AMERICAN GIALLO: Blackout (1985)

Douglas Hickox directed one of my favorite films, Vincent Price’s Theater of Blood. And he also directed this — a TV movie turned video store favorite thanks to its striking box art.

Joe Steiner (Richard Widmark, whose portrayal of Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death would inspire Eric Binford in 1980’s Fade to Black) is a cop who can’t let go. A brutal slayer of an entire family on a child’s birthday has scarred him and he promises the dead family that he won’t rest until he brings their killer to justice.

Allen Devlin (Keith Carradine, Nashville) is a man without an identity. He was in a car crash that destroyed both his face and memory. He wakes up with a scarred visage that upsets nearly everyone that sees it except for his nurse, Chris Graham (Kathleen Quinlan, Airport ’77).

Mike Patterson (Michael Back, Swan from The Warriors) is another cop who was Chris’ boyfriend and lost her to Allen. He can’t let go.

All three men are trapped by the past: Steiner believes that Allen is the family killer. Mike wants Chris back at nearly any cost. And Allen might be a new person, born on the day of his car crash, but he may also be that killer. Even he isn’t so sure.

So how is this a giallo? It doesn’t have the expected psychosexual and fashionista elements, nor the camerawork showing the killer’s POV. However, it does feature plenty of identity confusion and a main character who may or may not be the villain.

Come to think of it, this film has a strange narrative in that there is no real hero of the piece, with all three men and Chris serving as characters within the story framework instead of a sole protagonist for us to root for.

For a TV movie, this gets pretty dark, with some uncomfortable male on female violence at the end. There’s also a great steadicam sequence where Chris opens door after door to try and find either her children or the killer, with the smooth movement of the camera slowly increasing her worry and making the scene quite claustrophobic.

Originally airing on July 28, 1995 on HBO, Blackout gained even more notoriety as it inspired Ed Sherman’s murder of his wife Ellen in August of that year. Sherman also used an air conditioner to slow the decomposition of his wife’s dead body in an attempt to establish his alibi.

Blackout has never been commercially released on DVD, but you can find it at the VHSPS, a great source for all films that have been forgotten.

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