Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Thrill Killers (1964) SoCal Film Soleil - Fringe Noir - Horror

Here's a film that's got to be seen by my fellow noiristas and aficio-noirdos.

For not having a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, working with an extremely low budget, director and cult film auteur, Ray Dennis Steckler (The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (1964)) and crew, crafted a delightfully over the top work of aesthetically camp art.

Yea, it's chock full of C&D list actors most of whom never really went anywhere in show biz. And yea, the story is about not one, not two, not three, but four homicidal maniacs. And when it was shown in theaters it was not only promoted by Ormond (Ormond Dale McGill), a hypnotist, who before the feature would "hypnotize" the audience with a Twilight Zone like spinning spiral allegedly to induce "Hallucinogenic Hypno-Vision", but apparently they also, with a William Castle type gimmick, placed paid actors, to play homicidal maniacs sprinkled amongst the theater audience.

Graphic credit sequence
Steckler billed as Cash Flagg

The film was written by Ron Haydock, Gene Pollock, and Ray Dennis Steckler. The film contains some really innovative and incredibly up to date feeling cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli and Lee Strosnider. Film editing was by Austin McKinney. The music, a sort of bongo beat jazz score was by André Brummer.

The film stars Ray Dennis Steckler credited in the film as Cash Flagg played Mort "Mad Dog" Click,  and Liz Renay (The Sound of Fury (1950), The Naked and the Dead (1958), Date with Death (1959), Desperate Living (1977)), as Liz Saxon.

Mad Dog Click (Ray Dennis Steckler )
Liz Saxon (Liz Renay)
The rest of the cast has Joseph Bardo credited as Brick Bardo (The Beverly Hillbillies TV Series (1962–1971)) playing Joe Saxon, Carolyn Brandt as Carol, Gary Kent (Hells Angels on Wheels (1967)) as Gary Barcroft, Herb Robins (Convoy (1978)) as Herbie Click, Keith O'Brien as Keith Rogers, Laura Benedict as Linda, Ron Burr as Ron, Titus Moede (The Twilight Zone TV Series (1959–1964)) as Motorcycle Officer / Yes Man at Party, Erina Enyo as Erina Devore, Atlas King as Dennis Kesdekian, Nancy Crawford as Mrs. Kesdekian, George J. Morgan as himself, and Gene Pollock as the Detective.

<Spoilers ahead>

A typed title card tells us that the story is supposedly based on true events occurring "back" in 1965. We get a voiceover by actor, director, and writer Coleman Francis (The Tattooed Stranger (1950), Stakeout on Dope Street (1958), The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)), about struggling actor Joe Saxon (Bardo). Coleman tells us that Joe lives in a world of "non-reality". He's trying to break into tinseltown showbiz. He spends money throwing wild parties trying to impress Hollywood phonies. His wife Liz (Renay), an ex actress now an artist, is worried about making payments.

Joe Saxon (Joseph Bardo)

We cut to ridiculously bouffant haired Greek immigrant Dennis Kesdekian (King) he lives in a world or "reality," he's got a wife and kids and responsibilities. Heading through the San Gabriel Mountains towards Mojave on what looks like the Sierra Highway, Dennis stops to pick up a hitchhiker, Mort "Mad Dog" Click (Steckler). Bad Idea. Mad Dog shoots Dennis dead and steals his '53 Plymouth Plaza Wagon.

Dennis Kesdekian (King)

That evening Joe throws another shindig trying to impress movie producer George J. Morgan. He's hoping to get a part in his next feature, while down on Main St. in Los Angeles Mad Dog picks up a taxi dancer/hooker Miss Devore (Enyo) for quickie at her flop.

getting friendly
She turns on a cheap plastic radio to set the mood, she pulls out some glasses and a bottle of booze. When the woman starts to get physically friendly Mad Dog goes berserk. Slapping her around.

Miss Devore:What did you do that for?
Mad Dog: You're cheap.
Miss Devore: Cheap! What's so cheap about fifty dollars.

"Cheap! What's so cheap about fifty dollars."


Mad Dog grabs a pair of scissors and repeatedly stabs her. Meanwhile a radio bulletin breaks into the music and we hear that three lunatics Keith (O'Brien), Herbie (Robbins) and Gary (Kent), have escaped from the Camarillo State Mental Hospital and are on the loose. The same bulletin is broadcasting on the radio in Joe and Liz's bedroom.

