D2D entry #43: Psychic Killer (1975, Ray Danton)
(Featured in Dusk to Dawn #4.)
Since exploitation is all about selling the sizzle, it helps to have a solid concept. Anyone who’s sat through, say, Death Curse of Tartu lately knows that sometimes even that’s asking a lot. Still, sometimes a guy comes up with a decent idea. If the audience is lucky, he might even be able to execute that idea with a modicum of talent — offer some actual steak after the scent of the sizzle draws in the pruriently interested.
So now you’ve got your big setpieces. And they’re pretty good, good enough to keep the average viewer watching in anticipation for the next. If you’re a true-blue artist in disguise, you can offer the viewer sharply written character bits and strong plotting in between your juicy Good Parts. If you’re not quite that well off, you can whip up some reasonable characters straight from stock and put them over with the help of your actors. If you’re not really one for character work, you can keep the amusement factor high through comedy. If that’s not your bag, you can at least try to make the downtime as brief and painless as possible, pacing your plot at breakneck speed to get from one Good Part to the next so that the viewer won’t notice or care that you’ve basically made a loosely connected chain of setpieces.
However, if you truly do not give a shit about anything that doesn’t involve people dying in bizarre and horrid ways, you make Psychic Killer.
The main interest in Psychic Killer is in its timing, as it anticipates the Rube-Goldberg death contraptions of The Omen and, much later, Final Destination. A couple of its Good Parts do have a trashy energy, in particular the squirming anticipation involved in the death scene of the lawyer and the nutzo one-damn-thing chain of events that leads to Neville Brand getting waxed by a butcher’s saw. But whatever life exists in the film’s expressions of murder and violence takes a sleep whenever people are asked to talk, walk and generally behave in ways that don’t involve blood or panic. Paul Burke is the worst offender in terms of acting — he seems to believe that there’s no line or phrase that won’t sound better when barked impatiently. This has its moments, and it’s fairly painless. But it’s the kind of movie that seemingly exists to be cut into an interesting trailer. In fact, here’s one of the film’s trailers. Effective in how it shows just enough of the good bits without entirely giving them away.