Psycho Killer…Qu'est Que C'est
In sunny, free-spirited San Francisco, a disturbed harebrain is running around serial killing the footloose and open-minded. He taunts the police with pathetic, rambling love notes to lunacy and double dog dares the lax law to try and stop him. But they can't corral what they don't decipher. So the question becomes: who is this unhinged undertaker? Is it Joe, the hurly burly truck driver who dons a truss and a toupee and hits the singles bar claiming to be a wealthy, ready to get randy businessman? After all, his still hen-pecking ex drives him daffy by daring to withhold visitation rights to their stuck-in-the-middle offspring, just because the raging road jockey is the original deadbeat dad. Or worse, is it seemingly mild mannered mailman milquetoast Jerry? He who always has a kind word and a puffy smile for his patrons? Well, he does pray to a strange shrine set up in his rumpus room. He does believe in unseen forces and the imminent return of Atlantis. And we do see him enjoy vivisecting and bludgeoning the people of Northern California. The screen is rife with red herrings as a horoscope inspired massacre makes the Left Coast more cuckoo than it already is, thanks to The Zodiac Killer.
Meanwhile, in the mean streets of Manhattan, a sad sack mannequin warehouse employee (yes, that is a redundancy) becomes obsessed with peeping. He buys a pair of exceptionally good binoculars (they achieve all kinds of zoom lens shots and impossible close-up angles) and stares at the skin mittens sunning their saddle sores on the rooftop of a local strip joint. But apparently the notion of "look, but don't touch" gets confused in his cracked cranium and the dummy delivery boy decides to go on a homicidal heterosexual slaughter spree. He stalks lounging ladies, and, when the time is right, he busts in and strangles them. Then it's time for some sweet, sweet (sick psychotic) lovin'. This necrophiliac never really wanted to be a carnal corpse-killing cuddler. He had tried to pilfer one of the counterfeit female torsos from the workplace for his personal pleasure substitution satisfaction, but instead of being able to give the plaster a good casting, he was forced to become The Sex Killer and needs to get his jollies jingled one dead dame at a time.
Finally, a jarhead with a gerrymander for sniping couples in mid coitus takes a fancy to a slutty stripper at a local Pussycat Theater. By last call, his psyche is dribbling down his pants leg and he's running rampant around the countryside, high-powered rifle in tow. Hoping that by placing a few pasty perverts in his crosshairs, he will rid the world of that which befouls and pug fuglies all women (AKA men), our overly tanned terrorist spends his nights in sweaty fantasy and his days cruising the Hollywood Hills for potential pot shots. But we soon learn this pistol packing pappy has a lot of "deeply disturbed sexual" issues because, well, because he perspires a lot. And he also forces himself on the almost always naked object of his desire, and then blames her for making him do it (!?!). As a baffled police force hunts for clues, the crazed morality-meting marine takes off his shirt, flexes his pythons, loads up another round, and waits for the chance to Zero In and Scream.
The Zodiac Killer is like a PBS docudrama given the old exploitation exploration to up the bewilderment and body count. The first half of the film focuses on the constantly on the make, foul-mouthed Joe, who pound for pound makes Ed Asner and William Shatner look like the sexiest men on the planet. This doughy dunce cap thinks that his cross-your-groin girdle and Eva Gabor hairpiece will trick the transients at his local watering hole into thinking he's hot spit. Turns out they do think he's warm…like pus leaking out of a boil. Our lard-assed loser is just a ticking diversionary time bomb waiting to explode all over the completely ancillary subplot surrounding his ex-wife's custody battle beatitudes. Seems that Jeanne Dixon's real best buddy is Jerry, the golly-jeepers but apparently full of the creepers going postal federal employee who turns Henry Lee Lucas into a slightly confused country bumpkin. This postcard carrier is bonkers! He likes to wear monk's paraphernalia and preach to a Styrofoam idol in his basement. He randomly spots people on the street and kills them by any means necessary: gun, knife, rock, piece of wood, or car part. And he is apparently impotent (or as gay as Crazy Horse), since we witness his poolside seduction by a bored housewife and—a mere ten seconds later—his sheepish embarrassed escape, still pulling on his pants. Yet for all its preachy pontification, The Zodiac Killer really stands out as a blueprint for future slasher and slaughter films. As the movie progresses, our faux factual Michael Myers just keeps dreaming up more and more obtuse ways of murdering people. The voiceover may be trying to sell this as hard-edged reality, and the surreal speeches the freaked out Freddy makes are as delightfully incoherent as they are definitely illiterate, but overall, this is one movie that understands the dynamics of dementia and plays to them perfectly.
The Sex Killer, on the other hand, is another example of misplaced mid-'60s monochrome menace. The beautifully gritty black and white camerawork tries to hide a sorry, simplistic story about seedy people being slimy. Where Zodiac was all about the insane desire to destroy, The Sex Killer is all about the uncontrollable urge to fondle boobies. Seems Tony, our Tom Peeper-in-training, just wants to see and squeeze a woman's dirty pillows and he will go away happy. Heck, he apparently would be satisfied with a rock hard fake set (which means he was born two decades too early), since he tried to steal some from his Department Store statue supplier employer. So because of bad potty training or unpleasant nocturnal emissions (take your pick), this poor dope goes on a psychosexual binge and purge to find the perfect dead dream date. That's it. There's not much more to The Sex Killer. The editing is atrocious. The storyline is as linear as a DUI drunk test. And the payoff to each crime of carnality is yucky. Almost everyone in the cast seems on loan from a bad 42nd Street porno flick, and the sole soundtrack song is a constantly repeated chestnut from the Fab Four. That's right: as the star sicko is casing lower Manhattan for possible maidens to maw, an instrumental recreation of the Beatles hit "I Saw Her Standing There" plays over and over again in a constantly, mind-numbing loop, basic backbeat and guitar twang solo riffing in a non-stop cyclical barrage. Hoping to be shocking but barely able to make it up to silly, this is one bit of mannequin tastelessness that would make even Kim Cattrall ashamed.
And then there's Zero In and Scream. Or maybe it's better to ask why is there Zero In and Scream? Helmed by noted exploitation director Lee Frost and featuring a tanned, tattooed twisted nerve with a sidearm, this is a soft-core show disguised as a thriller, trying to take complete advantage of the new standards (for 1970, that is) for full frontal nudity. There is indeed a great deal of sausage and chinchilla in this film. Basically, the plot is just a series of gobo shots of people having sex, followed by more body-on-body biological broth sampling outside the realm of potential assassination. It's hard to imagine that the raincoat set were happy with 4/5ths of their onscreen being optically oblique as lesbians go at it with glorious abandon. Frost must have felt the need to hide, or at least soak most of his cervical circus. He films many scenes of land sharking under or near the water. He obviously believed such a submerged camera workout with his cast of sexual synchronized swimmers was destined to make this movie a masterpiece of visually arresting crotch Olympics. But instead of being artistic, or even autistic, it's just damp and dull. Imagine an X-rated mermaid show at an adults-only Weeki Wachee where roadies and groupies constantly bob, weave, and wet their respective willies for endless minutes, and you get the idea. The fact that these marine scenes take up a third of the movie is moot. If they were enticing they would be fine, but you'll find yourself wondering what the chlorine bill would be to clean this pool of spent pulchritude—not the best fret in a supposed suspense film. About the only thing you'll anticipate with panic from Zero In and Scream is the possibility of the film never ending.
Something Weird has once again done a great job with this triple feature. Offering three times the titillation, terror, or trauma is always a welcome thing for an exploitation fan. While these films are wildly varying in quality and visual aesthetics (all are presented in 1.33:1, and except for Sex Killer, are consistently filled with defects), they make an intriguing, enlightening package. It's hard to imagine what Zodiac is after, since it's really a true crime story mixed with some completely crazy conjecture. But Sex and Zero are all about the bodkin, and for fans of films that hide their hubba-hubba under layers of criminal or insane behavior, this DVD is for you. SWV even goes the extra mile and adds some trailers and a series of strange still photos featuring scenes from many of its most lurid titles (they appear to be part of a collector's trading card set!) as bonus material. Still, it's hard to imagine any wealth of extras making up for the sometimes monotonous mannerism of these murder-on-the-mind motion pictures. While Mr. Zodiac may indeed be "supreme," his corny co-conspirators are guilty by association only.
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