Sex and violence are such a winning combination. Whether it be sex leading to violence, or sex combined with violence, exploitation films have always thrown the two elements together with reckless abandon to create some of the best shockers of their time. Something Weird Video recently unearthed a print of the super-rare ZODIAC KILLER, a film produced at the same time as the real-life Zodiac Killer was committing his atrocious crimes! Now THAT's exploitation!! Stuck on a triple-bill with two more psychosexual New York City roughies, Barry Mahon's SEX KILLER and Lee Frost's ZERO IN AND SCREAM, this is one triple feature guaranteed to feed your need for grindhouse sleaze!
A series of pointless murders without a motive are committed in the San Francisco area by a mysterious psychopath, using a variety of different weapons. He begins writing the local newspapers, taunting them with details of the crimes. The movie presents two possible suspects. First up, we get a hard-drinking truck driver (who looks and acts like grizzled old Lawrence Tierney) going through a tough divorce and is upset over his wife not letting him see his daughter. He escapes from his miserable existence by donning a Rip Taylor wig and spending his nights in bars, picking up younger women who think he's rich. Then we meet a mild-mannered mailman who flies into a rage with nasty old hags who criticize his service and cries like a baby when one of his rabbits dies (!). He could be gay, but the movie follows pretty closely the real-life murders, including a double shotgun murder in a lover's lane that undoubtedly inspired William Lustig's MANIAC and a pretty horrific murder of a couple on the shores of a lake, with the Zodiac in chilling sacrificial garb. Can you guess which of the two woman-hating boobs is the Zodiac? Well, you don't get much time to, as one of them is killed off in a surprise plot twist that even I didn't see coming, and from then on the movie becomes an incredibly nasty experience! Wild murders include an old woman being slammed in the head with a spare tire, killing an old man in an elevator and cutting off his ear (!), stabbing a hitchhiker who tries fighting back, and smashing a woman underneath a car hood! When he's not slaughtering the innocent, he's creeping out a folk-singing duo around a beach campfire and saves a little boy stuck in a tree. The "Zodiac" doesn't even bother following his regular m.o.'s or even disguising himself, and even stupidly leaves the Zodiac sign written in spilled salt on a bar counter! He also worships a cheesy idol at an altar in his basement in a black robe and chanting mumbo-jumbo proclaiming himself the "Supreme Zodiac" who plans that "those I kill in this life will be my slaves when I am reborn in Paradise!". All reality is thrown out the window, allowing the viewer to settle down for a typically sleazy exploitation relic. You even get to see former kiddie host Doodles Weaver as a lecherous old man who says "women over 20 are no good" and who likes 'em "plump and juicy and dumb." Yowsa! Doodles, we hardly knew ye!!
Opening with a disclaimer by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery, describing the movie as a public service, THE ZODIAC KILLER is one intense little mother of a movie! It toes the line between nasty exploitation and realistic true-crime drama. One example: the film opens with two murders. The first, wherein a cab driver is shot in the head, was an actual murder committed by the Zodiac Killer. This scene is followed by a young girl on a bike being tackled and stabbed to death by the same murderer. This murder did NOT happen. And so the movie is as schizophrenic as the Zodiac himself, and thankfully one side is as entertaining as the other. The true-life-inspired murders have more attention to detail and shocking realism, so they're easy to spot and still have the power to disturb, but the outrageous fake murders seem improvised on the spot and are more humorous than anything else. ZODIAC KILLER remains the only film officially based on the infamous Zodiac Killer, and the serial killer actually addressed the film in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle after it was released to drive-ins (with comment cards asking patrons to identify the real-life murderer)!! Since 1970, more books have been published pointing fingers at various suspects, and as recently as 2001, Robert Graysmith, author of the excellent book Zodiac, has gone public with who he claims was undoubtedly the Zodiac Killer (long deceased), and as of this writing, a mainstream version of the true crimes is being prepared for release in 2004. Whoever the Zodiac was, he gave the San Francisco area the shivers for almost a decade, striking with no warning, without reason, and with no preference to the race, sex, or age of his victims. If there was one good thing to come of his killing spree, it was that this little slice of cheese was processed to cash in on the terror. Long live exploitation!
Next up is a New York City roughie lensed by the infamous bad movie maven Barry Mahon, who has yet to produce a really, truly enjoyable exploitation flick (THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN and his kiddie flicks come close). He was one of few directors of the period and area to shoot with live sound (others like Doris Wishman and Michael and Roberta Findlay usually dubbed their films), which proved valuable in hearing the rare voices of Darlene Bennett, Gigi Darlene, Delores Carlos, Sharon Kent, and numerous other fabulous 60s grindhouse queens. Other than that, his films aren't really that special. Still, I can't be too hard on the man as he directed more films per year than any of his contemporaries, sadly many of them currently missing. And his film still had that irresistible feel and aura of New York City in the 60s, making each one of them required viewing even once.
