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The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skidrow Slasher

 
 
March 2006 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skidrow Slasher
cast: Pierre Agostino, Carolyn Brandt, Chick Alford, James Parker, and John Leeming

director: Wolfgang Schmidt
(alias Ray Dennis Steckler)

70 minutes (18) 1980
Scream House DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 2/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
SPOILER ALERT!
Put it down to the curse of curiosity. Twenty years ago and we were looking back in wonder at the first 20 years of Ray Dennis Steckler films. Blundering cheapies like Rat Pfink A Boo-Boo (even the title was botch, it was intended to be 'Rat Pfink And Boo Boo' before it went to finishing) and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies drew attention to the director at a time when the independent exploitation mavericks of the US were being feted for their inadequacies on a desperate budget. Steckler was ranked alongside Ed Wood Jr, Herschel Gordon Lewis, Larry Buchanan, Ted V. Mikels, Al Adamson, Doris Wishman, Edward L. Cahn, Herbert L. Strock, Andy Milligan and Bill Rebane, for which the only qualification was a body of work. What too many of the repeat offenders possessed was only the talent to bore. Ed Wood was clearly not the worst director, as he had that inadvertent ability to entertain. The Steckler films are tedious. It's of no wonder that he operates under a great number of pseudonyms. Two of his films that went to video in the UK in the early 1980s were the horror Blood Shack and the heroin addict expose Body Fever from 1969. I came away stultified by the experience. Perhaps I was too young to recognise these films for their transcendentalism and Steckler was due reinvestigation. Scream House hits us now with a catalogue of Z-budget horrors, both old and new, with two from Steckler, both carrying his Wolfgang Schmidt pseudonym. The 1971 Blood Shack is one, and the other is The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher, shot in 1979, and unseen in the UK before. The new film is no less dull.

What strikes the viewer the hardest is the simpleton's approach to storytelling. As a critic who believes that the film should be accurately reflected through the review it is only right to subject you to synopsising in the following manner. Photographer (Pierre Agostino) takes shots of attractive girl and then strangles her. He contacts another photographic model via her advertisement in a paper, takes shots of the attractive girl and then strangles her. He contacts another photographic model via her advertisement in a paper, takes shots of the attractive girl and then strangles her. He then smothers her flatmate. A brunette bookseller sees a tramp, follows him and then slashes his throat. The tramp puts a hand to his throat then, in death, places his bloodied hand flat on the ground. The morning after the brunette murderess runs along the beach, close to the surf, with a look of satisfaction on her face. The snapper contacts another photographic model via her advertisement in a paper, takes shots of the attractive girl and then strangles her. A brunette bookseller sees a tramp, follows him and then slashes his throat. The tramp puts a hand to his throat then, in death, places his bloodied hand flat on the ground. The morning after the brunette murderess runs along the beach, close to the surf, with a look of satisfaction on her face. The snapper ambushes a girl in her car and then strangles her. The snapper contacts another photographic model via her advertisement in a paper, takes shots of the attractive girl and then strangles her. A brunette bookseller sees a tramp, follows him and then slashes his throat. The tramp puts a hand to his throat then, in death, places his bloodied hand flat on the ground. The morning after the brunette murderess runs along the beach, close to the surf, with a look of satisfaction on her face. Hang on a second, is your humble scribe cutting and pasting this review? Damn right he is! Why should I try and synopsise it imaginatively when the director clearly thought no more than of it than to write 20 pages and Xerox them until he had a feature-length script!

The film is languorous, chiefly because Steckler clearly began filming without sound recording equipment, and, anticipating the hell in matching the dialogue in post-production forewent most of it. The Hollywood strangler's thoughts are heard to cover some of this, and, naturally, those thoughts are as repetitive as the story. For her part as The skid row slasher, Carolyn Brandt (the director's wife), keeps her mouth clamped shut during all of her scenes. As I recall Steckler was never too keen on dialogue. Blood Shack is another exercise in lazy minimalism. For The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher he did later dub in the dialogue on the girls, but as everyone during filming had been left to play it out like a silent movie, no one is fooled as the models talk only when the camera is off them and on the killer. This ridiculous act of off-camera ventriloquism is perpetuated throughout the film. The two killers rack up 15 victims between them before they meet and simultaneously slay one another, and it only takes them 70 minutes to get to it; a blessing, as the Scream House sleeve prefers you to believe that it has a 90-minute running time. Hollywood looks incredibly sleazy, but no different than in any number of murder movies of the 1970s and early 1980s. It has a familiar far-from-fetching ugliness to that found in Killer, Carl Monson's A Scream In The Streets, Donald M. Wolfe's Savage Intruder, Bill Lustig's Maniac, Robert Hammer's Don't Answer The Phone, Joseph Bigwood's Blood Rage and many other films I have, by now, gladly forgotten.

One of the photographic models saves the killer some hogging by having her own lighting equipment set up. There is amusement in a genuine advertising placard promoting 100 percent portable hot tubs. Is there any such thing as an item that is less than 100 percent portable? [hydro-electric power station, perhaps? -Ed] Agostino's eyes pop out occasionally, when faced with a bare breast, which gives away the fact that he is not a professional actor. Brandt gives a stiff performance and her rigid face with its psycho stare is a bit scary, in truth (no doubt, the girl at Scream House will be stealing parts of the sentence for future out of context promotional purposes). The girls are generally attractive and in its make up of glamour model undressing and killing and undressing and killing it is a forerunner of plotless horror shows like Guinea Pig, Sexandroide and the Fantom Killer films, though without the extremes of those films. The ratio is at 4.3 Academy and the image is poor, the transfer operation at Scream House clearly slapdash. There are no extras.

The only positives in the film come with the musical soundtrack and we know that Steckler has a love of music, with wild guitars, rock 'n' roll, a musical and jingles playing an important party in his film work. There is pop kitsch, a menacing electro serial killer theme and what sounds like freestyle distorted guitar jam. It is a soundtrack I would buy, but only a soundtrack I would buy once it has failed to shift enough copies and has turned up in Fopp at a fiver. Sadly, I have probably yet to learn my lesson. Steckler could run up a great film title and my original curiosity of two decades ago might still persuade me to watch The Thrill Killers and those incredibly strange creatures if they came my way.
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