Ok, it’s time to sit down and update this site or risk being gone until after the holidays. If you’re a fan of Troll 2, there’s a good chance you’ll also enjoy this wannabe psychological thriller filmed the same year by the same tone-deaf filmmaker. Both can be viewed as “so bad they’re good” (the way I see it, if something is so bad it’s good, that just means it’s good, not bad, but you get what I’m saying), both are uproariously entertaining from start to finish, and both always have something weird going on, be it a nonsensical plot device, inappropriate performance, or less-than-convincing effect. They differ in that Troll 2 features goblins, magic, and other Fantasy elements, whereas Night Killer is based in reality — Claudio Fragasso’s version of reality, anyway — and has tons of nudity. So, if that sounds like fun, grab some fried chicken and French fries (more on that later) and scroll down for another one of my in-depth reviews. Feel free to comment and thanks for reading.
Claudio Fragasso as Clyde Anderson
Severin Films Blu-ray ©2019
~1 hour, 32 minutes, 37 seconds
Seven people are up on a stage rehearsing a dance. An eighth walks in late. The female instructor gives her a hard time in front of the others, who all look annoyed. The latecomer goes to a room to get changed. There’s a rack focus on her bare rack that’s not lost on me. Nice. A mysterious trench coat-wearing man with a burned face (later confirmed to be a mask — thank goodness, it doesn’t look very convincing) wraps a rubbery claw around her dressing room door. The latecomer opens said door. She gasps. In the blink of an eye, the man jabs his claw through her stomach so hard it pops out her back.
The man is a dead ringer for Cropsy from The Burning, but his claw makes me think he was mainly inspired by Freddy Krueger. I’m also getting Toxic Avenger vibes.
The instructor is losing her cool. Her input consists of “smile” and “get into it” and her students aren’t listening. She gets so frustrated she loses the ability to form simple sentences and storms off in search of the latecomer.
The man with the claw rips a hole in her throat. The instructor runs up a flight of stairs to a balcony overlooking the stage. She opens her mouth, but no sound comes out — strange, by this point her wound has miraculously closed up. She’s not even bleeding anymore. The crew member in charge of the music who she motioned to earlier is nowhere to be found. The killer materializes beside her and punches a hole in her stomach, just like he did to the latecomer, just like Jason does to Horace in Friday the 13th Part VI. The dancers are too busy “smiling” and “getting into it” to notice their instructor being murdered before their very eyes, in full view of the stage, until her lifeless body flips over the railing and crashes to the floor below. But by then the killer is gone.
Check out how flimsy his glove is. Note how the fingers bend. There’s no way this guy would actually be able to punch all these holes through people’s stomachs.
Franco Gaudenzi presents
Focus shifts to a young girl’s bedroom that looks more like an old lady’s bedroom. That girl’s name is Clarissa. Her mother Melanie (Tara Buckman, Silent Night, Deadly Night) brushes her hair by a window. Melanie’s friend Sherman (Richard Foster) comes to pick up Clarissa. Sherman hands her a present that he wants her to open on Christmas. The two walk down the street to a funky piece of instrumentation that sounds better suited for a Death Wish sequel. They finally arrive at their destination. Sherman’s wife Annie drives off with Clarissa.
Melanie sits down with a sandwich and turns on her TV. It’s news coverage of the double homicide. The reporter refers to the killer as “The Hooded Psychopath”, even though he never once wears a hood, and claims he’s now linked to four murders. She says he repeatedly rapes his victims before killing them, which isn’t true either, at least not of what we just saw. Melanie turns off her TV.
She sets to work typing something behind a big pile of books that includes four copies of Nothing to Wear and Other Poems by William Allen Butler. It must be her favorite. Her phone rings. Melanie’s phone has the weirdest ring ever. I can’t decide if it sounds like a bird song or futuristic ray gun. Her alcoholic estranged husband is on the other end. He’s calling from a bar. His voice is weird too. Why doesn’t anything sound like I want or expect it to? He’s only shown from behind, so we can’t see his face. He has slicked-back hair and is wearing a black leather jacket and textbook giallo gloves. Melanie hangs up on him. This enrages him so much that he shatters a shot glass by squeezing it.
