Secret Agent Super Dragon and Lucky the Inscrutable star Ray Danton takes fellow Centerfold Girls cast member Aldo Ray, Touched by an Angel sidekick Della Reese, Police Connection/This is a Hijack star Neville Brand and his wife and cowboy film and TV show regular Julie Adams and stars them in his second directorial effort (following the Robert Quarry starring neo-Count Yorga, The Deathmaster).
How a veteran cowboy film/TV and Eurospy star wound up making cult films is something of a mystery, but you do get a few glimmers from an 8 minute extra featuring Adams and Danton’s sons Steve and Mitchell talking a bit about their late father and the film.
There’s another 8m chat with producer Mardi Rustam (Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Pets, Tobe Hooper‘s Eaten Alive and the porn stars meet television veterans oddity Evils of the Night), and one last one with cowriter and coproducer Greydon Clark (Black Shampoo, Satans Cheerleaders, Joysticks) that runs about 13m and quickly covers his relations with Mardi Rustam from the pair’s days working with Al Adamson through Psychic Killer and beyond.
The film itself is more of a mixed bag. Displaying the title card for “the Kirlian Force”, Psychic Killer stars TV regular (and father of Nero Wolfe‘s Archie Goodwin, Timothy Hutton) Jim Hutton in a picture that feels very much of its era (if not a few years behind).
Boasting a feel somewhere between an episode of Mission Impossible and the more serious minded (and therefore less entertaining) end of blaxploitation, Clark’s script takes on the then-popular fascination with Kirlian photography and auras and moves it someplace way the hell out in left field.
When jailbird Hutton catches cellmate Emilio (TV bit player Stack Pierce) working some voodoo to “carve his name in the chest of the pimp that made my daughter a whore”, he’s promised the power to enact justice on those who wronged him as well. After Emilio’s suicide, he passes his funky juju necklace cum vever on to Hutton, who immediately reacts and uses his newfound powers of sorta-astral travel, ventriloquism from an extreme distance and kinda-telekinesis to take down everyone from those who falsely testified against him to the lazy nurse who never checked on his sick mother, causing her death.
There are certainly elements of more successful pictures herein, particularly in regards to atmosphere – at times, things feel a touch Deathdream, at others, the same year’s eerie Kiss of the Tarantula. Further, the film boasts a cast of recognizable stars of the era (most notably Aldo Ray, Neville Brand and Greydon Clark himself), and it’s hardly a sticking point that things tend to feel a touch talky – this is how they rolled back in the day.
But it’s undeniable that Hutton is, if not a lousy actor per se, then certainly overdoing things to a ridiculous degree herein; there are inappropriate bits of weirdness veering towards borscht belt humor (what was that whole schtick
with the horsefaced Anne Coulter lookalike nurse trying to turn on the old vegetable, anyway? Or the guy in short shorts singing opera before a huge building cornerstone drops on his head?) and to say the entire film is uneven
would be glossing over matters to a ridiculous degree.
While hardly the sort of thing cult film collectors are likely to run for, it’s nothing to run from, either, and far from a black mark on the directorial or production careers of Danton, Clark or Rustam.
Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration comes with the usual glowing recommendation (it’s harder to find flaws with their transfers than it is to find consistent praise for those of other companies, in all honesty), and the extras, while brief and not incredibly in depth, gather as many of the surviving players as possible and their inclusion here is an appreciated bonus.
All told, it’s a 70’s oddity and video store staple I’d not previously indulged in, with more period TV movie horror elements than unsuccessful non-genre misappropriations, and ultimately, one I’m glad to have added to the collection.