Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Psychic Killer (1975) Supernatural Noir

Supernatural, SiFi, and Fantasy based Noir. along with Western and Period Piece Noirs have been around since the beginning.

It's going to be subjective, each individual viewer will have to be their own judge, some of these films will be on the cusp between genres and depending on your individual tastes you will either tune to them as Noirs or not.

During the Classic Film Noir Era films like Val Lewton's Cat People (1942), The Seventh Victim (1943) and others have Noir stylistics. Others,  Decoy (1946), Repeat Performance (1947), Alias Nick Beal (1949), , The Amazing Mr. X (1948), Fear in the Night (1947), The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), Dementia (1955), Nightmare (1956), Indestructible Man (1956), I Bury the Living (1958) all covered roughly the same Supernatural, SiFi, and Fantasy territories, there are probably a few more to be discovered. Another that comes to mind is Angel On My Shoulder (1946) and you can possibly even include It's a Wonderful Life (1946) for it's Noir-ish sequence. Add to the mix in the 60s Experimental, and various Exploitation Films.

Even television in the mid fifties and early sixties with anthology programs like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Suspense, The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond and The Outer Limits also blurred the lines between Crime, Noir, Suspense, Horror, SiFi, and Thrillers.

During the Transitional Noir period (1960-1968), films like The Hypnotic Eye (1960), Carnival of Souls (1962) Repulsion (1965) and Seconds (1966) continued the trend. Neo Noirs from 1969 to the present with these elements occasionally crop up also, TV film The Night Stalker (1972), this film Psychic Killer, Angel Heart (1987), Siesta (1987), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), A Gun, A Car, A Blonde (1997), Lost Highway (1997), and Dark Country (2009), again, there are probably others out there that will fit either your or my parameters that are forgotten and off the current radar and yet to be identified.

Psychic Killer has some heavy noir credentials in cast and crew, which endows the film with cinematic memory. It's directed and co written by Raymond Danton aka Ray Danton, who starred in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), The Night Runner (1957), beatnik Noir The Beat Generation (1959) and Budd Boetticher's The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960). He turned to directing in 1972, predominantly in TV ending with The New Mike Hammer TV Series 1984-1989. Like most of the Hollywood Studio B Production stars at the end of B Productions, who seemed to disappear off the movie screens of the 60s, Danton migrated over to television to finish out his career.

The film was written Greydon Clark, Mikel Angel, and Danton. The cinematography was by Herb Pearl. and music was by William Kraft.

The film stars Paul Burke an early TV star probably best known to Noiristas for playing Det. Adam Flint in the noirish Naked City anthology TV series (1960-1963), Jim Hutton best known for A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), Where the Boys Are (1960), Period of Adjustment (1962), and Major Dundee (1965), Julie Adams Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1957), The Killer Inside Me (1976)

Lt. Jeff Morgan (Burke)

Arnold Masters (Jim Hutton)

Lt. Morgan (Burke) Lt. Dave Anderson (Aldo Ray) and  Dr. Laura Scott  (Julie Adams )
Lemonowski (Neville Brand)
Dr. Paul Taylor (Whit Bissell)
 Dr. Gubner (Nehemiah Persoff)
Noir vets Neville Brand Port of New York (1949), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1949) D.O.A. (1949) Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), Cry Terror! (1958), The Mad Bomber (1973), and  Eaten Alive (1976),  Aldo Ray from Nightfall (1956), Whit Bissell (Somewhere in the Night (1946), Brute Force (1947), Raw Deal (1948), He Walked By Night (1948), Side Street (1950), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), The Sellout (1952), Shack Out on 101 (1955), and Nehemiah Persoff The Naked City (1948), On the Waterfront (1954), The Harder They Fall (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Al Capone (1959), provide the cinematic memory. Rounding out the rest of the cast are Rod Cameron, Mary Charlotte Wilcox, veteran Blaxploitation actor Stack Pierce (Cool Breeze (1972), A Rage in Harlem (1991))  Della Reese (Harlem Nights (1989),) and John Dennis (Battle Taxi (1955), Marty (1955), The Night of the Hunter (1955), The Naked Street (1955), My Gun Is Quick (1957), Mister Buddwing (1966)).