Melanie walks up to a mirror. She pulls down her sweater, exposing her breasts. Gazing wistfully into the distance, she starts rubbing her nipples. “Well, here you are Melanie Beck. This is you.” she laments. “You have a daughter, you have a marriage on the rocks, and nothing but grey skies ahead.”
Her phone rings again. Without raising her sweater, Melanie picks up and sounds off on who she assumes is her husband. “I told you not to call me anymore!” Except it’s not him, it’s the killer!
The killer claims to be watching her. “You’re a fine looking woman, Mrs. Beck. Just made to be fucked senseless…” he hisses. “I won’t kill you straight away. First, I’m going to fuck your brains out.”
I’m honestly taken aback by the number of boobies so far and how vulgar this dialogue is. Claudio Fragasso is known for Troll 2, and as gooey and downright bizarre as that movie is, it doesn’t have any nudity or sexually explicit language. It might as well be a DreamWorks Animation production compared to these first few minutes of Night Killer.
Melanie calls the police, who advise her to lock herself in and wait for a call back. So, that’s what she does. There’s only one problem — her locks are reversed. The keyhole sides are inside. I’ve never seen this in real life, only in movies like Psycho Cop. Who installed this poor woman’s doors? Her phone rings a third time. This time, it’s the killer from inside her house! Melanie runs for the back door, but can’t escape cos the killer has her keys!
The killer answers the cop’s return call and says everything is hunky-dory on their end. Melanie, momentarily wearing a robe, listens in on their conversation with yet another phone, but says nothing. After they hang up, she screams, scurries into her office, locks the door with a key that was already inside the lock for some reason, grabs a gun from a drawer, and fires one round at the door. A few seconds later, the killer pops out beside her.
“No! You were dead!” Melanie sobs.
“I was pretending.” the killer explains in his raspy, villainous voice.
Really, you were pretending? Or were you sneaking in through an adjoining room? Don’t fucking lie, you can’t teleport.
“Now, the fun’s about to start…” the killer continues, removing his mask. We can’t see his face, but Melanie can. “Are you ready to play, Mrs. Beck?”
A stuffy sounding psychologist named Willow relays to a cop named Clark in a hospital hallway that Melanie survived, but has no memory of the ordeal and won’t be able to identify her attacker. She doesn’t even know her own name. Worst of all, she’s suicidal. Clark says if they can’t jog her memory, they should just go ahead with the “emergency plan”.
“No, no, no.” the psychologist scoffs. “That’s sheer madness.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do then? Just sit back and watch while this guy goes out and notches up another victim?”
“Maybe the fact that he was not able to kill this time will calm him.” the psychologist suggests. I’mma be honest, that’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard. Where did he get his degree?
A reporter ambushes Sherman in front of his house. Sherman explains to the camera that he interrupted the 8-hour rape (!) and was able to chase off the killer. “Filthy animal left this little scratch for me to remember him by.” he says, pointing to a long, grey line running down his left cheek. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get a look at his face. He came at me with that knife of his. Son of a bitch cut my face in half before I laid my hands on him.” What knife? You mean glove? He goes on to add that he and his wife will be taking care of Clarissa. We also learn that Melanie’s husband was a cop who got “booted off the force” for undisclosed reasons.
Will Melanie ever recover?
Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
The next thing it shows is Melanie driving. Ok, I guess she was discharged. Who decided it was a good idea to release this amnesiac rape victim without police supervision while the killer is still on the loose? Probably the same kind of person who thinks serial killers calm down when they’re chased off from kills. They typically only go dormant when they meet the right woman and/or start raising kids (think BTK, EAR/ONS, the Green River Killer).
