Director: Curtis Lee Hanson
Shout! Factory

Released by New World Pictures in 1973, SWEET KILL is another example of Roger Corman’s connection with a future revered filmmaking talent, early in his or her career. In this case, it’s Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), who made his directorial debut here. Hanson had met Corman while doing re-writes on one of his AIP productions, THE DUNWICH HORROR, and when it came time to making SWEET KILL, it's not surprising that Roger demanded that the killer in Hanson’s script be changed from a woman (as it was originally intended) to a man, making this more or less a 1970s sleazy PSYCHO variant with a surprisingly solid lead performance. Hanson’s maiden voyage (an experience which he once described as a “very unhappy” one) makes its DVD debut as part of the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” collection.

Eddie Collins (Tab Hunter, WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP) is a handsome, tall, athletic blonde bachelor who works as a high school gym teacher and lives in a lonely apartment by the beach. As a result his childhood days absorbed by peaking at his mother getting dressed and undressed from a closet, (shown in flashbacks), Eddie now suffers from a sexual dysfunction, but is no slouch when it comes to having a revolving selection of young neighborhood ladies vying for his attentions. One afternoon, Eddie helps two girls push their convertible out of the beach sand, taking one of them back to his place that night. When she instigates sex by pulling at his trousers, he forcefully kicks her off him, accidentally killing her. Eddie then decides to tie her body up in bed sheets and hide it in a pigeon hutch on top of his building. This incident only opens the repression and triggers the psychotic nature of Eddie even more, as his rage and frustration intensifies, prompting the slaughter of a number of lady friends who fail to arouse him, while calling them “slut” as he slashes and dices.

Shot in 1971, its original release cut under the SWEET KILL title was beefed up when Corman asked Hanson to shoot some additional sex scenes (the nudity is plentiful as it is) and it was then distributed as THE AROUSERS, the title it’s more commonly known as. The role of a psychotic sex killer who seems charming on the outside was quite a departure for Hunter, who had been a Warner Bros. studio heartthrob during the 1950s, and even though he did several AIP flicks in the 1960s, he never appeared in anything this exploitive before. So you would think he might be miscast here, or that he just took the role with a belief that his career was in a decline, but he’s very good, and obviously took the role seriously, as he makes Eddie an intense, chilling character to watch. He’s the kind of killer no one would suspect; a guy-next-door chick magnet who’s giving dating advice to a male student one minute, and in disturbing contrast, having his own distorted dating encounters, most of which end up in bloodshed. As the years went on, Hunter’s career got even more on a cult movie track, as he found himself working for John Waters (POLYESTER) and Paul Bartel (LUST IN THE DUST) in two films which co-starred Divine.

With the film’s shoestring budget apparent and the proper quotient of sex and sleaze that New World Pictures required present, director Hanson wisely used a very dreary and rundown looking Venice, California as an ideal downbeat setting. While a number of supporting characters and some of the plot padding seems disposable, there’s an amusing scene involving a young woman reporting her roommate missing (Eddie killed her and hid the body), only to get arrested by the investigating detectives on a count of a bit of marijuana in the bathroom, not even taking her original concern seriously (later, the girl and her boyfriend are home-invaded by a vengeful Eddie). Nadyne Turney is good as the sincere unwed plain Jane who lives in his building and is the only he comes close to having a meaningful relationship with, but it’s a blonde call girl (played by New World Pictures starlet Robert Collins, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE) who’s the only who can gratify him sexually (she dresses up like his dead mother and lays on the bed while he proceeds to take off her clothes and grope her). Isabel Jewell, a 1930s and 1940s era actress who appeared in several Val Lewton productions, plays Eddie’s nosy landlady (it was her last film role; she died in 1972) and future PHANTASM star Angus Scrimm (here billed as Rory Guy, as he was in SCREAM BLOODY MURDER) has a small part as well.

SWEET KILL may not be for everyone’s tastes, but if you can appreciate independently-made early 1970s psychotic killer movies in the tradition of Paul Bartel’s PRIVATE PARTS and Curtis Harrington’s THE KILLING KIND, you’ll probably dig this. Last seen on home video on VHS from Embassy Home Entertainment (when they had the rights to a number of New World titles), Shout! Factory has finally released it on DVD as part of “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” collection, but only available to purchase online through their website. No clean-up or restoration work had been done on the title, as its looks to be an old full frame video source used for the transfer (the film was originally intended to be 1.85:1). Colors tend to bleed, and a many of the night-time scenes are way too dark, so the image is passable at best, with a sufficient mono English audio track. There’s no chapter menu here (or any extras for that matter). (George R. Reis)