First off, there is no strangling at all in 1972's THE NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER, making this Howco International cheapie one of the all-time worst cheat titles. There’s plenty of killing—by gun, by knife, by snake, by razor—but I guess Houck didn’t think they made for snappy titles (his NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR gets one’s attention too). Howco also played it as ACE OF SPADES and IS THE FATHER BLACK ENOUGH? in black neighborhoods.
Micky Dolenz, just five years after The Monkees were America’s #1 pop group, must have either spent all his millions in a hurry or wanted desperately to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor to appear in this.
Denise Robert (Susan McCullough) returns to her family home in New Orleans, where she breaks the news to her brothers, racist attorney Dan (James Ralston) and ‘Nam-vet florist Vance (Dolenz), that she’s dropping out of Vassar to marry the father of her unborn child, a black man named Jake.
Dan, furious, smacks her around, and hires a blond hippie hitman to shoot her fiancé in the back. A mysterious black-gloved killer dressed like the Scorpio Killer later drowns a distraught Denise in her bathtub and stages the scene to look like a suicide.
A year later, Dan prepares to marry Vance’s ex-girlfriend, and gets into a fight with Vance, who shows up at the wedding drunk. Jesse (Chuck Patterson), a black priest back in the parish after spending time in New York, befriends Vance and attempts to mend the bitterly divided Robert family. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll take.
NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER is more murders, more race-baiting, more red herrings, and more confusion, as the story wavers across the screen like a drunk driver in a hailstorm. Houck spends too much time following a pair of buddy detectives (one is played by Harold Sylvester, who went on to Hollywood) who ultimately contribute nothing to the plot. I’ll give the movie points for the twist ending, which is amusing and more or less plays fair with the audience.
More of a murder mystery than the horror movie its title and ad campaign indicate, NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER is kind of a mess with its low budget showing in its long master shots and tinny sound. To give it credit, it develops its mystery fairly cleverly through the story points Houck chooses to share — and what not to share. It’s a goofy movie, and it wouldn’t kill you to experience it, though it’s only a must-see for Monkees fans, who get to see Micky curse, fight, and sleep with a topless chick. It did nothing for Dolenz’s career, which progressed to Hanna-Barbera cartoon voices and LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT.