- Beautiful girls are being murdered in New York City. Murdered... and scalped! The film follows the investigation including a hard-nosed lieutenant (Mitchell Kowall), a psychiatrist (Jason Niles), and two possible suspects: one of the doctor's former patients, a supposedly rehabilitated sex offender (Fred Lambert) and a successful fashion photographer (Wim Holland). This is some ultra-low-budget noir, with threadbare sets and a no-name cast. And a no-name crew! Almost everyone involved in the picture has this film as their only credit, including the director, Walter Strate. The cinematographer, Pat Rich, doesn't even have an entry on IMDb.
In some ways, the lack of talent is obvious. There are a lot of wooden performances, particularly from the male authority figures. The naive ingenue, Vicki Carlson, has a "golly gee" delivery that's pretty cringe-worthy too. Some of the edits are choppy and awkward. But there's some interesting and riveting stuff going on, too. Lili Dawn, playing "the burlesque queen," was a real-life burlesque gal and has a sneering sassiness that electrifies the screen when she confronts the killer. Speaking of the killer, and I won't give away who it is, but he does some really out there shit, like his wild eyes when he flees down the fire escape, or his animalistic howls when he's finally caught, recalling the ending to Kurosawa's Stray Dog
. And an inexperienced cinematographer (is this is indeed his only credit) can do surprising things that a pro wouldn't normally think of. Sometimes the compositions are all too pedestrian, but there's also some baroque movement and pans that catch your attention.
Perhaps most notable is the score by Tony Mottola -- a studio musician who worked with Raymond Scott and Frank Sinatra, played in the "Tonight Show" band, and released a slew of his own records (also cousin of music mogul and Mariah Carey's former spouse, Tommy Mottola... to whom the world is forever indebted for discovering Hall & Oates). Mottola's sinewy, slinky guitar score, drenched with reverb, punctuates the action and lends the film a jazzy off-kilter vibe. Every now and then he'll give you a little sting to accent a moment that just makes you go "Ooh, that's the stuff." It's slick but rough, it's haunting and kinda weird, I loved the music in this picture.
The movie has a terrific sleazy edge to it, with its sexual compulsions, lurid murders, and opportunities to ogle scantily-clad ladies. But it also has a liberal slant to it, with an ending (sort of a blend of the best of Marnie
and the worst of Psycho
) that calls for more understanding and progressive treatment of disturbed individuals. The wonderful little coda suggests that the problem will continue. Sure, there are some rough edges, stiff dialogue and frankly bad performances... but there are also some amazing, surprising little touches. And the whole thing is a lean and mean 67 minutes, and features some nice NYC location work when the action strays outside of the crummy sets. Maybe it's been too long since I sunk my teeth into a juicy noir, but I enjoyed this a lot despite its obvious shortcomings. Rating: Very Good
Next up: The Black Cauldron
. This should be interesting. I absolutely loved the Lloyd Alexander books as a child (re-read them about 15 years ago and realized they weren't that great as adult literature). Some of you have probably seen this one, too, so maybe I won't be posting in a vacuum this time. Since the public library has this, I'll get it from there. It may take a little while before I get it, but I've got other stuff I need to catch up on anyway.