Living in a sleazy rental home with two of my mates in the early '90s, I experienced my first instance of dual VCRs. What necessarily must happen occurred, and soon we were duplicating rental tapes - but perhaps due to some poor choices this illegal habit ended almost as soon as it began. Our first three choices were a horrible comedy about teens romancing in Greece, a truncated cut of The Devil in Miss Jones and Killing Spree. Young, irresponsible louts that we were, we watched the latter two into the ground. More fools, we.
Killing Spree is a late entry into the DTV market. Lensed in 1987 by Tim Ritter - a pioneer of the independent horror genre - the Spree foundered, searching for distribution up until right about when we rented and copied it. Sorry Tim! Now it's getting a second life as a release in the Camp Motion Pictures Retro '80s Horror Collection, and it's just as horrific, stupid and shaggily lovable as it was back then. This is no masterpiece, not intended to scare or wow you with things like acting or production values - Killing Spree invites you to a silly gore party populated by kids left behind in the wake of the Disney-fication of Hollywood horror circa 1984.
Tom Russo (Asbestos Felt) is quickly going mad as a mechanic in a bland featureless suburb of sweltering Florida. Convinced that every Tom, Dick and Harry is having his way with his hot wife, Tom adopts the titular plan, dispatching handymen, lawn-boys and delivery drivers in spectacularly (if cheaply executed) gory fashion. Lawnmower haircuts, ceiling fan machete munchers, claw-hammer jaw surgery and intestinal tug-of-war, it's all here for you bucky! Can Russo's rampage be stopped? Before you hit the stop button in ashamed disgust? Buy the ticket, take the ride, I say!
Killing Spree's faults are its virtues, because with movies of this ilk, there are no conventional virtues. Amateur actors are hampered by slap-dash script, short shooting schedule and lack of film stock that meant no more than three takes per scene. Special effects are splattery on pocket change, and visually the film is as bland as the stark white, empty tract home, (totally bare as it belonged to the producer who had just moved in and had barely unpacked) which acts as its principal location. A typical shot features a vast expanse of textured sheet-rock and a tiny disembodied head in one corner. But enough for the glass-half-empty mindset!
If you're an old-school gore lover, Killing Spree has likely been on your list since 1991. Asbestos Felt's ludicrous performance is a delight of wild hair, menacing mustache and the most awful wild-eyed stare ever put to film. How he managed to summon so much maniacal laughter while slicing and dicing is anyone's guess. As far as realistic grue, most gore-hounds love it, but everyone knows seeing an old lady's jaw ripped off in fine detail can be a bit much, sometimes the cheap stuff is far more appropriate. And production wise, there's something quite effective about the bland daylight horror of Killing Spree. The remorseless sun beating down, the cookie cutter houses with their empty patches of grass marching into the distance, the grim white interiors and crappy furniture - it's no wonder Russo wants to splash a little color around. Blood red! Mwahahahahahaha. Seriously, Killing Spree is far from the best DTV horror of the '80s, but it's not like it was ever trying.
Killing Spree was shot on 16mm and because of that and a few other reasons went to tape looking kind of shabby. This DVD release isn't much of an improvement, but it's probably the best the movie will ever look. That said, it's a fairly grainy, sun-bleached, fuzzy affair (and not just Asbestos's facial hair) that balances the stark white scenery with lots of weird lighting to further muddy things up. It's presented in a 1.33:1 ratio.
No mention is made of any special digital audio processing on the package. The sound is adequate, but not much of a complicated sound design or anything, which certainly wasn't the focus of most DTV directors from back in the day anyway.
Writer/ Director Tim Ritter contributes a Commentary Track in a fairly serious manner, going into specifics about production of the film but most often spinning these specifics out into an examination of the general working manner and ethos of his particular brand of independent film making. The man has a lot of experience and is still out there working the trenches, so his insight (as well as tidbits about feuds on the set and whiskey budgets) is quite informative and entertaining. Asbestos Felt, Joel Wynkoop and R.M. Hoopes also throw down a beer-fueled Commentary Track dominated by Asbestos and Joel. Hoopes the soundman chimes in only occasionally, but mysteriously sounds the best. This track consists of plenty of commenting on the action, talking about how hot the leading lady is, and goofy stuff like that, with some behind-the-scenes information thrown in for good measure. An hour long Documentary, Blinded By The Blood, was crafted concurrently with the movie and has tons of behind-the-scenes footage and information as narrated by Ritter. Quite entertaining. A two-minute Investor Reel uses scenes from Ritter's earlier effort Truth Or Dare to scare up some scratch for Killing Spree, and 20 minutes of Video Test Footage goes into great detail about the claw hammer killing before finally lapsing into a montage of scenes from the finished film. The DVD sleeve has some fun publicity shots from the movie, and video sleeve images and ordering information for other Camp Motion Pictures releases. Lastly, about 15 minutes of Trailers for about ten other Camp Motion Pictures releases will leave ghouls drooling for more grue. This may just be my new favorite DVD releasing company, repping titles like Woodchipper Massacre and Cannibal Campout and other video monstrosities from the blood-drenched '80s. This is surely a pretty solid slate of extras for a film of such stunted stature.
Killing Spree has a specific audience. Chances are if you've read this far you are part of that audience. So you know when I say that Killing Spree is a terrible, awful movie full of bad acting, non-existent production values and crummy but exuberant gore, that it's not exactly meant as criticism. It falls in the middle of the DTV horror spectrum of the '80s, delivering the gory goods with a wink and a load of laughs. Geeks corn-fed on Fangoria will appreciate this DVD version (even though the picture is just as cruddy as it ever was) for the nice selection of extras, and the chance to reassess the gories of a long-gone era. If it sounds good to you it's Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com