Psychic Killer (US - DVD)
Gabe Powers adds yet another movie to the pile of impossibly weird horror films
Arnold Masters (Jim Hutton) is a gentle recluse wrongfully convicted of murder, and confined to a prison-like mental institution. When his elderly mother dies from neglect during his incarceration, Arnold devotes his hard time to mastering the voodoo art of astral projection... and remote control revenge.
I need to coin a term for movies like Psychic Killer, which are basically exploitation quickies, but have strange artistic aspirations. There has to be money in the trademark. Maybe ‘artsploitation’? No, that implies too much art and not enough exploitation. How about craftsploitation? That would be the film equivalent to scrap-booking with soft-core porn.
Psychic Killer also suffers an acute case of genre confusion, and tonal shifts that would shock a bipolar schizophrenic. It’s one of the strangest, semi-mainstream American horror films I’ve ever seen. Bizarre highlights include a prisoner jumping over barbed wire fence and running into a speeding train, a sexy homecare nurse that strips and dances for her invalid patient before she’s scalded to death in the shower, an evil lawyer complaining about the font on his new offices’ concrete sign before it’s dropped on him while he sings Italian folk songs, Neville Brand being food processed (pretty gruesome for a PG-rated film), and a parting shot that implies that perhaps the villain’s cat has inherited the evil (there was no direct sequel involving a vengeful telekinetic cat, unfortunately).
Television actor turned television director Ray Danton has some ambitious ideas, but only really seems to possess the skills to produce a serviceable looking production. He was a pretty new director at the time, but the film looks made for TV enough to map out the rest of his career without us needing to see it. Danton did most of the work for himself when he cast the film, including exploitation standbys like Brand and Aldo Ray, along with TV actors like Paul Burke, Jim Hutton and Julie Adams, who add a level of class to the film’s strange comedy and drama scenes.
Given the title’s relative obscurity, one might expect Psychic Killer to be a member of the post- Carrie telekinesis sweepstakes, which includes films like Richard Franklin’s popular Patrick or Cronenberg’s Scanners. If one were to look closer though they may notice that Psychic Killer was made two years before Brian DePalma’s Carrie (even though Stephen King’s book had come out a year earlier). The film actually follows the tropes of the tortured and vengeful telekinetic, including the mother fixations that would plague Carrie White a few years later.
Psychic Killer is par for the Dark Sky force in the video department. The print they’re working from has its share of artefacts, but most of the visual damage is relegated to the ends of reels, which flash changeover markers that actually look exactly like cigarette burns before skipping a few frames. The dirt on the print isn’t extensive, but the grain is pretty thick, and there’s plenty of flickering light to go around. The overall print is a little too warm, including red flesh tones, and yellowed greens. The problems more or less all appear to be related to the condition of the negative, not mistakes made during DVD compression, as blocking and edge-enhancement are never issues.
Psychic Killer’s Dolby Digital mono track is incredibly loud; one of the loudest things I’ve ever put in my player. I was forced to turn my system to about half normal volume to watch the film comfortably. The general flatness of the single channel mix also creates some really shrill sounding effects and musical cues. The dialogue is generally understandable, but is pretty inconsistent, even with-in the same scene, like during the murder by concrete block scene, where the audio is temporarily mangled with tininess and echo. Overall not one of the best sounding cheap-o mono tracks in my collection.
Our only extras are three TV spots and a trailer.
It’s dated, and it doesn’t have the best momentum, but I mean it when I say Psychic Killer is a really bizarre experience. The dancing nurse scene is enough to ensure I don’t go forgetting the movie any time soon. Give it a rent if you’re curious; you probably won’t regret it. The DVD isn’t Dark Sky’s crowning achievement, but I hear it’s better than the non-anamorphic Elite Entertainment release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th November 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ray Danton
Cast: Paul Burke, Jim Hutton, Julie Adams, Neville Brand, Nehemiah Persoff
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 89 minutes