A maniac in a Jeep Wrangler (Peter Hooten) pulls up alongside Melanie’s white convertible Pontiac Firebird. He catcalls her and offers her booze. The guy is completely unhinged. There’s overacting and then there’s whatever he’s doing. To paraphrase a review I once read of a different movie, his performance is so over the top, it kicks the ladder out from under itself so no one else can approach it. His facial expressions discomfort me greatly. I feel like him even looking at me constitutes sexual harassment. I’m not tryna see his voluptuous butt chin. It straddles indecent exposure. He should be forced to wear pants on that thing.
Melanie flips him the bird and veers right. The stalker slams on his brakes, reverses, and follows her all the way to a hotel. He gets out and marches right into the women’s restroom without hesitation. Melanie’s waiting inside. With a gun. She demands to know what he wants. He says to be friends. Melanie tells him to strip and flush all his clothes down the toilet.
What happens next is the best part of the movie. The stalker emerges from the restroom in nothing but a bright blue speedo, his eyes somehow bigger and crazier than before. His jumbling junk points the way as he walks. A male receptionist leans over the counter. “Hey bud, what happened to your clothes?”
The stalker stops and proclaims in a booming manly voice, “I got molested (pause) in the little boys’ room!” then turns and does a gay little dash out the door.
Of all the bizarre lines to spew, why this? He could have said anything. He could have told the truth. Instead, he comes up with an even more embarrassing lie. Most people would be ashamed to admit they’ve been molested to a stranger. Yet, this guy sounds proud of it. Not just proud, exhilarated. His tone is that of a master criminal taunting the cops. You bet your ass I got molested. And there’s nothing you can do about it! Twenty-three skidoo!
He hops in his Jeep and pulls on a spare change of clothes. He cruises the town for Melanie’s car while dramatic music plays. He soon finds it parked at a beach. He gets out and spots Melanie trying to OD on eleven different prescription medications down by the water. He runs up and kicks over the pill bottles with catlike precision. “What in the hell do you think you’re do-ihn?!” he grunts, with emphasis on “hell” and “ihn”. This guy’s inflection is all over the place.
“Committing suicide.” Melanie slurs matter-of-factly.
“Well, you gotta drink sea water if you’re gonna throw up all that shit you’ve been taking!” the stalker shouts back. He drags her half-conscious ass to the ocean and dunks her head underwater in what was reportedly -10° weather. “Drink! Drink!”
Melanie stumbles back onto the sand and starts dry heaving. She wakes up dazed and confused inside a hotel room. Not the one with the speedo incident.
Meanwhile, Melanie’s husband, still shown from behind with his face obscured, leaves a bar with a woman and brings her back to an art studio. The killer’s mask and glove are draped over a chair. Case closed. We got ’em, boys.
“This is incredible. What do you do here?” the woman asks in a tone that signals she couldn’t care less.
“I’m secretly Santa Claus,” the killer responds, “and if you’ve been a very good girl all year, I have a big present for you.” He puts on his mask and glove and tells her to recite the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
The woman is ready for dick. She puts her arms around his neck and says in a sexy voice, “Ooh, grandmother, what big paws you have.”
“All the better to hold you with.”
“Granny, what a big ugly mug you have.” she continues. Then, groping his bulge through his pants, “Why grandmother, what a big shlong you have.” This enrages the killer. How dare she touch his penis! He dunks her face in a bucket of paint or latex or some such material. It cuts and the woman is dead, covered in gunk with a second mask on her face. She’s clearly breathing. The killer runs his claw up her body.
“Now, we will make love, Little Red Riding Hood. Kiss me.” Whoa, the reporters didn’t mention any post-mortem eroticism. I googled “Little Red Riding Hood sex” for a funny picture to put here and now I’m regretting that decision.
