Directed by: Armand Mastroianni
Written by: B. Jonathan Ringkamp
Starring: Perry King, Norman Parker, Elizabeth Kemp, Joe Morton, and Jon Polito
Reviewed by: Wes R.
ďNothingís apparent in murder!Ē
I love discovering early 80s slasher films that Iíve never seen before. While some new discoveries are good, and others bad, theyíre all interesting to watch. Whatís truly interesting to me is seeing how some occasionally took on plot and style elements from other horror sub-genres. For instance, Class Reunion Massacreís filmmakers added a Satanic kid subplot to the proceedings of that film in light of the success of The Omen. Iím not quite sure what film the makers of The Killing Hour patterned it after, but it does try its best to appeal to more than just your usual slasher audience. Would this film prove to be an undiscovered treasure, or merely a justly forgotten relic from a period of horror history when next to nothing was off limits?
Someone is stalking people in New York, using handcuffs to trap and murder them in a number of bizarre and cruel ways. The cops are baffled, and want very little publicity, to provoke the killer into continuing his or her killing spree. That doesnít stop hot shot TV show host, Paul McCormack, from making the murders the highlight of his show. Meanwhile, Verna, a young art student with clairvoyant tendencies begins drawing scenes from each murder before they happen. Soon, McCormack wants her on his show, as well, to provide a live psychic drawing demonstration of a murder. Can she work together with police to track down the killer? With her new-found spotlight, will she become a target for the killerís rage? How many more will die before the killer is stopped?
When a film opens with a man being handcuffed underwater in a swimming pool, you know itís going to have a bit of a mean streak. The Killing Hour perfectly depicts a serial killing spree during a more seedy era of New Yorkís history. The look of the film is very much in line with Taxi Driver and Maniac. However, the movie never really takes off as a horror film. As a crime drama or police procedural, it maintains interest and works, but as a slasher from the director of He Knows Youíre Alone, it leaves a lot to be desired. If you go into the film thinking itís some sort of long lost slasher along the lines of My Bloody Valentine or Happy Birthday to Me, you will likely be disappointed. Though it may have been sold and marketed as a horror film, the film aims for suspense thrills and nothing more. It does manage to deliver an engaging story, interesting characters, and a genuinely un-forseen revelation of the killer.
Though the deaths are mean, they are all bloodless. When you see ďnever before seen, uncensored directorís cutĒ listed on a DVD, you expect that maybe the film has a bit of the red stuff. I mean, this was a slasher type film from 1982, right? Well, the only thing in the film that I can see that the MPAA may have had a problem with wouldíve been the forced oral sex scene during one of the murders. The particular shot in question gets very grainy and looks like it was thrown in by Anchor Bay with very little in the way of restoration (similar to their work on the directors cut of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Otherwise, the film is fairly sanitized. The film is very reminiscent of a giallo, although the director claims to not have been familiar with the sub-genre at the time of his work on the film. It definitely feels more at home as a pseudo-giallo, given the heavy emphasis on murders of a sexual/fetish nature and the detectives investigating them. We never really get much of a shot of the killer, other than a close-up of his hands during the filmís opening murders. As a result, I feel the film loses a bit of the tension it desperately seeks. You never really feel that the characters are in grave danger, because the killer doesnít become a true presence. For all we know, he/she just decided to go nuts one night and commit a few murders before killing himself. It isnít until much later in the film when the killer targets Verna specifically, that we see that she and the other characters really are in a great deal of danger. By this time, half the movie is over, and itís much too late to start engaging the audience in suspense. At this point, the viewer is merely a spectator.
The characters are your usual band of tough-talking cops, although the filmís lead cop and hero also moonlights (against his captain's wishes) as a stand-up comic. The acting is top notch, much better than the usual cast of a stalk and slash opus of the time. If youíre a fan of the Coen Brothers, youíve likely seen character actor Jon Polito before. Here, he plays in one of his earliest roles. Also, Terminator 2 fans will instantly recognize actor Joe Morton from his role of Miles Dyson in James Cameronís classic blockbuster. The music is at best, unobtrusive. Itís neither effective or ineffective. The opening title piece sounds a lot like it couldíve been the opening title to a haunted house film of the time, as opposed to a serial killer film. Itís a beautiful piece, but Iím not quite sure that it fits here. However, there are a few synth cues here and there that work in conjunction with the murder scenes.
The film is very competently shot. Armand Mastroianni is quite talented, but I donít feel that any of his horror projects (He Knows Youíre Alone, Cameronís Closet being the others) have really lived up to the potential that he couldíve delivered. He Knows Youíre Alone is my personal favorite of Mastroianniís films, and is much better as a straight slasher film. The story of The Killing Hour is well plotted for a dramatic thriller, but a little on the tame and uneventful side for a horror film. Iím not entirely sure why the film is called The Killing Hour. As far as made clear by the movie, the murders donít have anything to do with time or a particular hour. On the DVDís audio commentary, director Armand Mastroianni gives us his explanation of the title, but Iím not quite sure that it makes as much sense as he seems to think.
If youíre looking for rare slasher thrills, there are plenty of other even more rare and even better films than The Killing Hour. It is a pretty decent thriller on its own merits, but not quite what I thought it might be when I sat down to watch it. I do recommend fans of police procedurals and crime dramas give it a glance, especially if you enjoy stories involving New York circa the 70s and 80s. As a slasher film, the film just doesnít have much of a pulse. I can easily picture drive-in slasher fans of the time being too bored by its plotting to stick around to the finish, while suspense fans were likely put off by its more sensational story aspects. The Killing Hour is far from being terrible, but I would definitely only Rent it!
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