Director: Donald Jones
Intervision Picture Corp.

Severin Films offshoot Intervision Picture Corp. brings two more video obscurities to DVD with a double bill of MURDERLUST and PROJECT NIGHTMARE.

On the weekends, Steve Belmont (Eli Rich, THE JIGSAW MURDERS) is a respected Sunday School teacher by day and by night a serial killer of prostitutes dubbed the Mojave Murderer (after the desert where he dumps the bodies). Although he is the paragon of virtue at the church – even when troublemaking Debbie (Lisa Nichols, HAPPY HELL NIGHT) accuses him of improper behavior – his psychosis is barely concealed at home and at work during the week. Months late on his rent, he leans on his cousin Neil (Dennis Gannon) for loans and then work he feels is far beneath him after he is fired from his job at the racetrack for drinking and threatening a socialite. Able to conceal his true nature from new love Cheryl (Rochelle Taylor) and her church board mother (Bonnie Sikowitz, MAMA DRACULA), Steve is looking forward to being appointed the head of the church's proposed Adolescent Crisis Center but his dreams start to crumble when the Mojave Murderer hits a bit too close for comfort.

MURDERLUST from 1986 predates HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER in production and release but shares a similarly stripped down approach in contrast to the bravura likes of Michael Mann's MANHUNTER from the same year. Rather than depicting the killer's inner torment or playing up the possible redemption of a relationship with a nice church girl, the film elicits a degree of relatability if not sympathy from Steve's passive-aggressive reactions to his dead end prospects and how much more unlikable other characters seem from his paranoid perspective even though his own boorish behavior seems to justify their taking pleasure in wanting to fire him, evict him, or castigate him for laziness, rudeness, or drunkenness. The perspective is slowly reversed in the latter half of the film as we learn that the superiority he feels as a college graduate with a Master's Degree in psychology is unearned and the cold way in which he dispatches a girl in need of the very sort of sympathy, advice, and guidance he is to provide in his desired position (echoed by the filmmakers by eliding the act with a cutaway to Steve smirking as he adds a newspaper article about the murder to his collection). Not for a lack of effort on Rich's part, the film ultimately lacks the intensity of HENRY with rather flat direction, visual, and supporting performances. As such, MURDERLUST is definitely worth a watch but may not lend itself to repeat viewings. Not to be confused with Don Jones of SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS, THE LOVE BUTCHER, and THE FOREST among others, MURDERLUST's credited director Donald M. Jones made four films together between 1979 and 1993 in collaboration with UCLA classmate James C. Lane before making a recent comeback with 2015's EVIL ACTS.

PROJECT NIGHTMARE opens with camping friends Gus (Charles Miller) and John (Seth Foster) on the run from a possibly alien force that has torn apart their tent and scattered their supplies while they were sleeping. Unable to find any sign of the nearby town they know to exist, the pair seek shelter in the remote cabin of Marcie (Elly Koslo), a free spirit who offers hospitality to both men and seems destined to come between introverted Gus (who has come to believe that he is the cause of the misfortunes that have befallen his loved ones) and gregarious John. Gus endures a sleepless night of disturbing visions about the death of his father and danger for John and Marcie. Rescuing Marcie when the force attacks her cabin, the three end up in a stolen car of a pilot who was forced to land nearby when his plane mysteriously lost power. They wind up back at the plane and Gus, believing his dreams to be a sort of precognition, strikes off on his own in the plane to confront to surprising origin of the alien force.

Although not released until 1987, Jones' and Lane's PROJECT NIGHTMARE was actually shot in 1979 as TOUCHSTONE. A minimalist science fiction story in which the amount of described action that has either occurred before the start of the film or offscreen seems at first to be budget-conscious, but also appears to be an attempt at engendering suspense merely from the chase. Instead of the immediacy the filmmakers obviously intend, the film possesses a strange languor with the combination of slightly diffused photography, post-synchronized dialogue, and primitive electronic score that recalls FROZEN SCREAM with a pseudo-cerebral story that looks back to genre when better-plotted and acted works focused on the human element not just as a way of thinking around expensive special effects. It does not entirely work because we do not really care about the characters but the story holds interest as we have stuck around long enough to want to know where it is going and how it will wrap everything up in a cost-effective manner. The visual effects themselves are back-projected animation cells and tints must in this post-STAR WARS era have seemed more primitive than the title sequence which was filmed off of a computer monitor one frame at a time.

Shot on 35mm but only seeming to survive as a tape master, MURDERLUST's fullscreen transfer looks soft throughout, but one gets the impression that the original photography, filmstock, and processing are more to blame. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track boasts clear dialogue but the mix is not particularly noteworthy. Released directly to video by Academy Home Entertainment eight years after it was made, PROJECT NIGHTMARE makes its DVD debut here from what is likely the same tape master. Bearing the onscreen title TOUCHSTONE, the fullscreen transfer looks quite good throughout since (as Lane mentions on the commentary) the video master was made directly from the negative so contrast in the sunny exteriors and the dreamy diffusion of the interiors fares better here than a transfer made from a print a few generations away from the negative. MURDERLUST is accompanied by a full audio commentary while PROJECT NIGHTMARE by a partial one from writer Lane. On PROJECT NIGHTMARE, he recalls meeting Jones in college and learning that he had been making short films since he was a child. Although they went their own ways after college – Lane worked as a computer programmer for Disney for a short time – they discussed making a film. Of the film, he discusses his ideas for the script and drawing inspiration from FORBIDDEN PLANET and an episode of STAR TREK. He goes into detail about the film's special effects and animation, as well as stylistic choices like shooting Gus' dream sequences in 8mm, shedding some more light on the autobiographical contents of the character's subconscious, and the necessity of post-dubbing all of the dialogue because of the unblimped camera utilized. Although Jones is credited as directing MURDERLUST, Lane seems to have been much more hands on, having shot all or most of the film but discussing his movement of the camera, working with the actors, extras, and locations as a director rather than the cinematographer. He also discusses his research into serial killers of the period, common threads gleaned from the material, and shaping the character with Rich who he felt so thoroughly understood what he was going after despite other cast members finding him difficult to work with. A trailer for MURDERLUST (2:52) is the only video extra. The back cover has a closed captioning logo but there are none on the disc. (Eric Cotenas)