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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Night Feeder Blu-ray Review


SRS Cinema

Blu-ray Release: February 7, 2023 (Limited Edition June 8, 2021)

Video: 1.33:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles: None

Run Time: 95:37

Director: Jo Ann Gillerman, Jim Whiteaker, and James Gillerman


Rising fear chokes the free-wheeling underbelly of San Francisco’s Music/Art/Drug/Punk scene as a killer stalks the night to feed an unspeakable appetite. Community suspicion focuses on the punk band Disease, tainted by groupie deaths allegedly induced by the drug DZS, and on The Creeper, a misshapen outcast from the bowels of the city. Investigation becomes obsession for journalist Jean Michaelson (Kate Alexander) when she probes the gruesome murders with police inspector Alonso Bernardo (Jonathan Zeichner). (From SRS’s official synopsis)



In November of 2020, I came to friend, frequent co-host, and creator of the Tracks of the Damned podcast Patrick Ripoll with a wild idea: what if we tried to become experts in the field of shot-on-video (SOV) horror movies, then recorded a multi-part podcast on the subject. The effort paid off with a series of Genre Grinder’s most popular episodes and even led to a clip from the show ending up on Culture Shock Releasing’s Death Magic Blu-ray. While I am definitely not an expert on the subject (I’ve seen about 40 of a likely incalculable number of movies), I have developed some educated opinions. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that SOV horror can pretty easily be broken down into categories – entirely amateur movies made by fans out of love for the genre (or boredom), experimental and transgressive work, and professional productions that used video equipment to save money. The best tend to be a combination of at least two of these categories, mixing outsider perspectives with artistic ambition and low-budget ingenuity.


Jo Ann Gillerman, Jim Whiteaker, and James Gillerman’s Night Feeder (1988) is a singular case of experimental artists engaging in pop filmmaking, seemingly for the fun of it, blending underground culture and gory cult horror with a procedural mystery, a soapy love triangle (technically quadangle), and a genuine character portrait in its central heroine. While each part of the whole is remarkable in its enthusiasm, Night Feeder really stands out because it does so much more with its brief runtime and tiny budget than almost any other SOV horror movie. At the risk of overselling it, I’d even place its ambitions above most shot-on-film horror indies of the period. It all begins with Jo Ann Gillerman (credited on the film as editor and art director) and Robert Terry’s Bay Area-based Viper Vertex, a production company developed to create interactive video for exhibition in art and science museums. I’m not sure where James Gillerman (credited producer and composer) and Jim Whiteaker (credited as director) fit within Viper Vertex or at what point the collective decided to make a horror movie, but, apparently, Night Feeder was planned as an interactive CD ROM feature. I assume that it was easier to sell a fixed edit on VHS tape.



Night Feeder (not to be confused with Jet Eller’s 2006 movie Night Feeders or Polonia-McBride-Polonia’s Feeders [1996], also SOV) was written by first-time screenwriters Linnea Due and Shelley Singer, who offer a uniquely feminine perspective to a largely male-driven genre. There weren’t a whole lot of women writing mainstream horror in the ‘80s and the SOV subset was predominantly a boy’s club (emphasis on the ‘boy’), but, free of studio prejudices, the independent nature of the format did give women a seat at the table. Examples include Suffer Little Children’s (1983) Meg Shanks, Survival Earth’s (1985) Gina Mandelli, Night Terror’s (1986) Renee Harmon, Splatter: Architects of Fear’s (1986) Janet Schater, Terror at Tenkiller’s (1986) Claudia Meyer, Terror Eyes’ (1989) Vivian Schilling, Dark Romance’s (1990) Patricia Miller, and Red Spirit Lake’s (1993) Annabel Lee. Still, Due & Singer’s work stands out for its focus on lead protagonist Jean, who dominates the narrative as one of the most unabashedly idealized modern women I’ve ever seen in a pre-millennial horror movie.


Jean is a successful, hard-nosed investigative reporter who lives in an underground club where she enjoys hanging out with goths and punk rockers. She has successfully inserted herself into a major murder investigation. She's in her thirties (one character refers to her as “older”), but still exceptionally desirable across class and age lines, sought by a straight-laced lawyer ex (who, to be fair, doesn’t last very long), her punk rock frontman roommate, and a protective police detective. She’s active in the community and dons a different, equally fabulous outfit in every scene. The punk rock kids love her, the local community respects her and recognizes her wherever she goes, women want to be her, men want to be with her. There’s almost no equivalent in popular media – even romantic comedies and workplace sitcoms, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Murphy Brown present quirky and/or annoying heroines struggling for recognition and affection. So much time is spent with Jean, her investigation, and grown-up problems that it’s easy to forget that Night Feeder is also a movie about a blood-thirsty baby, mutated by comically powerful street drugs, that is attacking addicts and sucking their brains out of their eye holes.



Night Feeder also functions as a video archive of the Bay Area punk and New Wave scene circa the late ‘80s. One actually gets the impression that the film’s true purpose was chronicling underground culture and music, and that everything else was a secondary consideration. Everyone involved is hamming it up for the camera, but there’s still a potent authenticity to the grit and grime of the underground, as if we’re getting a genuine glimpse into the performatively nihilistic period that connected mid-’80s punk to early-’90s mainstream alternative rock (not to mention that there was a Bay Area specific punk/power pop revival happening at the same time). It’s almost like a musical documentary bookended by frothy drama and horror, and the band at the center of this almost-documentary is San Francisco’s own The Nuns.