Melanie bangs on her hotel room door. The stalker walks in with a box of KFC. He offers her fried chicken and French fries in a voice an announcer of a demolition derby would use. Then, he cuts to the chase and pours out her gun, pills, and flask from the beach on the bed. Melanie asks why he didn’t let her die. The stalker insists he just wants to be friends. But that’s a lie. In the same breath, he says he’d hate for her rockin’ bod to go to waste and seductively tugs her shirt down over her shoulder. Melanie grabs the gun and threatens to shoot herself in the head. The stalker dares her to do it while chewing a piece of fried chicken. Melanie lowers the gun. The stalker takes it and says he’ll follow through if she won’t. He shoves the barrel in her mouth and calls her a coward to convince her she doesn’t actually want to die. Melanie sobs. The stalker pulls the trigger. Nothing happens.
“I’m gonna kill you alright.” he warns. “But when I say so! When you least expect it… In the meantime, I’m your master.” He lowers her onto the bed, then gets up and says he’s leaving to let off some steam. He orders her to stay put “like a good wifey” and locks her inside. This guy’s unpredictable. In the span of only a few minutes, he’s gone from a creep to a hero to a sadistic psychopath.
Melanie bangs on the door, but quickly gives up.
Next, the killer infiltrates an aquarium after hours and does his thing to a young woman wearing a lab coat.
The stalker returns and says he didn’t work off enough steam. So, he ties Melanie’s wrists to the headboard with ripped-up sheets and has his way with her. Afterward, Melanie asks to be freed. The stalker beats her and tells her to beg. Melanie starts getting into it. Poor thing is developing Stockholm Syndrome. They kiss. They’re both very sweaty.
By now, police and reporters are swarming the most recent crime scene. A body bag is loaded into an ambulance. One officer voluntarily says to the press, “The maniac cut her into pieces and fed her to the fish! It’s enough to make my stomach turn just thinking about it.” If that’s the case, why did the bag have a perfectly formed human outline? Two officers peel away with their siren on. Director Claudio Fragasso chases after the car in a Hitchcockian cameo.
More reporters have congregated outside the police station. They demand to know Melanie’s whereabouts and ask if she was given a bodyguard. Detective Clark defers their questions to Willow. Willow takes it upon himself to share all of Melanie’s personal medical info, claiming she’s suicidal and suffering from disassociative schizophrenia. He even works in how doctors recovered an “inordinate amount of seminal fluid” from her body. Jesus Christ, how embarrassing. Nowadays, that’s a major HIPAA violation.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do, Melanie paints herself up like a whore. “I KILL YOU KILL ME” is written across her hotel room mirror. She shoots her reflection. The stalker runs in, alarmed. A few seconds later, the shifty little hotel manager knocks on the door. He’s not in the least bit concerned, just upset. The stalker stuffs a folded-up $1 bill in his glasses. Big spender. That’ll shut him up.
When the police find Melanie’s car abandoned at the beach, they decide she’s been kidnapped. Newspapers are printed. The hotel manager reads one and calls in a tip. Detective Clark responds to the scene. For some reason, he tells his partner to head back to the station and goes it alone. The manager inquires about a reward. Clark grabs him by his collar and yanks him over the desk. The phony gasping face the manager makes is the best. I guess he wasn’t satisfied with his payoff from the last scene. Greedy bastard. Clark unlocks the door to the stalker’s room, then kicks it in anyway. Mr. Money Bags sneaks up behind him and knocks him out with Melanie’s gun.
Sherman is watching news coverage at home. He decides he’s had enough. He grabs a gun of his own and hits the streets in search of his dear friend Melanie. His wife Annie begs him to stay. She says she wants Melanie to die so that she can keep Clarissa. Wow, that’s insane.
The stalker brings Melanie to a payphone and places a taunting call to police. Melanie sees her face on a newspaper along with the word “kidnapped” and runs away out of fear. Wait, what? Did she not know she was kidnapped until seeing it in writing?
Sherman just so happens to see Melanie running down the street and tells her to get in his car. This guy has a real knack for being in the right place at the right time. He brings her back to her house, then leaves to call the police when he could just as easily use one of her phones.
