Saturday, April 29, 2017

PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)

A SURPRISING, ODDBALL & FUN PROTO-SLASHER.
 I forget how or why I stumbled upon PSYCHIC KILLER but I hadn't even known of its existence before last month; which is odd since it's the final film Jim Hutton made before his untimely death.  Hutton, probably best-known for his role as television's Ellery Queen and for being Timothy Hutton's daddy, stars as Arnold: a man wrongly convicted of murder and committed to a mental hospital.  While inside, he becomes friends with fellow inmate Emilio (Stack Pierce of CLEOPATRA JONES) and is befriended by staff psychiatrist Dr. Scott (no, not the ROCKY HORROR one but instead Julie Adams of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON).  Arnold is having headaches and strange nightmares which Dr. Scott is attempting to help him combat.  Emilio, inside for having killed his daughter (who had become a prostitute) makes a strange promise to Arnold:  the day before he dies Emilio will kill the pimp who turned his daughter into a hooker and the day AFTER he dies Emilio will help Arnold get revenge on those who caused the death of his ill mother.  It turns out Emilio is a practitioner of some form of magic.  
The next day in the exercise yard, Emilio climbs the barbed-wire fence and jumps several storeys to his death.  The next day, a prison guard brings Emilio's belongings to Arnold (which the dead man had bequeathed to him) and a letter to Emilio containing a newspaper clipping reporting the gruesome death of a pimp.  Hmmmm.  Inside Emilio's small cask are some books of magic and a medallion which give Arnold the power to psychically leave his body and kill those who've done him wrong.  Suddenly the real killer of the surgeon Arnold was convicted of murdering confesses and Arnold is a free man; he returns to his mother's dilapidated, cobweb-covered house and those people who mistreated his mother suddenly start meeting gruesome ends.

Jim Hutton, Julie Adams, Nehemiah Persoff and Paul Burke


PSYCHIC KILLER feels a lot like a 1970s supernatural TV movie (and that's a GOOD thing).  I mean, REALLY feels like a 1970s supernatural TV movie . . .until we see the nudity and surprising gore!  The film comes by this atmosphere honestly since director Ray Danton was mostly known as a TV director (aside from this film, Danton only directed the abyssmal HANNAH, QUEEN OF VAMPIRES and the Robert Quarry vehicle THE DEATHMASTER).  The cast is also stuffed with actors who, although movie actors as well, were known for doing a lot of television work in the 1970s.  
Also in the cast is Paul Burke (whose 70's supernatural TV movie Cv includes CROWHAVEN FARM) as the police detective determined to prove Arnold has something to do with these murders.  Veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff (memorable in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode "JUDGMENT NIGHT") appears halfway through the film as a parapsychologist.  The film is littered with great character actors from Aldo Ray (of the Hepburn-Tracy vehicle PAT AND MIKE, WE'RE NO ANGELS and THE MARRYING KIND), Whit Bissell (also from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON as well as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, SOYLENT GREEN, THE TIME MACHINE et. al.),  Neville Brand (of such classic noirs as D.O.A., WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL as well as THE NINTH CONFIGURATION and EATEN ALIVE), and singer/actor Della Reese (who appears in a terrific cameo role in one hilarious scene set in Neville Brand's butcher shop).  The scene is not there to serve the plot in any way but the verbal jousting match between Reese and Brand is priceless and probably my favourite scene in the film!  

While the nude shower scene may be the first clue the viewer has that they are not watching a TV movie, the appearance of some bloody gore effects will definitely shake you out of such complacency.  Bloody and gorey they may be but the effects are also intentionally hilarious as Jim Hutton, in a death-like trance back home in his easy chair, psychically stalks and kills his victims.  And this is where the term "proto-slasher" comes in.  In the history of films leading up to the creation of the slasher genre, everything from Hitchock's PSYCHO to the Italian giallo film pioneered by Mario Bava with THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and his body count classic BLOOD AND BLACK LACE through to Bob Clark's seminal BLACK CHRISTMAS (released a year before PSYCHIC KILLER), this film right here is very much in the same line.  After all, PSYCHIC KILLER features Jim Hutton as a wronged fella seeking revenge and picking off his victims one by one (body count style) in suitably bloody fashion.  That sounds like a slasher to me.  In actuality, there is more blood and gore in PSYCHIC KILLER than in John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN.  Is PSYCHIC KILLER as good or better than HALLOWEEN???  Certainly not.  Is it a fun and entertaining psychic proto-slasher well worth your time.  That's a big 10-4, good buddy!  And Vinegar Syndrome's superb edition is probably the best you'll ever see the film look!   Oh, and did I mention the ending?!?!?!?  I did NOT expect them to go THERE with the ending but it's superb!

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