Thursday, September 5, 2019

Night Killer (1990) review


Tara Buckman (Melanie Beck), Peter Hooten (Axel), Richard Foster (Sherman), Mel Davis (Clark), Lee Lively (Dr. Willow), Tova Sardot (Clarissa), Gaby Ford (Dance Choreographer)

Directed by Claudio Fragasso

The Short Version: The only thing extreme about this Christmas-set, Italian Giallo filmed as an American-style thriller in Norfolk, VA is in how absurd it is. Terrible over-acting and dialog, unconvincing gore effects and bare breasts are the menu items for fans of outrageously subpar Euro-horror. It begins as a straight slasher-style film about a guy in a Freddy Krueger-ish Halloween mask with rubber claws inexplicably punching through women's chest cavities. It then segues into a psychological erotic thriller about an unhinged man's fascination with a mentally affected victim of the mock-Krueger killer--who may or may not be him. Unlike Mr. Extra Crispy, this masked maniac doesn't assail his victims in their dreams, although this NIGHT KILLER may indeed put you to sleep.

A masked killer wearing a glove with claws murders beautiful women; but one victim, Melanie Beck, manages to survive a savage rape and near death ordeal at the clawed hands of the maniac. Already dealing with a crumbling marriage, Melanie falls into a state of amnesia and borderline psychosis. She is soon pursued by a man who is, himself, slightly unhinged; and possibly the masked killer who caused her deteriorating mental condition.

There's one thing you can say for Claudio Fragasso, and that's the man had passion about his work. Even when he knew the finished product didn't turn out so well, he did his best to deliver an intentionally entertaining product even when the result was always unintentionally so. With NIGHT KILLER, Fragasso seems rather proud of it. In his defense, there's definitely a good story to be told within the narrative... it just doesn't end up on the screen. There's plenty of gold to be mined in a tale of two mentally wobbly individuals in a bizarre love affair wherein one of the disturbed two may be the catalyst for the borderline insanity of the other.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers fail as narrative prospectors--mining material of little value good only for laughs that weren't intended to be there. There's the occasional directorial flourish but these are immediately undermined by terrible dialog, terrible over-acting, and a heavy-breathing killer wearing an Incredible Melting Man mask with a rubber Freddy Krueger-looking glove. Said killer with rubber glove has the uncanny ability to punch through women's chest cavities in the film's few poorly conceived gore scenes. These sequences feel like they were intended for another movie. In a way, they were.

The producers wanted a different type of movie than what Fragasso gave them; so to make it saleable, additional scenes were requested to turn NIGHT KILLER into something resembling a horror movie. These bloody bits were directed by Fragasso's fellow filmmaking friend, Bruno Mattei; much to the chagrin of director Fragasso who was unaware at the time what was being done to his picture. Ironically, it was usually Fragasso who directed all the blood and gore in Mattei's non-epics; but this time, Mattei, the hired gun, was the one performing those duties. Sadly, NIGHT KILLER ended their filmmaking partnership although they made amends later as Fragasso came to terms with the reasoning that, despite what he tried to pull off, his movie needed some splashes of red to sell to foreign markets.

Tired of the waning, viscera-drenched Italian zombies and other supernatural shenanigans, Fragasso wanted to do something opposite his past works. If you're familiar with Fragasso's other directing gigs like MONSTER DOG (1986), TROLL 2 (1990), and ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH (1990), you already know what to expect with NIGHT KILLER. Moreover, director Fragasso seems less interested in capitalizing on the Christmas setting than capturing the feeling of the American style erotic thriller that was fashionable at the time; only the Italian sensibilities keep getting in the way. The actors exaggerate their facial expressions and scream their lines to epically absurd proportions. You simply cannot take the movie seriously; and the utterly ridiculous twist at the end adds to the earnestness deficit.

The attempted suicide/puking scene on the beach is one of the film's many side-splitters (the camera just can't cut away from it). Instead of simply putting salt water in the bottles for Buckman's character to drink after she downs a bunch of pills, Axel instead dunks her in the ocean over and over again in the hope she'll just swallow a bunch of salt water that way; and nothing says finger lickin' good like a later sequence when the wild-eyed Axel returns to his apartment with some KFC and tells the suicidal Melanie to go ahead and end it all while he eats since "nothing does it to [him] like fried chicken." 

Taking into consideration the types and sizes of roles she was given, Tara Buckman was a better actress than she was given credit for; however, you wouldn't know with this overwrought and unbalanced performance. Buckman's booming delivery of lines like "NO!" and "BASTARD!" are matched only by her size-too-big sweater that keeps falling off her shoulders. For Euro horror buffs, Buckman shouting expletives may recall Lynda Day George's memorably hilarious utterance of "BASTARD!" in the gory and goony PIECES (1983); only Buckman's bellow lacks George's boisterous conviction. Further damage is done via her changing hairstyles and fluctuating makeup jobs that alter her appearance--sometimes in the same sequence.

Curiously, this was the third Christmas movie she appeared in. She starred in the 1979 Made For TV drama THE MAN IN THE SANTA CLAUS SUIT--notable for being the last starring role of Fred Astaire. Buckman then did the exact opposite of a feel-good Christmas movie by appearing in smaller capacity in the highly controversial St. Nick slasher favorite, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). NIGHT KILLER being the third festive flick, Buckman gets the biggest role of the three, and, unfortunately, the biggest embarrassment as well.

The actress was better served in the star-studded blockbuster THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981) and opposite Jan Michael Vincent in the low budget ALIEN clone, XTRO 2: THE SECOND ENCOUNTER (1991). 

Peter Hooten fares no better with an excessively hammy performance--his eyes threatening to explode from their sockets at any moment. With eyes bugged out and stressing a peculiar emphasis on any number of syllables in his dialog, Hooten's delivery is, quite simply, a hoot! It's really one of the most overdone portrayals of a psychotic disorder you're likely to see.

Much like his co-star, you'd never expect Hooten to be a good actor if all you had to go on was NIGHT KILLER. The man played some genuinely cogent supporting roles in movies like the underrated, vengeance-seeking whale picture ORCA (1977); and Castellari's energetic WWII movie, THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (the original '78 version; not that Tarantino "war" movie without any war in it). Hooten was also the original DR. STRANGE--in the 1978 Made For TV movie based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name.

Possibly the two erratic lead performances weren't entirely due to Fragasso's direction, but to the allegation they despised one another. At any rate, the animosity between Buckman and Hooten helped their portrayals in the most inadvertently hilarious way imaginable. Incidentally, the blu-ray extras with Fragasso and his screenwriter wife Rossella Drudi detailing the making of NIGHT KILLER are better than the movie. 

Bewilderingly, this was released in Italy as DON'T OPEN THE DOOR 3 (NON APRITE QUELLA PORTA 3); NON APRITE QUELLA PORTA being the Italian title for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), making this third entry THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3! Obvious from the very beginning, there's no Texas and no chainsaws, much less a massacre of any kind.

If you are expecting NIGHT KILLER to be some lost Italian horror classic, you're in for a major disappointment. What little gore there is is lousy. What you're left with is a decent story poorly realized much like the performances and dialog given the actors to say. Aside from Buckman's bare breasts, the eroticism aspect wouldn't pass muster on Cinemax after midnight, either. If you're a fan of Fragasso's resume, however, including pictures he worked on with Bruno Mattei, then you already know what you're getting. For others, NIGHT will either put you to sleep or be an instant mood KILLER.

This review is representative of the Severin blu-ray. Specs and extras: new 4K master from the camera negative; 1080p 1.78:1 HD; interviews with Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi; trailer; English dub; Italian with English subtitles; running time: 01:32:37
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