Los Angeles a state mental hospital. Arnold James Masters (Jim Hutton) is in the looney bin for killing his mother's doctor. The Doc had refused to operate on a tumor she had because they had no money.

Masters' mother in B&W flashback
After he's arrested his mother dies and they didn't find the body for four days. Now he goes on a periodic violent binges, resulting in getting dumped in a padded cell.

He meets an inmate Emilio (Stack Pierce) in the exercise yard who is staring through the chain-link fence doing time for killing his own daughter, because she was a whore. Emilio is a voodoo practitioner.

Emilio: (to Arnold) The day before I die I will kill the pimp that made my daughter a whore, and I will carve my initials in his body,  the day after I die I will help you get justice.

Emillio (Stack Pierce)
A few days later Emilio runs across the exercise yard climbs the fence and falls to his death. Frank (John Dennis) the guard brings Emilio's possessions to Arnold telling him that Emilio left them to him. It's a book, a box with beads, an amulet, and a picture of Emilio's dead daughter all wrapped in a scarf. A letter also arrived addressed to Emilio, with a news clipping about a pimp who was ritually carved up in his downtown apartment last night. It means nothing to Frank, but to Arnold it was predicted by Emilio.

The amulet
That night while Arnold is holding the amulet he gets a severe headache sees a vision of Emilio goes into a trance, and basically dies.  Declared dead Arnold is sent to the morgue for an autopsy. The moment the coroner makes an incision Arnold wakes up. The next day Arnold is summoned into the Warden's office and told that last night a man confessed to killing the doctor. So Arnold is free to go. Arriving back at his mother's house Arnold cleans out some cobwebs, sets up housekeeping, and goes on an out of body killing spree of all those that did his mother and him wrong.

Doc Taylor in the ballpark

First Base with Anne Turner (Judith Brown)

Second Base

Third Base 
Whit Bissell is a hoot as the seriously suave Dr. Paul Taylor (the court appointed psychiatrist in Arnold's case), making the moves on a patient up in a secluded hunting cabin. He's rounding third and just about to slide into home when he begins to hear voices. He grabs a hunting rifle, runs out into the woods and ends up breaking his neck. His mother's incompetent ex-visiting nurse mysteriously scalds herself to death in a shower at a patient's home.

Nurse (Mary Charlotte Wilcox)

Edward Cross


scaled and lacerated from the shower door

Trying to make sense out of the weird and suspicious accidental deaths are Police Lt. Jeff Morgan (Paul Burke) and Lt. Dave Anderson (Aldo Ray). The next victim is close to home, it's the arresting officer in Arnold's case. He dies in a speeding accident. When the police connect the dots to Arnold, psychiatrist Dr. Laura Scott (Julie Adams) from the institution is brought in. After she sees Arnold appear to her in his out of body state after she's shacked up with Morgan, she demands that Morgan bring in an old colleague of her's, an expert in parapsychology Dr. Gubner (Nehemiah Persoff).

For anybody who has watched a lot of noirs and Naked City and other TV anthology programs, the cinematic memory provided by all the Classic Noir stars front loaded in this piece will propel it easily into a small Twilight Zone corner of Noirsville.


L.A. River

Emilio and the amulet

Julie Adams & John Dennis 

The autopsy

Arnold in his out of body trance

Paul Burke and Jim Hutton are great, Aldo Ray looking a bit chunkier than he did in Nightfall plays Burke's second banana. Whit Bissell looks like he's having a blast playing a lecherous doc. Julie Adams and Jim Hutton shine. Nehemiah Persoff does his competent usual bit, and Neville Brand in his small part as a butcher arguing with a customer Mrs Gibson (Della Reese) is chuckle inducing.

The film is entertaining enough for me, it's the equivalent of an old "B" movie, no more no less. Again some of these non straight up traditional Crime films, both in cinema and TV, that combine noir stylistics with elements of supernatural, horror, and exploitation, are part of the fog shrouded, teetering bridge, between Classic Noir and the Neo Noir resurgence in the late 70s and again in the 90s. 7/10.

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