Color, 1990, 92 mins. 37 secs.
Directed by "Clyde Anderson" (Claudio Fragasso)
Starring Peter Hooten, Tara Buckman, Richard Foster, Mel Davis, Lee Lively, Tova Sardot
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
It's safe to say the history of Italian exploitation would be very different without the contributions of writer-director Claudio Fragasso and his wife and co-writer, Rossella Drudi, who gave the world Troll 2, Shocking Dark, Monster Dog, and After Death, among others. One of their weirdest collaborations (and that's really saying something) has to be Night Killer, which started life as a perverse psychological thriller but ended up being augmented by the infamous Bruno Mattei with additional gory slasher scenes, including an entirely new, blood-spattered opening sequence at a dance rehearsal. Partially shot in Norfolk, Virginia, the film ended up being barely released in Italy under the title Non aprite quella porta 3 (or Don't Open the Door 3), passing it off as the third sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Needless to say, no chainsaws are involved at any point.
A maniac wearing a creepy rubber mask and sharp clawed gloves is sexually assaulting and murdering women in the town of Virginia Beach, and he's developed an obsession with Melanie Beck (Silent Night, Deadly Night's Buckman), who's estranged from her dismissed cop husband and taking care of their daughter, Clarissa (Sardot). It's bad enough that the creep terrorizes her over the phone, but then he breaks in and... well, it's left unclear for a while, but when she wakes up in the hospital, she can't remember anything about her attacker, or even her own family. Her neighbor Sherman (Foster) now has a facial scar after intervening and is taking care of her daughter while she recovers, but that's just the start of her nightmare. While in the ladies' room, she pulls a gun on a mystery man (Hooten) who intrudes on her and forces him to strip down to a tiny blue Speedo at gunpoint, after which he runs into a public lobby screaming "I was just molested in the little boy's room!" They meet up again at the beach minutes later where a suicidal Melanie tries to overdose on pills, but he intervenes and ends up holding her captive in a motel room. Meanwhile the world's most irate and incompetent cop (Davis) and an even more inept shrink (Lively) deal with reporters and try to sort of but not really lead an investigation into the whereabouts of Melanie, who's still the only one who can identify the killer -- if she can only remember his face.
This movie is just insane. On the surface it seems like this should be a linear mystery, but in execution it's anything but thanks to the surreal injection of those gory kill scenes (complete with a rubber glove somehow bursting through people's abdomens over and over), TV reporters dressed in tacky furs, baffling dialogue, incredibly gratuitous nudity, and an indescribable performance by Hooten that seems even more deranged once the big twist (which you'll probably see coming) drops at the end. The end result is a baffling but never dull experience that actually does tie together and more or less pay off in the end, albeit not in a way that any kind of rational narrative would normally attempt. All things considered, Buckman actually gives a committed and brave performance considering where she's asked to go in the script in what amounts to a traditional woman in peril suspense narrative gone completely, gloriously off the rails.
As mentioned above, Night Killer has been a very difficult film to see outside of the gray market circuit until the 2019 release from Severin Films as separate Blu-ray and DVD editions as well as, God help us all, a Night Killer bundle featuring a sticker and enamel pin (but sadly, no stuffed plush toy). The new transfer from the camera negative looks nice for a very cheap 1990 Italian film; it has that weird, gunky color scheme typical of the period but seems to be accurate to the source. Both the intended English track and the Italian dub are included in DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks and sound fine, though the English dialogue features some very harsh sibilance in two of Mattei's sequences (including the opening) that appears to be inherent in the original mix. English SDH or English translated subtitles are also offered. On the extras side, "The Virginia Claw Massacre" (24m46s) features Fragasso recalling his attempt to change gears with this film by doing a psychological thriller, the nasty rift between him and Mattei over the tampering, a completely goofy anecdote about zonking out while getting a massage from "a gay version of Mike Tyson," and the problematic distaste Hooten and Buckman had for each other. Then Drudi appears sitting at a drum kit (and minus her familiar feline) for the subtly titled "Mindfuck" (14m33s) about how she wrote the script by doing research and being inspired by a true story about a woman stalked years later by someone who might have been a prior assailant; she also touches on her other work with Fragasso around that time, particularly Beyond Darkness, and explores the reasoning behind that grim twist ending. A brief, very bloody trailer is also included.
Reviewed on July 6, 2019.