The exact moment Sherman picks up a payphone, Melanie gets a call from the killer. He’s suddenly inside the house again! The killer throws his mask at her feet. It’s Sherman. This causes Melanie to remember everything. Through flashback, it’s shown that she’s the one who slashed Sherman. Sherman says he would have killed her if people hadn’t shown up.
Sherman raises his gun to finish off Melanie once and for all. Melanie uses her sex appeal to seduce him and at the height of his arousal poetically stabs his cock I Spit on Your Grave-style. Sherman raises his gun once again. Melanie braces herself. Out of nowhere, the stalker smashes through one of her windows in slow-motion and blasts Sherman seven times in the chest. As little sense as it makes, the stalker was Melanie’s ex-husband Axel the whole time.
Outside, Willow explains to reporters that he and Clark put Axel up to his hijinks, thinking if Melanie relived her grueling rape it would help her regain her memory. However, she only remembered what happened when Sherman took off his mask, rendering their plan a complete and total failure. None of this explains why the cops, including Willow and Clark, thought Melanie was kidnapped, or why they tried to apprehend Axel or trace his calls, if they knew Axel had her and was working for them.
Normally, twist endings fill in the gaps. This one just raises more questions. If that weren’t enough, there’s another twist mere moments later. Melanie and Axel are shown to have rekindled their marriage. Melanie says she knows Axel physically, mentally, sexually abused her out of love and forgives him. They kiss. Clarissa sneaks off and opens the Christmas present Sherman gave her at the start of the movie. Inside is a mask just like his. She puts it on and says in his voice, “Do you recognize me, Mrs. Beck? I’m back, just for you!” Take a look for yourself. It’s amazing.
I’ve seen this four or five times and I’m still trying to digest it. If Sherman was actually the killer, that means he let Melanie go of his own volition. Was he just banking on her winding up with amnesia? How did he know with any degree of certainty that she’d wipe the ordeal from her memory? There was literally no reason for him to let her live.
And let me see if I have this part right. Willow’s plan was to have a suicidal rape victim’s ex-husband, who she wasn’t on speaking terms with, kidnap and rape her repeatedly on the off chance it would “cure” her. And it didn’t even work. Wow. He needs to be fired. How does a plot like this even make it to the screen?
Well, Night Killer was an Italian production, so that explains a lot. It was filmed in the US in Norfolk, Virginia and Virginia Beach, Virginia. Like many of Fragasso’s films, it was ghost co-written by his wife/partner in crime Rossella Drudi. That’s right, a woman co-wrote this twisted slice of misogyny. In one of two sit-down interviews contained on the Severin Films Blu-ray, Fragasso says of their story, “It was a great idea, a brilliant idea, an incredible mental masturbation.” That’s awfully conceited, but alright.
He says he was burnt out on horror and wanted to make a serious psychological thriller disguised as a slasher that would feel like a French or American thriller. He doesn’t explain why he chose Norfolk, Virginia, but notes the city reminded him of Boston and made the movie look British. His words, not mine. Then, he likens it to a Bergman film and says he felt like Fellini on set.
It all reminds me of the part in Best Worst Movie where he says “Troll 2 is a film that examines many serious and important issues… It’s an important film.”
These anecdotes illustrate how oblivious Fragasso was and is to the quality of his work. His movies are fun — and by extension, “good” — but they’re not the artistic triumphs he thinks they are.
After that, he moves into a story about how his back froze up one day while shooting and he had to get a massage by, in his words, “a gay version of Mike Tyson.” The massage felt so good he fell asleep. When he woke up, he laughs, he was scared the man had molested him simply because he was both gay and muscular. Eesh, that kind of thinking was irrational thirty-one years ago when he made the movie. He’s wildin’ by 2021 standards. He also calls Tara Buckman a “psycho” and one of his other actors “retarded” (however, it’s unclear if he’s using the mean version, the dated medical term, or if this was a mistranslation).
