Night of Fear

(Terry Bourke, Australia, 1972)

BY LAURA KERN | November 23, 2023

An interesting piece of Australian horror history is that one of the first examples of the genre wasn’t meant to be a feature film at all. Night of Fear was originally intended as the pilot of a TV series called Fright, but was—not at all surprisingly—rejected. It’s a nasty, quite experimental little piece of early torture porn: strange, unrelenting, gloomily atmospheric, and genuinely bone-chilling. When Night of Fear was instead approved for theatrical release, though running under an hour, it was promptly banned. The notoriously embattled director Terry Bourke was no stranger to censorship issues—his debut, 1968’s Sampan, which contained the first nude scene in a Hong Kong production, ran into trouble as well—but after a successful appeal, it did play on some cinema and drive-ins screens. His follow-up movie, Inn of the Damned, the 1975 horror-infused meat-pie Western (Australia’s answer to the spaghetti Western), was another planned Fright episode, this time (over)expanded to feature length.

Night of Fear relies heavily on sound, yet no dialogue is spoken by the characters. We hear screams, horses’ neighs, and even a radio weather report, but the film mostly communicates through its unusual, frenzied score (uncredited) and editing (by Ray Alchin). And it presents a particularly deranged villain (Norman Yemm), revoltingly off-putting with his dirty tee and overalls, scarred face, some sort of leg brace, and huge collection of rats. There are also some cats in cages around his property, though it’s not entirely clear why. (He seems to have an affinity for these animals, but horses aren’t so lucky.)

Driving a bit recklessly after a pleasant morning of tennis followed by sex with her lover, a woman (Carla Hoogeveen)—no character receives a name—is run off the road by a moving van. Her car becomes stuck in the dirt within range of the backwoods hermit, who proceeds to stalk and terrorize her for one hellish night (though the sun doesn’t actually go down until halfway through the movie). The psycho’s house is appropriately horrific, with creepy dolls and newspaper clippings relating escape and murder decorating the place. But we don’t learn much more, as details are only hinted at. It’s all truly the stuff of nightmares, and the film plays out like one, though the most disturbing scene of all is thankfully revealed as just a bad dream. A “trailblazer,” as producer Rod Hay calls it in Mark Hartley’s dazzling 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, Night of Fear has an enviably gritty style that people have likened to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which the Aussie thriller preceded by two years. 🩸


is a writer, editor, and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

X: @killerkern

How to see Night of Fear

Import Blu-rays and DVDs can be found, but there’s never been a proper U.S. release.
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