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DVD Review: Psychic Killer (Dark Sky Release)

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That’s the nice thing about trains — they’re always going somewhere.”

Poor Arnold Masters. Several years ago, this passive and harmless momma’s boy was sentenced to a mental institution for a murder that he didn’t commit. While he was incarcerated, his mother passed away, an event that was no doubt attributable to both the dying woman’s cancer as well as the incompetence of the medical “professionals” who were treating her.

Arnold (Jim Hutton) is a nice guy. Really, he is. He’s very compliant with his caretakers, and enjoys a very healthy relationship with the staff of the institution as well. Even if nobody does believe him.

Actually, scratch that, there is one person who believes him: Dr. Scott (Creature From The Black Lagoon’s Julie Adams), his handler. <No, wait there’s another person that believes him, too: a stone-faced inmate by the name of Emilio (Stack Pierce), whom Arnold meets one afternoon out in the yard. Emilio is in for murder for well, although he isn’t innocent.  He doesn’t even mind sharing his story: he killed his own daughter for being a prostitute as  “an act of honor.” Since Emilio likes Arnold, he takes him into his confidence and tells him "the night before I die, I shall kill the pimp that made my daughter a whore. The day after I die, I shall help you find justice for yourself."

That night, Emilio performs a ritual with a mysterious medallion which enables him to pay a visit to the man who ruined both his life and the life of his daughter. The next day, Emilio informs Arnold of his triumph and promptly leaps from atop of the institution to his death on the road below, bequeathing all of his possessions to Arnold, including the medallion. 

Soon, Arnold finds himself released from his world of padded walls and into the real world — a world of injustice and intolerance.  Arnold enters this world still having an unfulfilled yearning to avenge his wrongful imprisonment and the death of his mother.

And so begins The Kirlian Force, better known as Psychic Killer (go ahead, sing "Psycho Killer," you know you want to), a low-budget but immensely fun thriller directed by Secret Agent Super Dragon’s own Ray Danton (who also reads the opening quote) and written by Danton; Mikel Angel (the genius behind The Love Butcher); and their fellow B-movie maverick, Greydon Clark (who also produced this film).

Honestly, Psychic Killer has just about everything you could want in a 1975 B-Grade schlock-fest: there’s the I-suppose-it’s-vaguely-possible-but-still-implausible plot; the standard 70s musical score; some vaguely inspired writing; the required scene containing boobies; and, most importantly of all, a cast of familiar faces who are there just to get killed (most of them had their heyday years before).

At times, Psychic Killer plays like an anthology horror film, jumping to new characters from Arnold’s unseen past, only to see them get their just desserts, and almost forgetting about Arnold in the process.  There’s the horny old doctor who testified Arnold’s mental instability (Adams’ Black Lagoon co-star, Whit Bissell); the bubble-headed nurse who allowed his mother to die (Mary Charlotte Wilcox); the sleazy arresting officer who was happy to make an arrest (Greydon Clark again); the opera-loving shyster lawyer who sold him out (Joseph Della Sorte); and the craggy butcher (Neville Brand) who, um… well, I really don’t know what the butcher did to deserve his punishment, but I’m sure it was bad!

As the body count rises, the local small-town police (Paul Burke and golden-throated Aldo Ray) find themselves scratching their heads.  Eventually, Lt. Morgan (Burke) notices a connection and calls in Dr. Scott, who in-turn seeks the advice of psychic phenomenon scientist Dr. Gubner (Nehemiah Persoff) to figure out how Arnold does what he does — leading us to the exciting conclusion which has "lawsuit" written all over it!

It is true that the plot is nowhere near airtight (for instance, there’s the whole mother-fixation thing of Arnold’s that is never explored), the writing is sometimes cheesy (the entire scene where the lawyer is killed is entirely played for laughs while the rest of the well-written movie is dead serious), and that the budget is about as low as a televangelist’s dignity.  However, Psychic Killer is an entertaining fright fest that remains true to its mid-70s drive-in roots. It also is aided by its seasoned cast  supporting actors (Adams, Bissell, Brand, Ray) as well as its lead players, especially Jim Hutton, who sadly, died of cancer a few years after this one was made.

Previously released on DVD (not to mention VHS) by Elite Entertainment (twice in fact), Psychic Killer has received another breath of life from Dark Sky Films. Unlike the pervious Elite edition(s), Dark Sky’s treatment of Psychic Killer comes from a nicer-looking print and features different title credits (taken from the trailer by the looks of it). The anamorphic 1.78:1 picture itself is lovely — with some obvious (and expected) signs of wear — and decent colors (which may be just a bit too much on the red side, but that’s OK, I’m not complaining).

I was surprised to see that Dark Sky went the extra mile and included English subtitles with this release (it doesn’t seem to happen all that often with these non-conglomerate labels), which I pray is the start of something habitual for them. Truth be told, subtitles on this film are quite helpful, as the movie wasn’t post-synced like a major studio film would have been — thus, the dialogue tended to bounce around the walls before hitting the mic. That isn’t to say that the sound is bad. It isn’t. No, in fact, Dark Sky has done an admirable job of bringing us a very pleasant mono stereo audio track, which comes through without a hitch.

Special Features for Dark Sky’s release of Psychic Killer include three 30-second television spots (which are presented in 16×9 widescreen for some weird reason) and the three-minute original theatrical trailer (also in 16×9 widescreen).

Required viewing? Hmmm, probably not.

Recommended viewing? Most definitely, after all, you get to see Whit Bissell gettin’ his groove on — doesn’t that mean anything to you?

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.