Consider the oeuvre of Clyde Anderson, or as he’s known in the real world, Claudio Fragasso: Monster Dog. Beyond Darkness. Troll 2, fer chrissakes. Now imagine a slasher/psychological thriller with one foot on Elm Street, one in a Skinemax extravaganza, and no ties to reality and you have Night Killer (1990), Fragasso’s opus on memory loss and murder. And if you guessed that Severin Films has a brand spanking new Blu-ray out to document this insanity, you’d be right.
Originally released in Italy in August, Night Killer was sold as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 in the grand Italian tradition, although it has nothing whatsoever to do with that franchise (in the same grand tradition). What it does offer is a mixture of misdirection, insanity, bloodshed, and expected sleaziness. What it does not proffer is boredom.
How could it when it opens during a dance rehearsal in which a man in black garb wearing a Freddy-like mask and talon filled glove puts his hand through the guts of a couple Fonda-wannabes? Or when the same trick-or-treater phone tags a single mom before brutally terrorizing and raping her? Perhaps her shock-induced amnesia will put audiences to sleep? But that’s doubtful as she’s then kidnapped by (we assume) the same guy and tied up in a hotel room, as the film toggles between those scenes and our masked marauder putting his glove through the innards of more unsuspecting women. How does one lose interest during a denouement that is clinically insane in its reasoning? The answer of course is one can’t, if one subscribes to Fragasso’s vision.
Naturally, the vision is askew to those who only intake North American cinema and fear to venture too far from our shores. But if you dig the fantastic from abroad and are attuned to their particular vibes, Night Killer is senseless, energetic fun that revels in its own ludicrousness.
Helping out is Fragasso’s usual partner in grime Bruno Mattei; the two frequently worked on each other’s projects (Rats: Night of Terror, Shocking Dark, Zombie 3), assisting with writing or directing. Mattei was asked to punch up Fragasso’s timid escapades (relatively speaking, of course) by the producers without his knowledge; the dance rehearsal is all Mattei, as are the exact same inserts of our killer punching his way through the stomachs of his victims. Fragasso was none too happy at the time with the sabotage.
But the truth is that there are no jarring tonal shifts with the added material because it all comes off as a Lifetime fever dream where the censors have left the room, inserts or not; as unnecessary as Fragasso thought the shots were, they fit like a rubber glove.
It’s hard to praise Night Killer without mentioning one actor in particular: Peter Hooten (Orca) as the mystery man who kidnaps our heroine, Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman – The Cannonball Run). His roster of bug-eyed expressions and gleeful proclamations over say, fried chicken, must be seen to be appreciated. Whatever movie he’s in, I’m glad he’s there.
This is the great thing about Italian genre cinema; you can have disparate styles of performance without it taking away from (or beating down) the aesthetic – in fact, it only adds to the “anything can happen” charm.
All of the trademarks of this particular sub-genre are here: the baffling dialogue, the questionable acting, and far-fetched plot developments. But you certainly can’t fake energy or style, or for that matter sincerity; Fragasso always believed he was making the best movie possible. With Night Killer, he definitely crafted his most entertaining. And that’s more than enough.
Speaking of enough, Severin Films gives you two great features in addition to a smooth scan from the original negative:
Fragasso and his wife (and co-hort) Drudi each get their own features and both are a joy as usual. Fragasso goes deep into the production, recounting his initial disappointment with Mattei’s choices (he’s since come around) and the friction between Hooten and Buckman. Drudi tells her tale from behind her drum kit (eschewing her normal feline companion), and both offer genial insights as only they can. Good stuff.
Leave it to Fragasso and Mattei to kick off the ‘90s in raucous style; Night Killer is a film that offers everything you want from Italian genre cinema in a crazy quilt of fantasy, lewdness, horror, and misplaced drama. The difference is it’s done with more zest than most of the rest, with logic taking a backseat while Fragasso drives right over the cliff, laughing all the way down.
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 4/5