The PSYCHIC KILLER projects himself onto a Blu-ray/DVD combo in a brand new restoration by Vinegar Syndrome.
Set up for the murder of the callous doctor who refused to treat his ailing mother (Diane Deininger) and confined to an asylum, Arnold Masters (Jim Hutton, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK) is remanded to intense behavioral management after he has a violent attack following a nightmare and tries to escape. The only other inmate in the program who seems at peace is Emilio (Stack Pierce, NO WAY BACK) imprisoned for the "honor killing" of his prostitute daughter and has mastered astral projection in order to kill her pimp. Before he commits suicide, Emilio promises to help Arnold seek revenge on those who neglected his mother – who died while he was imprisoned – and railroaded him. When the real murderer steps forward and confesses, Arnold is released and returns to his mother's home and sets about his campaign of revenge. Former FBI agent turned police lieutenant Morgan (Paul Burke, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and his partner Dave (Aldo Ray, HAUNTED) are at a loss to connect the death from apparent shock of psychologist Dr. Paul Taylor (Whit Bissell, HUD) – while shooting at an unseen interloper upon his dalliance with a father-fixated patient (Judith Brown, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE) – the scalding shower death of sexy Nurse Burnson (Mary Wilcox, LOVE ME DEADLY), and the freak auto accident of colleague sergeant Marv Sowash (SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS' director Greydon Clark, who also scripted and served as associate producer). When a look at Sowash's personnel file reveals that he was the arresting officer on the Masters' case, Morgan discovers that Taylor performed the psychiatric assessment of Arnold and Burnson was the nurse appointed for Arnold's mother and whose neglectful treatment as responsible for the woman's death after four days left on her own. Morgan confronts Arnold who slyly confirms his suspicious knowing that the policeman has no way to prove his involvement. Morgan brings in Arnold's skeptical psychiatrist Dr. Scott (Julie Adams, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) who consults her parapsychologist colleague Dr. Gruber (Nehemiah Persoff, THE POWER) who is more interested in the potential scientific breakthrough than warning any further victims.
One of the less subtle and more exploitative films of the 1970s' fascination with parapsychology, PSYCHIC KILLER was the second directorial effort of actor Ray Danton following the COUNT YORGA-inspired Robert Quarry vampire flick THE DEATHMASTER (third if you count Danton's American-lensed reshoot sequences for the Spanish CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD) and quirky enough to balance its professionalism with its hokeyness (astral projection was more captivatingly treated by George Mihalka in the eighties Canadian "sleeper" ETERNAL EVIL). Hutton (father of actor Timothy Hutton) makes for a relatively sympathetic protagonist in the first act, but not only seems to have picked up astral projection overnight but becomes a flat villain subsequently (although still perhaps not deserving of his fate). The obligatory romantic subplot between Adams and Burke falls flat but it does give us some engaging banter between kills (which are preceded by Arnold's surrealistic visions of his victims directly causing the death of his mother in various fashions). Wilcox provides a campy supporting performance, strutting her way in her underwear down the hall towards her shower death (surprisingly graphic for a PG rating), as does Joseph Della Sorte (THE GODFATHER: PART II) as a corrupt lawyer who meets his fate on a construction site while singing an aria dedicated to his corporate greed. Danton fills out the cast with some character actors including western regular Rod Cameron (JESSI'S GIRLS), Bill Quinn (THE BIRDS) as the coroner who nearly slices Arnold open during his first out-of-body experience, and Marland Proctor (GARDEN OF THE DEAD) as the traffic cop who witnesses Sowash's accident. TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL's Della Reese also contributes an amusing turn as a customer who argues with butcher Lemonowski (Neville Brand, THE MAD BOMBER) over his high prices before his surprisingly grisly onscreen demise. Danton himself narrates the opening quotation. The film was an early independent effort from producer Mardi Rustam (PETS) whose later "slasher" EVILS OF THE NIGHT would reunite both Ray and Brand (who also headlined Rustam's Tobe Hooper film EATEN ALIVE).
Released theatrically by Avco Embassy – it would actually have made an excellent double bill with Avco's THE PREMONITION (out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video) – PSYCHIC KILLER stayed with the company throughout its various incarnations as late as 1986 when it was released on tape by Embassy Home Entertainment. Elite Entertainment released the film in a barebones, non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer in 1999 that was subsequently upgraded with an anamorphic transfer by Dark Sky in 2004. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is derived from a new 2K restoration of the film's 35mm original camera negative bearing the original title THE KIRLIAN FORCE. Grain is heavier in the underexposed night scenes but the image is overall clean, crisp, and colorful. The sole audio option is a clean DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track. The optional English subtitles could use some more stringent proofing ("last rites" is spelled as "rights" and a character is described as being in a "comma") but they are always welcome.
"The Danton Force" (8:53) features interviews with the director's sons – assistant director Steve Danton (DEAD AGAIN) and editor Mitchell Danton (THE ALCHEMIST) – actress Adams (also Danton's ex-wife), as well as assistant director Ron Smith (EATEN ALIVE). His sons discuss Danton's life-long desire to direct with acting as a stepping stone, his first opportunities to direct in Italy and Spain before returning to the states where he decided to pursue directing fulltime (Mitchell also reveals that he decided to become an editor after watching the cutting of the shower scene). Adams recalls agreeing to work on the film despite their rocky relationship (she and Danton would divorce in 1978) because she liked the role while Smith discusses the surreal bits that Danton interjected into the script. In "The Aura of Horror" (8:05), producer Rustam discusses his beginnings as a film critic in Iraq and looking for a way to break into Hollywood by writing to several producers. He pursued a master's degree in film studies at USC and completed all of the course work but not his thesis. His mentor kept on him to complete it and, upon learning that Rustam was producing PSYCHIC KILLER, asked him to provide a copy of the script and the film itself to fulfill the requirements. In "The PSYCHIC KILLER Inside Me" (13:32), Clark describes how Rustam gave him a script to rewrite by Mikel Angel (whose THE LOVE BUTCHER required heavy retooling) but decided to write an original script based on a radio interview of Kirlian photography (capturing auras on film). Although Rustam had agreed to let him direct, the producer then told him that his investors wanted Danton instead. Clark then discusses the difficult position of mediating between Danton and Rustam as associate producer, as well as the demands Rustam placed upon him to shop the film with distributors while paying him very little. The end credits of the segment have Clark promoting his autobiography since it does feature his account of the making of the film. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:59) and three 30-second TV spots. The Blu-ray/DVD combo comes with a reversible cover. (Eric Cotenas)
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