SEX KILLER tells the story of Tony the Lonely, a mannequin warehouse worker who spends his free time using binoculars to peep on nude sunbathers. He can't connect with his fast-lane-livin' co-workers and is a social outcast. Doris Wishman regular Bob Oran (MY BROTHER'S WIFE, ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER MAN) plays Tony's nasty boss who just doesn't understand Tony's perverse quirks. Tony tries taking home a mannequin he made himself for companionship, but when his boss catches him and reprimands him, he has to resort to stealing just a head to take on a date (!). On his way home from more binocular peeping, he picks up lovely blonde Uta Erickson (regular of Michael Findlay films and star of C. Davis Smith's BACCHANALE and Doris Wishman's LOVE TOY) to strip for him. This is the only film I know of where you actually hear Ms. Erickson's real voice, undubbed, preserved for her small fanbase, me included! He then peeps in on Sharon Kent (Wishman's INDECENT DESIRES), without her usual feathered hair and looking just as cute. Tony breaks into her apartment and sniffs the couch which she was laying on (!), but gets so excited he strangles her in a fit of sexual repression gone violent! After even MORE peeping (God, this man needs a cold shower or a quick lay!), he stalks and kills a pretty young black girl (Mahon, like Findlay, was an equal opportunity exploiteer), a busty British Darlene Bennett look-alike, and a short pixie-haired blonde is chased out of her apartment buck naked!
SEX KILLER is a painless 56 minute sleazie, but I can tell you this: if the film was shot somewhere else, it would be the longest 56 minutes of your life. Granted, nothing much happens in this movie, let alone much killing. But the real star of the movie is New York City itself, with grimy streets, a real mannequin factory and actual bars and coffee shops with regular everyday employees and patrons, the world-famous NYC subway system, and those infamous shabby apartments, all with live recorded sound. This is the type of low-budget moviemaking that is long-gone in 2003. You can tell that Mahon loves this city, as many of his fellow filmmakers of the time did, and he uses the atmosphere of the Big Apple to great advantage in SEX KILLER. He even concludes the film with multiple longshots of the New York skyline! In time, I lost interest in the barely there story and just gazed at the time capsule footage of New York City in its bustling heyday. I didn't care that you see every second of Tony's subway ride home, or that he spends so much wandering around, or that he waits through several minutes of lovely Sharon Kent posing before strangling her. The surroundings in each scene provide great eye candy. If anything, be glad the film is preserved here for nostalgia purposes! You even get glimpses at 42nd Street in the nighttime, with a marquee advertising LOVE HUNGER! SEX KILLER is much like John Water's Baltimore-based MONDO TRASHO: it's a gutter movie casting the city and its charms as character(s) in the movie. Even the marvelous library music selections make you feel right at home, as their inclusion in other NYC exploitation films allows the tunes to be classified as "New York music." Long live New York!
Now that you've met the ZODIAC KILLER and the SEX KILLER, it's time to ZERO IN AND SCREAM! Shot by exploitation legend Lee Frost (who's lensed an incredible range of schlock from THE ANIMAL and CHAIN GANG WOMEN to THE THING WITH TWO HEADS and POLICEWOMEN). This is one of Frost's most obscure outings, but like most of his films deserves a larger following. Opening with a shirtless hunk shooting a kissing couple in the woods with a rifle, ZERO IN AND SCREAM takes no time in kicking off with the exploitation thrills! Frost regular Michael Stearns is Mike the sniper, a psychopathic serial killer who loves his guns more than anything in the world. He attends a "nude dance contest" at a skanky bar, with young girls shaking their naked derrieres for gawking patrons (all within a sensible velvet rope barricade), taking up a lot of running time (about 10 minutes). One of the dancers, a vivacious blonde, invites him to a party at her place where he witnesses everyone drop their clothes and get nekkid for an orgy in the pool, complete with lesbo action. OK, it's 25 minutes into this 63-minute movie (!) before something actually happens. Disgusted at the depravity he's witnessed, Mike drives home, grabs a gun, and assassinates a filthy swinger screwing the hostess every which way he can in the pool. He has a never-ending sex dream with the blonde dancer intercut with memories of the murders, which is surreal and erotic at the same time, culminating in a shoot-out leaving the girl dead! He continues to stalk the lovely blonde, cluing her in to his twisted philosophy ("Once a man climbs on top of a woman, she turns ugly!") before he's taken out by an unexpected culprit.
