OAnjoBrilliantly atmospheric horror from Brazil that prefigures, and very nearly matches, HALLOWEEN and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS in its depiction of a young woman receiving strange phone calls while looking after two children in a secluded mansion.

O ANJO DA NOITE (THE ANGEL OF THE NIGHT; 1974) was the first of two well received women-centered horror films (the other being 1978’s lesbian themed AS FILHAS DO FOGO) by Walter Hugo Khouri, a seminal figure in Brazilian cinema. Other Khouri films of note include the arthouse classic NOITE VAZIE/EROS (1964) and the notorious soft-core opus LOVE STRANGE LOVE (1982), which starred the Hispanic kid show host Xuxa.

For some reason, as of late 2013 it seems the only available prints of O ANJO DA NOITE are in black-and-white–and severely faded and scratched up black-and-white—even though it was filmed and exhibited in color.

The naive college girl Ana heads to a secluded mansion. Upon arriving she’s met by the mansion’s eccentric owner Raquel, who wants Ana to look after her children Caroline and Marcelo for the weekend.

Ana initially settles into the place with ease, and gets along well with the kids. Then night falls and Ana and the kids are left alone, with only the creepy night watchman Augusto for company. Before settling down for the night Ana has a chat with Augusto, who reveals that he was once a gardener, and planted the trees that line the mansion—however, he claims he’s become fed up with the place in recent years.

While taking a bath Ana is roused by the ringing of a phone, and a bit later it rings again. Augusto asks what’s wrong, and Ana tells him a strange voice spoke to her over the phone, informing her she’s going to die soon. When the phone rings a third time Augusto answers, but claims the person on the other end of the line simply laughed and hung up.

Marcelo can’t sleep. He insists on being allowed to ride his moped around the outside of the mansion, and Ana and Augusto oblige him. But then Augusto gets a bit overenthusiastic while clowning around with Marcelo, freaking the kid out.

Then the phone rings again and…well, it just wouldn’t be fair revealing what happens next!

As an exercise in minimalism this film is effective, though it contains a lot of evident padding. That’s particularly true in the excessively drawn-out opening ten minutes, in which the heroine takes a never-ending bus ride to the mansion where most of the film takes place.

O ANJO DA NOITE is otherwise quite strong, with an impressively concentrated narrative bolstered by an expertly delineated atmosphere of creeping apprehension. Walter Hugo Khouri makes especially good use of the empty spaces and creepy statues of the mansion’s interior. Equally well utilized is the scenic countryside locale, which in the beginning is made to seem ominous and menacing through tracking shots that suggest a malevolent P.O.V. (several years before HALLOWEEN popularized such an approach), while in the later scenes the outdoor scenery makes for an effective counterpoint to the claustrophobic horror inside the mansion.

The lead actress Selma Egrei is quite strong, commanding an enormous amount of sympathy while simultaneously keeping us on edge about her true nature. Khouri’s filmmaking is instrumental in this aspect by never letting us hear what (if anything) the unseen phone caller says, making us wonder if Ana’s claims about what she hears are entirely honest.

Khouri also keeps us wondering about the natures of the night watchman Augusto and the young Marcelo. I won’t reveal who the evil party turns out to be, but will caution that the denouement is profoundly grim.

Vital Statistics

L.M. Producoes Cinematograficas/Cinedistri

Director: Walter Hugo Khouri
Producer: Luiz de Miranda Correa
Screenplay: Walter Hugo Khouri
Cinematography: Antonio Meliande
Editing: Mauro Alice
Cast: Selma Egrei, Eliezer Gomes, Lilian Lemmertz, Pedro Coelho, Rejane Saliamis, Isabel Montes, Fernando Amaral, Waldomiro Re