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Before the Night Is Over
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Another low-budget sex-positive effort from Richard Griffin."
5 stars

If there’s anything you can be sure of, it’s that any film offering a clip from the indescribable silent oddity "Dementia/Daughter of Horror" has its cult-flick priorities squared away. That was true of "The Blob" back in 1958, and it’s true of "Before the Night Is Over," the new horror film by Rhode Island director Richard Griffin ("Flesh for the Inferno," "Code Name Dynastud").

There’s a bit when confused protagonist Samantha (Samantha Acampora) sits in the living room of an all-male bordello, watching Dementia on an old Sylvania TV, and she is joined by one of the house’s studs (Ricky Irizarry), who puts his silk bathrobe on her. Since this is also an erotic mood piece, wherever you think this act leads is probably correct.

Dementia is in there, I think, because it proceeds almost entirely through stark image and twisty dream logic, and that seems to be the direction Griffin increasingly wants to go. Before the Night Is Over is chockablock with more mystery and heavy breathing than anything this side of a David Lynch thriller, and I think I need to see it again to catch some of the plot. Or do I? The story here is not nothing — it’s firmly in the tradition of southern gothic, with intimations of the inferno — but I suspect Griffin tells the story as much because of the eerie tone it affords as anything else. It’s possibly no coincidence that many of the men who live in or frequent this house are contending with the shame of the closet in various ways. When one of the young studs goes missing, so does everything in his closet, as if…as if he’d never existed (spooky laughter).

What’s real in the movie and what isn’t? If you need that nailed down for you, I’m not sure this is your cup of mint julep. The movie’s influences include ‘70s made-for-TV horror, but it feels to me like the sort of R-rated ‘70s horror film you used to see on TV in the afternoon (on Dialing for Dollars, say), cut for time and content. Before the Night Is Over runs just 73 minutes, including credits, and I wonder if it could’ve stood to be a reel or so longer, if only to luxuriate in the morbid decay of the setting, with its locked rooms and peeling wallpaper. Samantha Acampora makes a solid, wide-eyed navigator through the sinister goings-on, and when the madams of the house start cooing over an imminent guest by the name of Wheatstraw, we have a better idea where we are. This bordello is a place of shadows where secrets — sexual or homicidal — squirm and fester. There’s a whiff of the eternal here, as in The Shining, and it seems as though the houseful of figurative vampires and zombies are here solely for Samantha.

The rare filmmaker equally indebted to Lucio Fulci and James Baldwin, Griffin has, in recent years, felt himself pulled towards more queer-positive subjects, in answer to the current regime. The horror in Before the Night Is Over, as in William Friedkin’s Cruising, has less to do with gayness than with the type of violence to body and soul that a closeted atmosphere makes possible. The movie is set in 1973, and well-to-do men show up at the door to scratch an itch they can’t legally scratch out in the world (sodomy laws were big and bad in the ‘70s, especially down south). There may or may not be a murderer picking off studs and clientele, and the house itself may or may not be a limbo for the unquiet dead, but all of the narrative uncertainties drive towards the subtext of secrets guarded with steel and blood.

This is the sort of gothic that, back in old Tennessee Williams’ prime, might have been coded so that the hot action was nominally hetero but in spirit very much not. Griffin gets to promote the subtext to text and empty the closets.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33466&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/30/20 11:45:48
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USA
  15-Feb-2020 (NR)

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