Grindhouse Classics : “The Sex Killer”

Posted: May 4, 2013 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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I know, I know — it’s customary around these parts to feature the actual poster for the movies being reviewed on these virtual pages at the outset of our (okay, my) reviews, but when it comes to Barry Mahon’s 1967 16mm black-and-white quickie The Sex Killer (also released under the only-slightly-less-lurid title of The Girl Killer), no actual, stand-alone poster seems to even exist for it — which probably indicates (along with its scant 55-minute run time) that  it was always part of double- and even triple-bills at the various downtown exploitation houses and rural drive-ins where it got its most-likely-quite-limited-in-number theatrical playings — so the cover for Something Weird Video’s DVD release of it (where it’s presented full frame, with mono sound, and the usual plethora of SWV extras which have very little to do with the films on offer themselves, but  at least bear some tangential relation to the overall theme of the proceedings), which finds it packaged up with The Zodiac Killer  and Zero In And Scream, will just have to do. Sorry in advance, and I sincerely hope its poster-less nature won’t deter you from seeking this curiosity of a bygone era out.

For that matter, I hope the movie’s  obviously-dubbed-in-during- post-production sound, low-rent production values, and risible “acting” won’t scare you off, either, because honestly, the rank amateurish nature of this film isn’t just one of the interesting things about it, frankly it’s the interesting thing about it. The story — or variations on it, at any rate — has been told elsewhere, told much better, and certainly told with more polish — but the gutter-level realism of The Sex Killer really does give it an immediacy that most of the other, slicker fare of this nature (notable exceptions like William Lustig’s classic Maniac notwithstanding) lacks. In short, this flick has an uncomfortable habit of feeling quite like the real thing.

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There’s no point in kidding ourselves — this semi-realism is entirely a function of Mahon’s budgetary restraints, but what the hell — it works. The basic premise is pretty well foolproof — a quiet loner named Tony (played with near-documentary naturalism, except when he’s talking, which fortunately isn’t too often, by Bob Meyer) works in a dilapidated New York City mannequin factory with a bunch of rough-n’-ready yokels who question his manhood at every turn. Tony doesn’t need them for much, though — he’s got the head of one of the dummies he works on to keep him company, talk to, and even take out on the town! Still, that gets a bit dull after awhile, as you’d probably expect that it would, and our soon-to-be-lust-murderer decides to start spending  his off days spying on topless female sunbathers at the rooftop pool of a supposedly-ritzy apartment complex through a pair of binoculars. Even that doesn’t keep him too interested for too long, though, and next thing ya know he’s raping, killing, and then re-raping (yes, there’s some necrophilia in here) the ladies he was quite happy, just a day or two previously, to marvel at from a distance.

Give Tony some credit — he’s not content to rest on his laurels when new avenues for advancement through the sex predator ranks present themselves.

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I guess that’s all you really need to know about what goes on in this movie because — well, that’s all that goes on in this movie. But Mahon (upon whose wartime exploits Steve McQueen’s  character in The Great Escape was based — seriously!), like his contemporary Ray Dennis Steckler, manages to translate the seamy, sleazy, sordid world of his protagonist onto the screen with almost no stylistic “filter” at all — simply because he can’t afford one! It’s entirely possible — hell, even quite likely — that he would have liked The Sex Killer to be a more professional,  or at the very least competent,  piece of film- making, but let’s thank our lucky stars that he didn’t have the cash to do so, because while the end result of his probably-less-than-a-week’s-worth-of-work-here may not be “good” by any (yawn) conventional definition of that word, it certainly is memorable — and that’s often worth so much more.

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Appropriately enough, the film ends without credits (although seasoned viewers of New York-based exploitation productions may recognize Rita Bennett, Uta Erickson, Helena Clayton, and Sharon Kent, among others, as some of the female flesh on display here), which further amplifies the “slice-of-life” aesthetic established from the outset. Lots of movies these days, particularly in the horror genre, are going for a “found footage”-type feel, and while some of Mahon’s supposed binocular angles defy logic or explanation, he by and large achieves exactly that with The Sex Killer.  If somebody popped in an unlabeled VHS tape of it and told you they’d just found it sitting in a trash can or at the bottom of a box in an old yard sale — or better yet, in a dusty corner of a police evidence locker — you’d believe it. I can’t think of higher praise than that — and I’ll take entirely accidental cinema verite over $50 million Hollywood  “realism” every time.

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