DIRECTED BY: William Castle
FEATURING: Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Irene Trent, Joyce Holland, Hayden Rorke. Written by horror master Robert (“Psycho”) Bloch.
PLOT: A woman has frightening, recurrent nightmares about being taken on surreal and horrifying nocturnal odysseys by an enigmatic stranger.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The film has an offbeat plot that has not been overused, and features bizarre scenes such as waxen animated mannequin entities conducting odd and sinister nighttime church services. There are apparently illogical phenomenon such as the suspension of time. The Night Walker is surreal due to the difficulty that the protagonist has in separating reality from fantasy.
COMMENTS: After her covetous, jealous, and suspicious husband allegedly burns to death in a mysterious laboratory explosion, a wealthy widow (Stanwyck) has recurrent nightmares featuring an imaginary lover (Bochner). He appears to her at night while she is dreaming and takes her on hellish journeys into the macabre. She dreams repeatedly that she falls asleep and then “awakens” to this nightmare while still within a dream.
Each time, the nightmares begin with the lover awakening her at her bedside after she falls asleep. Every night, her clocks indicate that she has awoken from her sleep into the recurrent nightmare at the same time that she went to bed. Bochner eerily tells her, “Time stands still when you’re with me!”
The mysterious stranger drives her through a haunting Los Angeles nightscape to a a creepy, dilapidated chapel where sinister, animated wax figures play the organ and conduct a bizarre and puzzling wedding service. One night she awakens from the recurrent nightmare, only to find Bochner again in her room. She concludes that she has only dreamed that she has woken up, and is trapped in a nightmare from which there is no release. Driven to the brink of madness by this ceaseless paradox, she dramatically screams over and over, “I can’t wake up! I can’t wake up!”
Her scheming, apparently disbelieving lawyer attempts to help her unravel the mystery. But does he know more than he is telling her? Is everyone in her life really who they appear to be? Is she going crazy? Stanwyk’s character struggles to unravel the mystery of what she is experiencing as she attempts to retain her dwindling shreds of sanity.
William Castle employs no pedestrian gimmicks in this surreal, disturbing film. By this point in his career he demonstrates that he has honed his skills as a competent director of horror. Stanwyk carries herself with the same haunting presence with her role in this mysterious noir as she does in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Double Indemnity.
Unlike most of William Castle’s films, The Night Walker is not currently available on DVD.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“A few creepy touches—a cheaply surreal nightmare prologue and a scene that finds Barb sacred by a shish kebab—help relieve the tedium, but the self-styled ‘Master of Movie Horror’ is in far-from-top form here.”–Joe Kane, The Phantom of the Movies Videoscope