The Nuns began as a Spinal Tap style faux-band established in 1975 when Alejandro Escovedo and Jeff Olener decided to play the part of strung-out, talentless musicians in their own college student film. They added vocalist/keyboardist Jennifer Miro (aka: Jennifer Anderson), developed a sizable local following, and ended up opening for punk pioneers The Ramones, then The Sex Pistols (alongside The Avengers) at The Winterland in 1978, in what was that group’s infamous final performance. Following an initial breakup (Escovedo moved to Austin, Texas, and found greater success in alt-country music), Miro, Olener, and drummer Jeff Raphael reformed the band with a Gothic New Wave slant, around which time they appeared in Night Feeder. Miro also grew a separate following as an actress, performer, and fetish model. She can be seen in Robert Scott’s The Video Dead (1987) as the unnamed woman in the haunted TV and in Stephen Sayadian’s Dr. Caligari (1989). The group released a DVD in 2008 entitled The Nuns: New York Vampire that included two episodes of an unfinished series called New York Vampires, two short films, Drucilla Darling and A Message To Nigel, and live concert footage. Miro passed away in 2012 following a long battle with cancer. Oddly enough, Night Feeder is not included on her IMDb profile, nor is it mentioned on the band’s own Wikipedia page.



The extreme horror fanatics who are only here for the graphic violence will have a lot of Jean’s adventures and Nuns performances to contend with, but, while it’s not on the level of one of Olaf Ittenbach’s gut bucket SOV chunk-blowers, Night Feeder does have some profoundly nasty moments waiting for the patient gorehound. Remember, again, that it is a movie about a brain-sucking mutant baby. The special effects were done by industry professional Jonathan Horton, who had previously worked on Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine (1985) and Joe Dante’s Innerspace (1987), and they are among the best you’ll ever see from a SOV horror movie. Among the litany of bloody eye holes is a step-by-step autopsy of a victim’s brainless head, complete with scalp peeling, skull sawing, and the reveal of what little the monster leaves behind. The baby itself finally appears in the final minutes of the movie and is a charmingly gruesome little Muppet on par with the murderous newborns of Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive movies and Belial from Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982). Come to think of it, Night Feeder is sort of a West Coast answer to Henenlotter’s classic. It’s not as grubby, but fans of the former might want to check out the latter.



Video

Night Feeder was one of a limited number of SOV horror movies to have a home video release, though, even by these standards, it was an extreme rarity. Bleeding Skull Video re-discovered and re-released it in 2015 as a limited edition DVD and matching clamshell VHS. This particular Blu-ray was initially part of a fundraiser by SRS Cinema. They were going to do a limited run of 200 BD-Rs, but changed the goal to 1000 pressed discs, which were officially released in June of 2021. The advertising claims that the transfer it shares with this standard issue BD was restored in 2K from the original 1-inch master (I assume a Type C videotape). On the commentary track, Whiteaker says the production used the then-new Betacam SP, a professional grade video, which has a horizontal resolution of 340 lines, better than consumer grade camcorders. The detail and clarity SRS has gotten out of this 1080p, 1.33:1 transfer is commendable. There’s probably some expensive and magical upconverting software out there that could make it pass for an HD source, but that might rob the film of some of its charm. Though I should make it clear that Paul Kalbach’s ultra-saturated, smoky, MTV-style cinematography does a lot to make Night Feeder look as good as a lot of higher budgeted, shot-on-film B-horror movies. And the professional grade equipment doesn’t lend itself to the wobbly scanline grit you might see from truly amateur SOV horror, so a measure of clarity and vibrancy is welcome (though there’s still a consistent scanline present on the very bottom of the screen).


Audio

Night Feeder is presented in 2.0 stereo and compressed Dolby Digital sound. As you might expect from a SOV movie, the on-set sound is middling and the foley work rarely blends, though the overall effect is obviously better than you’d hear from a camcorder-shot, VHS machine edited movie. The focus is placed on performance and music, and the results are similar to what you’d hear from a daytime soap around the same period. Dialogue is clean enough to understand, but also pretty flat and a bit awkward in terms of volume consistency, especially when too many characters are talking over each other or James Gillerman’s synth score is overlapping the discussion. The score is a bit undercooked (there is an arguable excess of ‘mood chords’), but it does include some memorable cues and has the advantage of minor stereo enhancements that help keep things separated. The Nuns mime along to two songs, “Suicide Child” and “We Are the Damned,” and they all sound good and relatively dynamic for an analogue tape, rather than CD source. I noticed two short squeaky spikes that I guess signify compression errors during my first viewing.



Extras

  • Commentary with director Jim Whiteaker – I was very much looking forward to hearing about the making of the movie straight from the filmmakers (the press release claimed it would be all three of them), because there simply isn’t much information available on the film. Whiteaker begins by explaining his relationship with the Gillermans, their decision to make a movie, and hiring Linnea Due and Shelley Singer to write. From there, he runs through what he remembers of the cast, crew, and extra cameos from other artists (acknowledging that he can’t remember everything), discusses budgetary issues, and does his best to explain some of the effects. There’s a lot of downtime, though. I think a good and enthusiastic moderator would have improved the pacing and maybe helped Whiteaker dial back on simply narrating what’s happening on screen. Still, any information on the making of Night Feeder is welcome.

  • Image gallery

  • SRS trailer reel



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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