[Written for Film.com]
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Terror is a Man, aka Blood Creature, a 1959 film that might be called—in fact, let’s do it—the Citizen Kane of Filipino horror movies. Essentially a variation on (read: uncredited rip-off of) The Island of Dr. Moreau, Terror is a Man is an atmospheric little shocker that partakes of the usual violence level of a movie of its era.
With one exception: during an operating-room sequence, there’s some real footage of an incision being made in a torso. Ecch. Luckily, the film comes with a warning buzzer that goes off when this is about to happen, something we’ve been alerted to in a prologue. So you can shut your eyes when you hear the buzzer, unless, like me, you forget about the buzzer by the time we get to the operating room, and you’re sitting there thinking, “What’s the hell’s that buzzing sound?” and you end up seeing the gross footage anyway.
I mention this by way of introduction to Shadow Hours, a gloomy low-budget movie that employs something like the same gimmick, but without the buzzer. Recovering addict Michael Holloway (Balthazar Getty) is taken on a creepy nocturnal tour by a sharp-dressed mystery man, Stuart Chappell (Peter Weller). After they’ve gotten through the tame stuff of underground L.A., such as illegal fistfights and private cathouses, they cruise through an S&M club with people doing real, on-screen piercings, a little un-faked freakshow. We get fish hooks forced through cheeks and eyelids—nothing too downtown, if you know what I mean—just to lift the movie briefly into the “mondo” category of cinema. Presumably, in the Russian roulette sequence that follows (here, as in The Deer Hunter, a yardstick for how degraded man can get), real bullets were not used.
Other than this bit of exotica, Shadow Hours is a standard morality tale, and looks especially weak in the shadow of Eyes Wide Shut and Fight Club, which it resembles. Two-time loser Holloway is trying to put his life back together, with a new wife (Rebecca Gayheart) and a baby on the way. After getting sober, step one is working the graveyard shift at a gas station. His manager is played by Brad Dourif, whose presence in a film these days could easily be accompanied by a buzzer going off. Writer-director Isaac Eaton follows a predictable, if sometimes entertaining line: Chappell is the sweet-talking seducer whose character may or may not be actually satanic.
It’s a good role for Peter Weller, and he knows it. Chappell’s long monologues about the rotten nature of mankind are the film’s strong suit, and Weller gives off the bald pleasure an actor can take in a sleek role like this. The rest of the picture is music, alternative chic, and too many montages of life in a gas station. And let’s face it, a single montage of life in a gas station is pushing it.