Posts Tagged ‘Barry Mahon’

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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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So, like, what’s this one all about, then?

Actually, believe it or not,  the title of director/”star” Barry Mahon’s 1965 nudist camp “thriller” The Beast That Killed Women is something of a misnomer — it might more appropriately be called The Beast That Killed Naked Women. And really, there’s not much more you really need to know beyond that, but since you asked —

Part Miami Beach video travel brochure (in the days before there were such things as “video travel brochures”), part “naturist expose” (an old trick filmmakers used to employ to show a lot of skin in their flicks without running afoul of the law in the days before hardcore, or even softcore, porn was legal), and part standard-issue “dude in a gorilla suit on the loose” -type story, The Beast That Killed Women tries to be a lot of different things and succeeds at precisely none of them.

For one thing, the skin on display isn’t just far less than titillating, it gets downright dull after about 10 minutes (thankfully the film’s total runtime is only 60 — but be warned, it completely runs out of gas after about 30); for another, even by the dismally/gloriously low standards of 60s nudie pics, the “plot” is stark in its ineptitude (wife unhappy with her lack of an all-over tan convinces her hubby to sign them up for a week (I think) at a Miami nudist resort, but no sooner do they get there than an escaped ape with a taste for female flesh starts terrorizing the place — finally, a reasonably attractive female police detective volunteers to go “undercover” — as in, without covers — to capture the run-amok monster); and lastly on our list of things this flick does poorly, the ape suit is almost surrealistically cheap and unconvincing. Here’s visual proof if you doubt me —

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Still, the movie does have its “charms,” I suppose, if we’re using that term loosely enough — the cast is completely uncredited (although I recognized Dolores Carlos, a second-tier mainstay in these type of pictures, as the wife who’s the nominal star of the proceedings); there’s a laughably absurd scene where the cops bring a body on a stretcher through a nudist volleyball game (truth be told, the filmmakers see fit to regale us with no less than three separate naked volleyball scenes, for whatever reason) and everyone just keeps playing; director Mahon does double duty as both a cop and the curiously slack-mouthed gorilla; and the film manages to pull off the amazing feat of making Miami Beach look like the dullest place in the world even though there are nude bodies on display all over the place.

Honestly, I’m hoping the whole thing was shot in a day, otherwise there’s absolutely no excuse for how limp (pun definitely intended) it all turned out.

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Curious as it may sound, though, the fact that this movie sucks doesn’t mean that the DVD it’s contained on, a double-bill from Something Weird Video that finds it paired with The Monster Of Camp Sunshine, is a total bust. On the contrary, it’s pretty good — provided you survive the main feature itself. For one thing, the just-mentioned Monster Of Camp Sunshine is a solid slice of inept cinematic unintentional weirdness that really deserves a review of its own (so I’ll get to it soon, I promise), and for another, it’s loaded with a genuinely bizarre grab-bag of extras that includes six different “archival short subjects,” ranging from the 1920s through the 1960s, all with a nudist theme; there’s a huge gallery of drive-in exploitation poster and advertising art; there’s a generous helping of other “nudie cutie” trailers in addition to the trailers for both of these flicks; there’s a selection of those cool old-school “let’s all go to the lobby”-type intermission ads — the list is pretty much endless. You can play either movie by itself, or go  the “Drive-In Experience” route, which allows you to watch both back-to-back with trailers and ads shoehorned in at the start and in between the two features. It’s all pretty goddamn awesome, it must be said.

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Our final verdict, then, is a pretty schizophrenic one — the worst thing about The Beast That Killed Women, the DVD, is The Beast That Killed Women, the movie.