Color, 1975, 90m.
Directed by Ray Danton
Starring Jim Hutton, Julie Adams, Greydon Clark, Mary Wilcox, Whit Bissell, Neville Brand, Paul Burke, Aldo Ray, Rod Cameron, Della Reese
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Dark Sky (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Elite (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)
For those unfamiliar with 1960s Hollywood comedies, Jim Hutton (Timothy's dad) was an actor best known for playing nice, aw-shucks guys in froth like Where the Boys Are, Walk Don't Run, and Who's Minding the Mint? However, when the 1970s arrived and cinema took a darker turn, Hutton shifted gears and tried to change his image. Perhaps the most startling case is Psychic Killer, originally filmed as The Kirlian Effect (hence the replaced title card on some prints), a low budget horror outing directed by Ray Danton, a former actor also known for directing such drive-in favorites as Deathmaster and Crypt of the Living Dead until he turned to TV fare like The Incredible Hulk.
The movie begins at a fever pitch with Hutton running and screaming full force towards the camera, and it really never settles down for the next hour and a half. As Paul Masters, an innocent man unjustly convicted for murder and committed to a mental institution, Hutton really pulls out all the stops here as a basically sympathetic guy who finds himself consumed by the darkness of revenge after he acquires the ability to "project" himself out of his body and kill those responsible for his own incarceration and the death of his mother. Thanks to the aid of his doctor, Laura (Adams, best known for Creature from the Black Lagoon), Masters is released after the real culprit is found, and he immediately causes the judge responsible for his case to shoot himself with a rifle during a tryst with a married blonde bimbo. In the most sordid sequence, the nurse who neglected Masters' mother and let her die meets her end in a hot shower stall, and pretty soon local cop Paul Burke (one of the unflattering depictions of a supposedly heroic law enforcer ever committed to film) starts putting two and two together. After Burke sleeps with the doctor during a romantic interlude (an especially weird scene), Masters really finds himself going over the edge.
When people talk about how lenient the MPAA was with its PG ratings (and even G ratings) in the '70s, this is exactly the kind of film they mean. Sleazy, sordid, and filled with nudity and violence, this surreal oddity leaps from one bizarre set piece to the next with little regard for logic. At least one sequence in which an opera-singing teamster is crushed by a concrete block indicates that the film was partially intended to be funny, which might explain some of the other goofy moments along the way (the nurse's go go dance, a butcher's hand getting ground into burger meat, and so on). Even Touched by an Angel's Della Reese pops by for an abrasive cameo appearance with a screaming Neville Brand that must be seen to be believed, and it all ends with a surprisingly grim and sadistic finale (given away in the trailer, alas) that leaves the viewer with no one to root for. Though far from technically accomplished, Psychic Killer is at least never boring and should please any discriminating sleazy drive-in movie hound.
Psychic Killer first popped up on DVD from Elite early in the format's history in 1999 as a no-frills edition with a flat letterboxed transfer that offered some relief after the really muddy VHS release from Embassy. A remastered version later appeared in 2008 from Dark Sky, but the best by far to date is the 2016 combo Blu-ray and DVD set from Vinegar Syndrome. The fresh 2K scan is probably as solid as the film can look in 1080p, with the bulk of the running time appearing as fresh and vibrant as any of the label's other releases. However, the film is also loaded with optical effects (sometimes transitions on top of dissolves) that feature an inherent loss in quality, a quirk in the original material that will always be present. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds excellent, and optional English SDH subtitles are offered.
As for extras, The 9-minute “The Danton Force” featurette covers the late director's career with sons Mitchell and Steve Danton, Adams (their mother, who was married to Danton for 23 years), and first assistant director Ronald G. Smith recalling the filmmaker's proficient language skills, his big break turning to directing from acting, his tenure in Europe, and his great skill at getting actors to trust him. The 8-minute “The Aura of Horror” with Mardi Rustam features the producer (who went on to famously clash with Tobe Hooper on Eaten Alive the next year) explaining how he bought the first version of the script written by Mikel Angel (as I Am a Demon) and originally approached Danton to act in the film, not to mention how this film wound up becoming his Master's thesis! Greydon Clark, an associate producer who stepped in to rewrite the film and appears as a police sergeant in the film, also gets a nice 13-minute piece called “The Psychic Killer Inside Me." From his salad days with Al Adamson on Satan's Sadists through his first encounter with Rustam on what became Dracula vs. Frankenstein, it's a fascinating peek at the early stages of a career that would lead to directing films like Satan's Cheerleaders, Without Warning, and the insane Uninvited. He also notes how he was originally set to direct the film but got overruled by the investors who wanted Danton instead; one can only wonder how it would've turned out with Clark at the helm instead. Finally the set closes out with the theatrical trailer and a trio of TV spots.