KILLER! This 1989 serial killer thriller, made for a reported $9,500, was once called “the most technically accomplished super-8mm movie ever.” Obviously that’s no longer the case, but KILLER! does stand as an enjoyable time capsule from a long-lost filmmaking era.
Hard though it may seem today, the North Carolina lensed KILLER!, the debut feature of Tony Elwood (who went on to make 1993’s ROAD-KILL U.S.A. and 2009’s COLD STORAGE), represented the state of the art in late-1980s no-budget moviemaking. Although well received by Film Threat magazine and Joe Bob Briggs, the film never got much traction commercially. Its fortunes certainly weren’t helped by the 1990 release of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, a film KILLER! resembles in many aspects, and also the flood of serial killer movies that followed in its wake.
Distribution was spotty at best, with the film briefly sold on VHS through the late Film Threat Video Guide in the early nineties, and on DVD in 2003—a version that came complete with a redone soundtrack.
An overweight man picks up a prostitute at a Howard Johnson’s. While driving her back to his place the man is pulled over by a cop, only to be inexplicably shot by said cop. Following a brief foot-chase through the woods the cop kills the whore, this time with a knife.
The cop, obviously, isn’t law-and-order minded, and nor is he truly a cop. He’s a nameless murderer on a cross country killing spree, driven mad by the childhood sight of his policeman father and mother getting it on.
The killer’s next victim is a young woman he encounters on a country road. He’s spotted in the act and so decides to purchase another car, whose redneck seller is his next victim. He next offs a pal of the unfortunate car seller who, recognizing his friend’s vehicle, makes the mistake of flagging the killer down. From there he beats a gas station owner to death, setting off a mini-manhunt by the man’s friends, who witness the assault.
The killer’s next outrage is, it turns out, his last. He kidnaps a young woman he intends to slice up and burn to death, but, as with many a movie bad guy, makes the mistake of talking too much, telling his intended victim of how he was subjected to unscrupulous medical experiments. This allows the killer’s pursuers more-than-ample time to track him down…
This being a super-8mm production, it makes sense that the visuals are so distractingly grainy and underlit (although they actually look far better in remastered DVD format than they did in KILLER’S initial VHS release). Those visuals go well with the cheap synthesizer score and acting by an amateur cast, which is, to put it mildly, rotten—with the performance of Duke Ernsberger in the title role restricted, essentially, to a lot of excess glowering and cackling.
Offsetting those things is the slick, professional camerawork, much of it of the handheld variety. Director Tony Elwood also does a good job with his extremely minimal locations, which consist largely of roadside gas stations and shacks that as visualized by Elwood have a desolate glamor.
The gore effects are rudimentary, although it must be said that those effects, a climactic dismemberment in particular, were quite groundbreaking back in the day. Nowadays it’s a fact that for all its nastiness KILLER! stands as a nostalgic viewing experience for those of us who remember the no-budget horror movie scene of the late 1980s, of which this film is a prime example.
Director: Tony Elwood
Producers: Tony Elwood, Tony Locklear
Screenplay: Mark Kimray
Cinematography: Ula Vosmire
Editing: John Autry
Cast: Duke Ernsberger, Andy Boswell, Keith Liles, Mark Creter, Terry Loughlin, Dean Whitworth, Jeff Pillars, Jennifer D’Arville, Billy Bowen