To his credit, he mentions knowing Peter Hooten was gay and doesn’t have a bad thing to say about him. Ms. Buckman, however, apparently felt like his orientation damaged their chemistry.
Here’s an interesting piece of trivia — Night Killer was Hooten’s last acting credit for twenty-two years. It tanked his career.
Coming from an out of touch, vainglorious crackpot like Claudio Fragasso, it shouldn’t surprise you that Night Killer is one hell of a watch. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the best “weird” or “bad” movies are made by weird people trying to be normal, not normal people trying to be weird. Claudio Fragasso belongs to the same rogue’s gallery of talents as Neil Breen, Nick Millard, and Tommy Wiseau.
Night Killer has to be seen to be believed. Its characters are impossible to predict, its dialogue is unnatural, and its acting ranges from bad to outrageous. Almost every scene is a brain melter, creating an alien atmosphere. Have you ever read an account of a “time slip” where someone claims to have found themselves transported backward through time? How about an encounter with “men in black” describing them as not quite human? I imagine stepping into this movie and meeting its characters is what those experiences would feel like. Just totally alien. It says a lot when the killer’s cheap mask and rubbery glove take a back seat to the rest of the action.
But then again, they were only a means to an end. A way to get funding. Fragasso wasn’t making a slasher in his mind. The entire opening dance sequence and most of the close-ups of claws were filmed in Rome by Fragasso’s friend and collaborator Bruno Mattei at the behest of producer Mimmo Scavia and inserted without Fragasso’s knowledge or permission to pad the runtime and up the violence. Fragasso learned of these changes while shooting Beyond Darkness AKA “La Casa 5” in Louisiana and as a result had a “huge fight” with Mattei. However, he now admits watching Night Killer back that Mattei was right to insert the footage. A rare moment of self awareness.
Like the rest of the movie, the title makes little sense. No one is killed at night, at least not explicitly. All of the victims are murdered indoors at indeterminate times of day, whereas Melanie is attacked in broad daylight and Sherman is gunned down in same. For reference, it was fairly common back in the VHS era for distributors to market their movies with misleading titles that may or may not have been signed off on by the directors. Let’s not forget, Fragasso’s magnum opus Troll 2 features nary a troll.
This practice didn’t only occur in America. In fact, it was far more prevalent overseas. Night Killer was marketed as a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 & 2 in Fragasso’s home country of Italy. While it obviously has nothing to do with those movies, the seemingly random grouping isn’t quite as deceptive as you might think. In Italy, TCM 1 & 2 are instead known as “Non Aprite Quella Porta” or “Don’t Open That Door” 1 & 2, meaning Night Killer never actually had the words “Texas” or “Chainsaw” in its title. So, yeah, the distributors lied, just not as much as they could have. I applaud them for that.
As far as I can tell, Night Killer was never released in the US prior to Severin Films’ Blu-ray. They’re doing the lord’s work. As always, they’ve done a great job of remastering the picture, presented here in 4K. Special features include the above-mentioned interview with Fragasso (24:46), an interview with Rossella Drudi (14:33), and a trailer. The disc is retailing for $24 US. You can also watch it free of charge on Tubi TV.
On the hunt for that next great “bad” movie? I recommend you watch Night Killer. Your life will be richer and more confusing for it. In the mood for some holiday cheer? While it doesn’t factor into the plot much, Night Killer technically takes place around Christmas. It really is the ultimate movie. I’m so impressed I’m ordering Beyond Darkness (not to be confused with the earlier Italian movie Beyond the Darkness (1979) directed by Joe D’Amato). I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about that one as well. It stars the boy from Troll 2!
Until then, happy collecting!
2 before the events of the movie, 5 during.
2 pairs of breasts (Melanie’s are shown multiple times), 1 paint covered breast, 2 paintings of breasts.
5 topless phone calls out of 5 with extra nipple rubbing.
I Got My Copy From
Zombie 3 (1988)
After Death (1989)
Shocking Dark (1989)
Beyond Darkness (1990)
Troll 2 (1990)