Judge Daryl Loomis's whole life is out of focus.
You cannot escape him when all roads lead to death.
When making a retro style horror film, there's a fine line between trying too hard to get it right, which makes it self-aware and too cute, and not trying hard enough, which just makes it look junky. The Turnpike Killer takes it one step farther by not trying at all. In a way, that makes it feel close to the most bottom barrel 1980s horror productions, but I don't really know why anyone would want to emulate those. Here it is, though, NY Horror Film Productions presents The Turnpike Killer in all its trashy glory, in a suitably retro "big box" package.
John Beest (Bill McLaughlin, The Super) is the maniac known as "The Turnpike Killer," a brutal slasher who preys on the young women of the Jersey Turnpike. The voices in his head tell him to kill and, sometimes, he murders them outright, but often, he brings them back to his lair for a little torture before finally dispatching them to the next world. After letting one of his victims escape, he searches for her in vain while she goes to the police. Finally with a credible lead, the cops begin their pursuit of Beest, hoping they can find him before he kills again.
I was predisposed to dislike The Turnpike Killer from the opening shot, when I realized the movie wasn't in focus. It must have been intentional, and I remember a few movies from back in the day that shared this movie-killing trait, but it's basically the death knell of a low budget movie.
Aside from that, it actually does get to the spirit of '80s low budget horror, with all its sex and misogynist attitudes. Like New York Ripper or The Toolbox Murders, it's short on plot and mystery, but long on sex and violence, which no doubt has its appeal. It doesn't try to be anything that it isn't, but what it's trying to be isn't very good.
One thing to note is all the Greek names in the cast and crew. Many of those involved are family members of director Evan Makrogiannis (The Super), and those who aren't family are friends. I love the close knit nature of the production and, while that's completely independent of the quality of the movie, I think it's really cool and, regardless of the quality of this particular feature, I hope Makrogiannis keeps going; he obviously loves the genre.
Even though the movie is awful, I have to hand it to NY Horror Film Productions for the retro styling of their DVD set. The disc comes in an old-school large size VHS box, the kind on the top shelves of video store horror sections nationwide that I gravitated toward as a kid. Inside the box along with the disc case comes a large film poster and a VHS copy of the film. There's no tray for the tape inside, so it rattles around a bit, and there's no real reason to watch it on tape, but the thought is appreciated. The disc itself is pretty strong. Though the aforementioned problems with the film keep the image from looking anything but awful, the transfer is error-free. The sound is fine, with clear dialog that is balanced with the effects and music.
Aside from the cool box and swag that comes inside, for extra features we have a feature-length documentary, Donuts and a Double Homicide, on the making of a micro-budget genre film, is far more interesting than the film it accompanies, and a short film called Devil Moon. This is interesting for two reasons. First, it was written by a 13-year-old, apparently Makrogiannis's son, and is much better conceived and filmed than the feature. Second, the image on the short is in focus, meaning that Makrogiannis knows at least one person who knows how to work a camera, and should have used him on The Turnpike Killer.
I understand why somebody would want to revive the world of '80s exploitation; I certainly saw my fair share of them. Unfortunately, The Turnpike Killer is so poorly done, it's hard to watch. It does emulate the mean-spiritedness of the movies it's based on, and the packaging is appreciated. The market is limited for the film, though, which I think the filmmakers understand, but its only appeal is within the hardcore horror community. They'll embrace it, but everybody else should move along.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New York Horror Film Productions
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