Night Slaves (1970)
This made for television film from the Bing Crosby production wing and director Ted Post plays like an extended Twilight Zone episode that has stayed with me for years. I believe I saw it back in the days when late night TV would replay their large catalogue of films from the movie of the week era. I recently found it on youtube. It was time for a revisit to see how my memory is holding up.
The film opens as James Franciscus is involved in a car crash resulting in a serious head trauma injury that requires a metal plate to repair his fractured skull. Wife Lee Grant sets aside her plans to leave him and rushes to his side in order to help in his recovery. Upon his release they embark on a road trip/vacation to help further his rehabilitation.
Their free spirited road journey takes them to an out of the way small western town that includes a diner, bed and breakfast and a local sheriff’s office where we find Leslie Nielsen on duty. All seems in order till Franciscus awakes in the middle of the night to the sounds of large trucks in the street. What’s even worse is that the townsfolk seem to be in a sleepwalking mode and climbing aboard the flatbeds. Mixed into the groupings Franciscus spots wife Lee Grant.
The next day he awakens and tells her of what he feels must have been a dream but things are not adding up. It was all to real and when he finds her dress with burrs stuck to it he knows there is a mystery to be solved. The main problem is no one is talking and most think he’s nuts. Grant thinks he’s still suffering from the crash emotionally and sheriff Leslie Nielsen thinks he’s just plain crazy.
When the same event happens the next night he tries to prevent Grant from joining the crowd only to be shoved aside by the townsmen who are seemingly in a zombie like state. When he tries to run after the truck he finds himself butting heads with what appears to be a force field that isn’t allowing him to leave the western town. Could the local idiot played by Andrew Prine possibly hold the key to the mystery? Or how about attractive Tisha Sterling who keeps appearing when everyone else has left in the trucks.
At a fast moving clip of 70 minutes the mystery plays itself out quickly and keeps lead actor Franciscus on the move. Looking back I do recall the set up and what the reason is for the sleepwalking townsfolk. What I couldn’t recall is the actual ending and what eventually lays in store for our leading man. Having seen it again I realize the film has a good idea but the budget restraints hold it back from being a better film overall. Perhaps if Guillermo Del Toro is a fan of this one he may update it like he did with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark not too long ago.
Due to the fact that James Franciscus played a crucial role in the first Apes sequel he will always find a place in my movie room. Truthfully I have found him both underused and underrated during his film making career. He does fine here as the man who at first isn’t quite sure if he’s losing his mind only to discover something that no one is likely to believe.
How about a Heston cameo. Here he is sharing the screen with Franciscus and maybe my first screen love Nova in Beneath the Planet of the Apes which was directed by Ted Post who also happened to be the director of Night Slaves.