Truth be told, I’ve never been too big on Westerns. I don’t know why; I just don’t connect with most of them, or maybe I feel that there’s something missing. Perhaps…Satan?!? Yes, of course we’re heading back to the ‘70s where the Behooved One thrived, even on the small screen. Saddle up for Black Noon (1971), a long forgotten horror/western TV movie that laid the groundwork for some well-regarded horror films.
First airing on The New CBS Friday Night Movies on November 5th, Black Noon had no real competition from the NBC World Premiere Movie or ABC’s Love, American Style, with audiences taking to this insidiously laid back demon oater.
Let’s crack open our telegrammed copy of TV GUIDE and have a look see:
BLACK NOON (Friday, 9:30pm, CBS)
A preacher and his wife deal with mysterious forces in a small western town. Roy Thinnes, Ray Milland star.
Our tale opens with a church burning to the ground, as a beautiful blonde woman (Yvette Mimieux – Snowbeast) smiles and watches. We cut to a burning desert sun, as Reverend John Keyes (Thinnes – The Norliss Tapes) and his wife Lorna (Lynn Loring – The Horror at 37,000 Feet) are stranded, their wagon broken down and Lorna suffering from heat exhaustion. Lo and behold, they’re rescued by Caleb Hobbs (Ray Milland – Frogs) and other town folk of San Melas, and taken there for rest and recuperation. Caleb explains to the good Reverend John that their minister had moved on and the church had burned down (hmm…). We soon meet Caleb’s mute daughter Deliverance, who happens to be the same night gowned beauty from the start of the show (double hmm…)
San Melas is a (once thriving) mining town, which brings black clad bad guy Moon (Henry Silva – Alligator) around to collect his dues. After Reverend John helps to shoo him away, the town wants him to stay and be their new minister. However, he and Lorna are due to help out another town with their ministry. Unfortunately, Lorna doesn’t seem to be getting any better (could it be Deliverance’s wax likeness of Lorna that’s causing her distress? Nah); and as their departure keeps being delayed, Reverend John finds himself at the center of the town’s sudden good fortune. During a sermon, a lame child suddenly walks; a mother lode of gold is discovered in the mine; and Deliverance starts to speak! Praise Jesus! Not so fast. While the good Reverend wants to stay to bask in his good deeds, Lorna suspects that the townsfolk are not who they seem and demands they leave the next day. But the new church has been constructed, and the fine citizens of San Melas beg Reverend John to perform one more service before they leave town forever. And really, what harm could that do?
Black Moon pulls off a minor miracle: it doesn’t telegraph its punches. Keep in mind this was 1971; and while you may pride yourself in figuring things out early on, that’s just hindsight. Several films have used this plot device since (you’ll recognize them after you’ve watched this), but at the time it was pretty unique, and more than a little bleak. But that’s what the ‘70s specialized in; if Satan is involved, it never ends well. And although the “lessons” that Black Moon put forth would be fit for a Sunday school class, the method of delivery is anything but Christian. This thing has an ending so traumatic Ned Flanders’ kids would pray for their Saviour to take them then and there.
Director Bernard L. Kowalski (Attack of the Giant Leeches) and writer Andrew J. Fenady (The Man with Bogart’s Face) very methodically piece out the information needed to the viewer, again, in such an insidious way that I hadn’t realized the end game until it was revealed on screen. Thinnes, Milland, Mimieux, and Loring give solid performances; Thinnes probably delivers the most subtle work, all the more impressive because he’s the audience surrogate who pulls us along to the gripping finale, and has us invested in his journey. Mimieux underplays wonderfully; although all of the evil is filtered through her on screen, her sense of innocence makes her all the more sinister. And Loring has possibly the creepiest scene, as she pleads angrily with her husband to leave San Melas.
It’s not often that restraint is shown in a film or show dealing with the Devil. It’s so easy to haul out the fire, brimstone, horns, and altars where Beelzebub is concerned. Black Noon eschews that tradition; it shows that sometimes horror is borne out of hypocrisy and ignorance – and sure, the occasional burning church.Next: It Came From The Tube: NIGHT SLAVES (1970)