This week’s entry is from 1971 and sees a traveling preacher and his wife encounter a devil cult in the Old West. Prepare for a showdown at Black Noon.
When: November 5th, 1971
Even though actual Satanists are decent people who have committed less heinous crimes than the Roman Catholic Church, horror movies have a tendency to depict them as a naughty bunch. This was especially true during the 1970s when the devil cult subgenre was soaring thanks to society’s misinterpretation of Satanism. Several films featuring Beelzebub’s minions causing havoc were produced during this decade, but Black Noon is the only one that boasts Henry Silva playing a gunslinger with a porno mustache.
Black Noon opens with a church burning to the ground as a mysterious smiling woman and her cat watch on. I won’t mention who plays the woman — her presence gives away too much information about her character from the get-go — but you’ll likely figure it out for yourself by the time you’ve finished reading this article. Anyway, straight after the opening scene, the film cuts to Reverend John Keyes (Roy Thinnes) and his wife Lorna (Lynn Loring), who find themselves passed out in the desert under the sweltering sun.
Fortunately for the holy couple, they are discovered by Caleb Hobbs (Ray Milland) and taken to the nearby town of San Melas to recover. Upon waking up, Caleb introduces the reverend to his beautiful mute daughter Deliverance (Yvette Mimieux) and coaxes him into sticking around. The townsfolk have an ulterior motive for wanting John and his wife to stay, however, as they fear the villainous Frog (Silva), a formidable gunslinger who demands payment — or else.
The servant of God agrees to hang around for a few days, and it doesn’t take long until he becomes the town’s de facto preacher. His sermons make crippled teenagers walk again and inspire admiration from the crowd. But the longer he and his wife stick around, the stranger things become. Dead owls start appearing in the night. The reverend has nightmares and visions of a topless, bloody man chasing after him. He starts having some impure thoughts about Deliverance, who also frequents his dreams. Something spooky is afoot, and it may involve a secret Satanic conspiracy.
Black Noon was Bernard L. Kowalski’s eighth directorial effort, and the film benefits from having an experienced hand behind the camera. There’s nothing particularly flashy or groundbreaking on display here, but there is no incompetence either. He is directing some fairly standard material at the end of the day, but the strength of an enthusiastic cast and the solid execution makes the movie thoroughly engaging.
Furthermore, despite the film’s opening scene giving away a big spoiler, writer Andrew J. Fenady’s story is in no rush to put all of its cards on the table. The twists and turns won’t surprise horror aficionados who are familiar with this subgenre, but credit must be given to the filmmakers for showing restraint. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Black Noon is one of the earlier Satanic cult films to hit screens in the ’70s, and the only reason why it’s predictable at times is because of the countless — and more popular — movies that came after, adhering to similar tropes.
The main issues with Black Noon lie in its hilarious exposition and on-the-nose Bible-thumping, which are unnecessary given that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it all out. The name of the town isn’t the most perplexing anagram after all, but the final scene spells it out visibly just in case you weren’t paying attention. On top of that, the movie definitely wants you to fear Satan and embrace Christ, but the filmmakers also indulge in the story’s inherent schlock factor and bleakness. Chances are the film’s pro-Christian fear-mongering was merely a way to exploit the anxieties of the zeitgeist. I can respect that.
Aside from a couple of scenes featuring gunslinging, the Western elements of the movie are downplayed. This could be set in any town from any time period and still achieve the same desired effects. But the Old West is still a fun setting for a movie of this ilk, and by focusing primarily on the horror elements, the movie doesn’t become an awkward mishmash of genres.
All in all, Black Noon is an entertaining flick that’s bound to please fans horror fans who are down with the devil. The film doesn’t rewrite the rule book by any means, but it’s a quick watch that packs just enough gusto to transcend its derivative elements.