I miss good anthology series in which the stories last a mere 30 minutes. Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone managed to always give a great story in the limit it was given: whether that be the traditional 25 minute episode or season four’s extended episodes. When I saw that television writer Ted Post had directed Night Slaves, I was really looking forward to watching this.
Post directed four episodes for Twilight Zone between 1960 and ’64, including “A World of Difference.” If there was anything apparent while watching Night Slaves it’s that Post was incredibly influenced by the work he did on the show. The script was based on a novel by Jerry Sohl, an uncredited writer for two of my favourite TZ episodes – “Living Doll” and “Queen of the Nile.”
But boy oh boy was Night Slaves a bit of a bore. In many ways, this made-for-TV movie was stuck between two things at once while not being either. It’s an overly-long episode of the Twilight Zone that forgot it was meant to be a movie.
Clay Howard is in a car crash that takes the lives of two people and ends him up in surgery to get a metal plate in his head. His wife, Marjorie, was meaning to tell her husband that she was leaving him for her man-on-the-side, but the accident made her a weak, which is why the estranged couple decide to take a vacation together.
The little town that the couple stop at is a little like a Western town; it even has it’s own lurking hillbilly about the gas station. When the couple go to find lodging, the woman says she was awoken from a nap, and that she doesn’t typically get tourists at that time of year.
Actually, everyone in the town is rather sleepy. They sleep in the diner. The sleep in the police station until they’re woken up by a man named Fletcher. He says his wife and his daughter Annie had gone missing.
On Clay’s first night in the town, he quickly discovers why everyone is so tired all the time. In the middle of the night, he awakes from a nightmare to find that Marjorie is missing. He looks outside and sees townspeople being loaded into the back of pick-up trucks. When he turns around, he finds a strange girl sitting in the corner of his room (played by Tisha Sterling, Rod’s daughter).
He tries to call to Marjorie, she sees in a trance and doesn’t acknowledge him. He’s then knocked down while she’s driven away. Clay goes to the police station and finds it entirely empty, including the cells.
When he wakes up, he’s back in his room and so is Marjorie (though no strange lady in sight). Despite the fact that he wakes up thinking it’s all been a dream, he quickly swings the other way and begins accusing everyone of being in on the Master Plan. He shouts at the lady who runs the B&B and then runs to the sheriff and recites back all the details about the jail when no one believes him.
While this is all going on, Clay and Marjorie are being watched by the gas station man (it’s only just occurred to me I don’t know what he does, but this job was meant for him). The two are blissfully unaware of this fact, but Marjorie is mostly just concerned watching her husband slowly losing it. She calls her boyfriend and tells him she’s worried – especially when Clay demands they stay in the town another night.
The second night is mostly the same as the first, despite Clay trying to stop it. After watching Marjorie being taken away, he sees the girl again, who says her name is Naillil. She tells Clay that she is a technician and works for an elder named Noel. It’s forbidden that Naillil helps Clay, but she shows him the force field that stops him from leaving with the others. Though she does promise that the people will be okay, and that they will always come back safely.
When Clay tells his wife about the two people in control of the people, Marjorie realises that the names are just the names of the people who were killed in the car accident, spelled backwards. She writes Clay off again as someone who is just suffering from the stress of the accident.
Meanwhile, the body of Mrs Fletcher is discovered in a field, only adding the mystery of where the daughter Annie has gone.
On the third night, Clay finally gets the bright idea to hop into a truck himself and see where they go. He sees that all the hypnotised towns people are helping to build something. When he’s spotted by Naillil, she admits that she’s missed the man, and they kiss (because they’re in love already – duh).
It’s revealed that Noel is in the body of the gas station creep. Naillil is in the body of the missing Annie Fletcher. He explains to Clay that the people are only there to help them repair their space ship so they can leave Earth. Clay wasn’t under their control because of the metal plate in his head.
Clay takes the whole alien thing pretty well, actually, and is invited by Naillil to join them. But Noel refuses to let the human come with.
The next morning, Clay is arrested for being linked to the disappearance of Annie, who he admitted to have seen. He strangely admits to their deaths (though it is later revealed that Mrs Fletcher died from cardiac arrest).
Clay is finally released from prison after retracting his statements, but as soon as he gets the chance, he makes sure he drives like a bat out of hell to the place where the spaceship was being repaired.
The police chase after Clay, but when they arrive at the field, they only find Clay’s motionless body and a confused Annie Fletcher. Then there’s a super-excellent shot of Clay and Naillil running through the field together as spirit-type things. Marjorie only looks briefly remorseful before reading off with her boyfriend.
So at least it’s an ending where everyone gets what they want, right? And they didn’t even have to deal with pesky divorce papers.
In many ways, I think Night Slaves taps into classic sci-fi horror films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It just needed to get somewhere a bit faster. Or maybe do something else other than watch people piling into the back of trucks over and over again (literally, it’s the same shots used each time).
Would I ever recommend Night Slaves? Maybe, if you’re really into seeing more work like Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. But there’s so much lacking here that I usually enjoy in made-for-TV movies. Maybe because it’s a bit classier than the rest. Maybe… but probably I just have bad taste.
I recommend seeing “They Came from Beyond Space” from 1967. The plot of “Night Slaves” (1970) seems to be a tracing of this and several other movies of the time.