Archive for May, 2013


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.


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.


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.


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.


It’s definitely a tough call, with many worthy contenders to the “throne,” but if someone were to ask me what the out-and-out sleaziest entry in the Crown International Pictures “canon” is, I’d probably have to go with writer/director Richard Kanter’s ultra-mean-spirited, deeply misogynistic Wild Riders, a bikesploitation flick that positively oozes ill will toward the fairer sex and does its best to make tragic heroes out of a pair of thieves, rapists, and murderers. As is so often the case with movies we look at around here, they sure don’t make ’em like this anymore, and maybe that’s not always such a bad thing —

Consider : the “action” here starts with two obviously fucked-in-the head bikers (our titular “Wild Riders”), whose names we later learn are Pete (the comparably “suave” one, played to the hilt by Arell Blanton) and Stick (the scruffy one, played by Alex Rocco in the same year he’d take his legendary turn as Moe Green in The Godfather), not only raping some luckless lass, but then proceeding to nail her to a fucking tree, an act so outlandish and beyond the pale that it proves to be too much even for the outlaw Florida cycle club they’re riding with, with the end result being that the gang gives ’em the boot and Pete and Stick make tracks for sunny California (which is where the supposed “Florida” scenes were shot, anyway).

Our psychopathic twosome doesn’t waste too much time getting to know the lay of the (La-La) land once out west, deciding almost immediately to go have some — ahem! — “fun” at the snazzy Hollywood Hills home of a good-looking young lady they spy laying out by her pool. It turns out the aforementioned mistress of the house, buxom brunette Rona (Elizabeth Knowles) , who likes to live on the wild side a bit, is sharing her semi-palatial digs for a few days with her equally-buxom, but frankly kinda repressed, red-headed gal pal Laure (I know, I know — it looks like there should be an “i” in her name, but there isn’t — oh, and she’s played by Sherry Bain) while her apparently-not-all-that-missed hubby, an accomplished cellist, is away. If  all that sounds to you like a sure-fire set-up for disaster —well, you’re right.


Pete manages to smooth-talk his way into Rona’s pool, then her house, then her bed, but things don’t go so well for semi-retarded dirtball Stick and Laure, and when she insults his manhood, he ends up raping her in rather savage fashion.  To her credit, she doesn’t take this indignity laying down (no pun intended, honestly) and after informing Rona what her new house “guests” are really like, Pete flips his lid and decides to get just as rough as his buddy. An odyssey of home-ransacking, hostage-taking, and violent sexual assault soon unfolds — and then things get really weird.


Despite his rather sudden and violent about-face, Rona actually finds herself falling in love with Pete (hey, actor Arell Blanton did, in fact, sing this movie’s low-grade folk-ish theme song, so maybe he’s got other hidden “talents,” as well), and Kanter most definitely plays up some kind of pseudo-sympathetic angle vis-a-vis his thoroughly sadistic protagonists, to the point that what when the cello-wielding man of the house makes his return , finds what’s happened to his home and his honey (and her friend), and uses his instrument to exact murderous revenge on the interlopers, we’re actually supposed to feel, well — kinda sorry for them!

I’m sure, at this point, that this all sounds, as the title for this review would imply, like Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda have wandered into Wes Craven’s classic The Last House On The Left, but this movie actually came out a year before Krug and his fucked-up family changed cinematic history forever. Am I saying Craven copied Kanter in any way, shape, or form? Probably not — it’s been well-established that Bergman’s The Virgin Spring was the thematic progenitor for Last House, and we’re definitely supposed to sympathize with the victims and their grief-stricken paretnts in both those films rather than their attackers, but the timing is quite interesting, to say the least.


Still, to be perfectly honest, that strange historical parallel is probably about the only reason I can think of to recommend that anyone sit through Wild Riders. This is some thoroughly unpleasant stuff, and the “just a good ol’ boy, never meanin’ no harm” angle that Kanter plays is only compounded in its offensiveness when he has one of his victims end up having her hear stolen by her victimizer. I’m normally the first guy in the room to enjoy it when all conventions of good taste and morality are thrown out the window (the less enlightened might go so far as to celebrate this film’s “political incorrectness,” but there’s nothing noble about bucking the supposed “PC” status quo when we’re talking about rape, for Christ’s sake), but this one was a little much even for me. Sure, later fare like I Spit On Your Grave is much more graphic and brutal, but at least Meir Zarchi had enough sense to know who the villains were in his film.


What the hell, though — if you’re curious, Wild Riders is available on DVD from Mill Creek as part of their three-DVD, 12-movie Savage Cinema collection, where’s it’s presented with a nice-looking widescreen transfer, good mono sound, and no extras. This set’s pretty heavy on biker fare in general, so all in all it’s a solid purchase — especially given its well-under-$10 price point — but honestly, this particular flick is only worth taking in for its value as a historical curiosity, and is repugnant enough to probably  make even the most die-hard Tea Party supporter and/or Fox “news” viewer thankful for at least some social progress.