A depraved mix of the Manson murders and a Harry Novak sex film, ZERO IN AND SCREAM is one of the sickest, most awkward sexploitation thrills you'll ever see. As is typical with Lee Frost's cult classics, the cinematography and editing is top-notch for a low-budget film, but the really surprising aspect of the film is the unbridled, insatiable sex scenes. All of the sex is incredibly graphic, almost porno in most cases and with brief obvious hardcore snippets, including surprising full-frontal male nudity by Learns himself! There are two lesbian scenes, one seen through the crosshairs of Mike's rifle that is as intense as they come. The incredibly long sexual fever dream is one of the best underwater sex scenes on film (up there with Russ Meyer's FINDERS KEEPERS LOVERS WEEPERS race car derby/pool sex scene), and there is some obvious hardcore oral and penetration present. Other than the sex, the musical score keeps the atmosphere tense and unpredictable, with even the fantastic bumping and grinding accompanied by disturbing compositions. Does Lee Frost still list this on his resume?
The fullscreen transfer for ZODIAC KILLER is very grainy and drab-looking, with disappointing green skintones and bleeding colors all over the place, but the film was a low-budget production and will always look cruddy; there are some nicely colorful sequences worth noting underneath all the grain. As with many SWV discs, the mono audio is very weak and needs to be cranked to understand dialogue. Music usually comes through clearly, but the muffled dialogue is most probably due to shooting conditions. Thank goodness at least a few prints survived to be preserved on DVD! The fact that it doesn't look that great doesn't make it any less entertaining, and is in keeping with the drive-in circuit's battered prints. Something Weird has had tremendous luck in obtaining mint-quality prints for their New York City exploitation films, and SEX KILLER is no exception! This transfer is in breathtaking black-and-white, with only a few minor signs of damage near reel changes and mild grain. The mono audio, typically shot live by Mahon, shows its limitations in a few scenes, but it's a small price to pay to hear Uta Erickson's voice! The majority of the audio is very strong. ZERO IN AND SCREAM is the worst-looking of the three films, with deep green scratches littering the image. The color is pretty gorgeous underneath all the print damage, for what it's worth, with skintones realistic and colors like blue and yellow really delivering. Evidence suggest this version is also cut, as Martin Brooks posted at the Mobius Home and Video Forum. The British print of the film features an additional minute of exposition and actually looks and sounds far better than the SWV print. One also has to wonder who is the kissing couple that shows up for a brief shot near the end? Who is the guy who takes out Mike? Methinks there was a subplot removed for this shorter (63 minutes) version. It's a shame that completely uncut elements couldn't be obtained for this release, but what remains is still vastly entertaining.
Extras are limited for this already packed triple feature disc, but the trailers include SEX KILLER and ZERO IN AND SCREAM (the trailer for ZODIAC KILLER is missing, allowing one to realize just how rare the feature film is!). THE PSYCHO LOVER is already available on DVD from Something Weird, in a gorgeous remastered print unlike the trailer here. The film is like an American Renato Polselli slasher film, which should be a good enough recommendation for anyone! HONEYMOON OF TERROR is a black-and-white nudie shockie with a young newlywed woman being chased by an escaped maniac all over a deserted island. AROUSED is coming soon to DVD from Something Weird and is one of the best NYC roughies ever made! It has yet to gain a cult following, but it is a great slasher story about a psycho preying on unsuspecting hookers. Lovely Fleurette Carter should have gone on to better things. Capping off the extras is the Gallery of Sick Sixties Sex Stills with Radio Spots. You'll see flyers for a recent Sick Sex Films of the 60s Festival, including titles like AROUSED, THE BIG SNATCH, BANNED, and THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN. There are great 8x10s highlighting scenes from AROUSED, STRANGER IN MY BED, RUINED, PSYCHEDELIC SEX KICKS, SWEET BIPPY BLUE, SMOKE OF EVIL, and dozens more obscure sexploitation thrillers. The radio spots include TEENAGE MOTHER, SPEED LOVERS, and other drive-in classics. Recommended viewing! An Easter Egg on the main menu highlights the trailer for Michael Powell's incredible PEEPING TOM, with Carl Boehm as a psychotic cameraman who murders women as he photographs them. Anna Massey, the heroine, is superb and looks a lot like Beverly Garland! Criterion released this in a Special Edition DVD and it is well worth picking up!
Three of Something Weird's most bizarre kinky sex roughies make it to DVD to sicken and enthrall you! Dig into this triple feature, but be prepared to take a healthy series of showers afterwards! Thanks Something Weird for renewing my faith in twisted sixties sinema! (Casey Scott)
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