Director Ray Danton's 1975 Psychic Killer stars a strangely compelling Jim Hutton as a man named Arnold Masters, a man who prefers to be alone and lives the lonely life of a recluse. This makes him the perfect patsy and soon enough he's locked up inside a mental hospital for the murder of a doctor that he didn't commit. While he's imprisoned, his elderly mother dies (Diane Deininger), a victim of the neglect that would have been avoided had her son been able to care for her. This sends Arnold over the edge, and he soon teaches himself the mystic art of astral projection, thanks to a powerful medallion on that he inherits, which allows him to get revenge for his wrongful imprisonment and for his mother's death. Even when Arnold's been released after the real murderer has been found, his thirst for vengeance is strong, and his alibi always rock solid.
A pair of local cops, Lieutenant's Morgan (Paul Burke) and Anderson (Aldo Ray), are suspicious of Alfred and are doing what they can to prove he really is a killer while his well intentioned psychiatrist, Dr. Laura Scott (Julie Adams), works overtime to stop Arnold before he decides it's time to kill again...
Also known as The Kirlian Force, this is an understated, underappreciated and atmospheric picture that borrows a little bit from Psycho in how it deals with mother-son relationships but which absolutely manages to branch out into its own territory. The plot is a bit on the far-fetched side and the cast has a tendency to chew through scenery like it's candy but the film is well paced and well shot and actually manages to conjure up a few decent scares in spite of itself. The murder scenes are definitely the highlight of the picture and they're fairly creative at that. Albert's victims die in all manner of grisly ways and under increasingly unusual circumstances which ensures that the picture has no shortage of memorable murder set pieces.
As far as the film's production values are concerned, the movie is nicely shot and fairly well lit. If the visuals don't always jump out and grab you some creative color compositions, particularly in the scenes involving fire, add some welcome flair to the film's look and style. The score, which comes courtesy of composer William Kraft, isn't as intense as it could be but it does bounce up at every opportunity to enhance the eeriness when and where it can. The special effects, on the other hand, are obviously on the cheap side and don't look particularly realistic at all, even by the standards of the mid-seventies.
There are moments in the picture that leave you wondering how seriously we're supposed to take the whole ordeal. Plenty of moments of macabre humor work well with the overacting and result in a really fun movie that is a little difficult to take all too seriously. The cast make the most out of the material and play their parts with no shortage of enthusiasm, and even if the end result is a little hokey the picture remains entertaining, creepy, and a truly enjoyable seventies drive-in oddity.
Dark Sky's 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer easily trumps the previous non-anamorphic widescreen release that came out through Elite Entertainment years ago. The image is much cleaner and benefits from stronger color reproduction and more detail throughout the image. There's still some minor print damage here and there as well as a bit of grain evident throughout but generally the picture on this disc is quite strong. Skin tones look good even if there are a couple of moments where they're a tad on the pink side while black levels remain consistently strong for the duration of the picture. Shadow detail is okay even if it isn't great and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about. The transfer has been flagged for progressive scan.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack, which comes with optional English subtitles, is fine for what it is. For an older, low budget picture the dialogue is surprisingly clear and the levels are properly balanced throughout the film. There aren't any major problems with hiss or distortion to note and generally the movie sounds just fine. A couple of spots suffer from a little bit of flatness but this is the nature of the beast when dealing with older Mono tracks and you can't really fault the DVD for that. Fans should be pleased, the movie sounds fine.
Extras are slim on this release, unfortunately, and are limited to a trio of quick television spots and the film's original theatrical trailer (also presented in anamorphic widescreen). Some classy animated menus and chapter selection sub-menus are also included on the DVD.
A fun seventies thriller, Psychic Killer might have aged a bit but it's still an entertaining horror film and Dark Sky has done an admirable job with the presentation on this DVD. It's not a classic but it's definitely a film worth checking out for fans of that era's own unique brand of supernatural suspense pictures and this release comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.