene where the camera settles on something and the audience has a chance to process the craziness that just happened - they got rid of all those. I actually had trouble differentiating the characters throughout the film, and not just because many of them were wearing masks made out of tree bark or old tires or something. They just all looked really similar. I'm thinking it might have been some sort of metaphor for the different cults and how they are just opposite sides of the same coin. But I'm also thinking it might be wise not to over think this film.
So how did I manage to tangle in this preposterous playground you ask? One glimpse of the backbox summary should be suffice to understand why I chose this film out of my stacks upon stacks of absurd VHS tapes - "Against a backdrop of eerie landscapes, forbidden passions and political intrigue, Nightfall explores the conflict between science and superstition." I love superstition! And I love science even more! The entire movie is centered around these various populations of people coming to terms with an age of darkness as the suns of their planet set.
"Do you believe in a world without light?" (just one of the many amazing quotes in this movie)...
The religious group has no eyeballs - they all get plucked out by hungry falcons so the followers can idolize their blind Richard Simmons leader. And the science cult is led by a man with luscious locks who asks important and insightful questions like,
"'Where do you come from?'
- Up there, you always ask me that.
'Well you're mine now.'"

The science guy also has a lot of sexy times - but what scientist didn't in the 1980's? My personal favorite was the bizarre snake bite scene where the dude gets nibbled near his man bits and then the chick sucks out the poison before they erotically roll around in the curtains. This is tempered by a later scene in which the chick (I can only assume it's the same woman....) says,
"If I'm so weak why do you want me?" while he accosts her with a different serpent and she negotiates, "I will go with you but I want you now," punctuating the scene by sticking her tongue out like a lizard.

A lot of other strange things happened too. And many of them are set to strange music. This of course is my favorite part. Bell scenes, drum scenes, flute scenes and weird death liturgy chanting scenes serve to differentiate the populations of characters while also really tripping me the fuck out. Although I am a sucker for an original sci-fi music scene. 
Speaking of bells, the ones in this film drew my attention because I have one of them hanging on my wall - a gift from some friends who visited the hippie arcology site Arcosanti out in the deserts of Arizona. Founded in the mid 19th century by a architect named Soleri, Arcosanti is an art commune combining elements of education, architecture and ecology. And yes, apparently the entire movie was filmed there, even using some of the residents as background actors. Well that explains why the sets looked inexplicably sweet considering the rest of the budget. I'm not sure if it explains the chime based lightning icicle sword fight. Or the twisted linen thong fights. Or the 80's flash dancing into the apocalypse. Although that does seem like a pretty decent way to go out. Speaking of decent, here are some of the best lines:

"You really think you are written in your book?"

"The end is beautiful, isn't it?"

"All our history and progress is nothing. It is possible that nothing important has ever been said. It's possible."

"I hate this time. I hate this place. I hope we all die."

Awww, chin up Nightfall (1988). You aren't that bad! Even if the final moments are confused, delirious, and stabbed in the vagina as they all turn their backs on science and freakout into the sunset.

In the end, like all good religious apocalypse movies, Nightfall (1988) casts judgement upon itself: "But I want you so much I can't even tell if I love you"/"What do you fear about nightfall? Everything comes to an end."

So it does. And thank science for that!


Harrington R. 1988. 'Nightfall' (1988). The Washington Post. May 30, 1988.

Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension. 1999. B-notes: Nightfall (1988). October 02, 1999.

Kehr D. 1988. 'Nightfall' stumbles to avante-garde. Chicago Tribune, Lifestyles. June 09, 1988.

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