Liz: At least we didn't have all the lunatics at our party tonight

The next day, Liz decides to leave Joe. She drives up Topanga Canyon to her cousin Linda's (Benedict) rustic, roadside, greasy spoon, diner the Pleasant Inn.

In the diner are an engaged couple Ron (Burr) and Carol (Brandt). They get in their '61 Ford F100 and drive up to see the nearby house they just bought, but their love nest is infested with lunatics, their handyman is decapitated. Mayhem ensues and soon both Ron and Carol meet the same fate. Note, a few of these sequences are quaintly cheesy by today's horror standards, which add to the films charms.

Ron (Burr) and Carol (Brandt)

Heads will roll

Joe and producer Morgan arrive at the Pleasant Inn soon joined by the three lunatics Keith, Herbie, and Gary who drive up in Ron and Carol's pickup looking for a cup of coffee after a hard morning's "work." Herbie calls up his brother on the phone to tell him to come quick and pick him up, he wants to get away from these "nuts" that he's with. Herbie tells to come to the Pleasant Inn at the bottom of Topanga Canyon. His brother turns out to be surprize, surprize, Mad Dog.

"I need a cup of coffee"

A little rat poison creamer for Herbie's coffee

Of course everything goes beautifully and chaotically Noirsville, with some exciting and exceptionally well choreographed action sequences.


Grauman's Chinese Theater

Liz the artist

George J. Morgan the producer

"Yes Man" Titus Moede lt., Joe (Bardo)

Erina Devore (Erina Enyo)

Linda (Laura Benedict)

Ray Dennis Steckler does an amazing job as director, writer and actor. It surely helps that he actually looks crazy, perhaps it's his beady eyes which seem to be set just a tad too close together, or his close cropped haircut, which gives him a bit of a pinhead appearance. The combination bestows upon him the aura of sewer rat. A rat who is a few cards short of a full deck.

His stunt work during the final chase is excellent. He started making films with an 8mm camera, he was an Army photographer serving in Korea. He also spent a year at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens with the Army Pictorial Service of the Signal Corps before driving to Hollywood to try and break into the "Big Time".   He worked on Timothy Carey's The World's Greatest Sinner becoming  director of photography. He ended up in the B and independent film circuit working for Arch Hall Sr.'s Fairway Pictures. In 1963 he co-produced his first solo film, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, co-starring his then wife, Carolyn Brandt. Filmed for a budget of $38,000, the film was photographed by cinematographer Joseph V. Mascelli with at that time newcomers László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond as camera operators.

Liz Renay is the films eye candy. As the ex movie star now artist/housewife she'll remind you of a more voluptuous Ginger (Tina Louise) from Gilligan's Island, however at 38 this Ginger is nearing the end of her starlet shelf life. Liz admirably provides the films hints of T&A. She is also excellent doing her own stunt work scrambling barefoot over the grass, sage scrub, and chaparral mountain sides during the films final chase sequences. When she gets all that she got going for her in motion, in a barely concealing slinky sheath dress it's hard to take your eyes off Liz, you expect her to fall out that dress at any moment. Renay was born Pearl Elizabeth Dobbins, to  "evangelical parents." She broke bad running away from home and won a Marilyn Monroe lookalike contest. She then became a showgirl during World War II. Liz eventually became a squeeze to Los Angeles hoodster Mickey Cohen. After his arrest she refused to sing to the cops and was sentenced to a trey in Terminal Island prison. Later she became a stripper, and performed a mother-daughter strip act. She wrote a tell all book titled "My First 2,000 Men."

The rest of the cast of Hollywood castoffs are good enough to varying degrees. Watch for Titus Moede's ridiculous "Yes" man, he also plays the motorcycle cop at the final denouement. Joseph Bardo is convincing as the struggling actor though it probably wasn't much of a stretch for him ditto for George J. Morgan. Bardo, Liz Renay and Gary Kent have some exciting fight and flight sequences.

Don't expect much and you'll be amazed at what can be done for peanuts. Screencaps are from the Shriek Show 2004 DVD. Also known as The Maniacs Are Loose! 7/10

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