Thursday, October 06, 2011

RIP, Charles Napier

The great character actor Charles Napier died yesterday at the age of 75. Blessed with the best grin in Hollywood, the Kentucky-born Napier was adept at playing heavies and heroes, comedy and drama, starring roles and supporting parts. One of his first television appearances was as a singing space hippie on STAR TREK's notorious "The to Eden," and he is best known as Good Ol' Boy Tucker McElroy in THE BLUES BROTHERS and Rambo rival Murdock in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II. Napier was also part of Russ Meyer's repertory company, and played starring roles in Meyer's HARRY, CHERRY AND RAQUEL and SUPERVIXENS.

1987's THE NIGHT STALKER is basically a routine policier with heavy doses of sex and violence, but is also a decent showcase for Charles Napier as a leading man. Stuntman Max Kleven, who directed the action-heavy RUCKUS and W.B., BLUE & THE BEAN, joined forces with noted cult-movie icons to make this violent crime drama for Almi Pictures, the distributor of Fred Williamson’s ONE DOWN TWO TO GO and Lucio Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Don Edmonds (director of ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS) and actor Buck Flower (THE DIRTY MIND OF YOUNG SALLY) produced THE NIGHT STALKER, and Edmonds and John Goff of C.B. HUSTLERS and DRIVE-IN MASSACRE wrote the screenplay.

Napier takes above-the-title billing as J.J. Striker, a drunken, burned-out Los Angeles cop. Of course, he’s late with the alimony, drives a beater, gets suspended from the force, and says, “I’m too old for this shit.”

Okay, so far, not the most original concept. Striker and his gum-chewing, wisecracking partner, Charlie Garrett (Robert Viharo, star of BARE KNUCKLES, which Edmonds also directed), investigate a string of call-girl murders in which the victims are found with their necks broken and their faces painted. Yeah, we’ve seen this before too, though the agreeable buddy-cop chemistry between Napier and Viharo provides a great deal of humor.

Here is when it gets more interesting. The serial killer is hulking Chuck Summers (Robert Z’Dar), a psycho veteran impervious to bullets, punches, and pain. That’s because he’s learned an ancient Asian method of stealing the lifeforce from his murder victims to gain immortality for himself. Summers prolongs his own life by shortening others. Like a lot of Z’Dar’s roles, the role of “the Night Stalker” (although he’s never referred to that way) doesn’t allow him to do much acting, but his physicality and unique facial structure inspired director William Lustig to cast him in MANIAC COP a year later.

The script is lacking in the continuity, logic, and dialogue departments, extending to the cliché of putting Striker’s loved one—Denise (THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL’s Katherine Kelly Lang), the ward of Striker’s ex-hooker lover Rene (Michelle Reese)—in harm’s way as Summers’ next target. Kleven keeps the story moving, however, jazzing up his action sequences with interesting camera placements and beefy stunts and squibs. Really, Kleven doesn’t do as much with the script’s supernatural elements as he could have, but it allows him to bloody up Z’Dar in a series of shootouts that leave the monster standing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just watched this - great, underrated thriller! I wish Charles Napier had more leading roles back in the day a la THE NIGHT STALKER.