Night Killer (1990)

Say what you will about Claudio Fragasso. From the films he co-wrote with his Rossella Drudi for Bruno Mattei, like RobowarZombi 3Rats: Night of TerrorThe Other Hell and Shocking Dark to the films he’s either co-directed or directed, such as ScalpsTroll 2 and Beyond Darkness, he’s created movies that you can see as inept and strange that were made by someone who has no understanding of how human beings think, act or speak. Or you can see it my way — they are works of pure genius, the fruits of a demented mind that doesn’t need to be grounded by such concerns as budget, traditional storytelling or common sense.

Fragasso saw this as a tense psychological thriller with little to no gore and the original cut of the film resembled his vision. However, the producers wanted more violence, so they brought in Bruno Mattei to add the gore. Those very same producers also retitled the film Non Aprite Quella Porta 3 (Don’t Open the Door 3) so that it would appear to be another film in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series (yep, this is getting into La Casa/Demons territory).

Within the first eight minutes of this movie, we’ve seen nudity, aerobics dancing on stage while a director has a near meltdown of amateur acting proportions, the killer disemboweling two women and the director falling off a balcony to her death, all set to some of the most chipper synth turns you’ve ever heard. Buckle up — this movie gets even weirder from here.

The film picks back up after the quick credits to introduce us to Melanie (Tara Buckman from Silent Night, Deadly NightThe Cannonball Run; Joe D’Amato’s Blue Angel Cafe and Never Too Young to Die, the kind of credits that make you royalty around these parts), who is tooling around in a flimsy negligee while some dude picks up her daughter Clarissa and delivers her to another woman. Soon, she’s furiously typing and smoking in a sweater that reveals one shoulder, all while she’s wearing a blue scarf. She also has a teddy bear on her desk that the camera focuses on, which is yet another Fragasso directorial tic.

It seems like our heroine has two phone lines to handle all the calls she gets, which are mostly harassment from her ex-husband. One dude that calls her is so upset that he smashes a glass in his hand while bellowing, “Melanie? Melanie! MELANIE!”

What soon follows is one of the most batshit moments I’ve seen in film (imagine how much that statement covers), as Melanie gives herself a breast exam in front of a mirror while saying, “Well here you are, Melanie Beck. This is you. You have a daughter, you’ve got a marriage on the rocks and nothing but gray skies ahead.” Soon, another phone line rings and another voice says, “You’re a fine looking woman, Beck. Just begging to be fucked senseless.”

Imagine if Cobra Commander called you and wanted you to talk him off. That’s the Night Killer. Let’s talk about the villain of this film. He has a face kind of sort of like Freddy, but instead of attacking you in your dreams, he relies on the aforementioned obscene phone calls. He also has a clawed hand, but instead of sharp razor-like knives, he has bendy rubber fingers. They’re either really sharp or he’s really strong because he keeps punching women through the stomach in an insert shot that looks like the same effect every single time.

Melanie calls the police for advice and trust me, these cops are second to the dumb fuzz in Stagefright. Officer Gabrielle asks for her phone number, to which Melanie tearfully replies, “I have two lines.” The cop is unfazed. “Give me both numbers.” Dialogue like this is why you have not only Fragasso but his wife Rossella writing your script.

The cops tell her to lock herself in the house and not let anyone in, but this being an Italian horror movie, they’re going to rip off that “the calls are coming from inside the house” moment from Black Christmas at the very beginning of the film, instead of waiting for the end. The Night Killer is in the house and horny!

The Night Killer may not be able to haunt your dreams, but he can certainly imitate voices, as he calls the cops back as Melanie’s husband and then survives getting shot at by her. He then whispers more sweet nothings before kidnapping her for eight hours. Why doesn’t he kill her? Who knows!

We cut to a hospital where a cop and a fake Dr. Loomis named Dr. Willow are discussing the case. She’s seen the killer’s face, but now she can’t remember who he is and even the fact that she has a daughter. And now we have a reporter wearing an outfit that can best be described as Italian cowboy ala 1990, as she interviews the next door neighbor who had the gift for Melanie’s daughter, who shows off the scar the Night Killer gave him and discusses how he and his wife have temporary custody of Clarissa. His wife then tops every bad performance you’ve ever seen in a Fragasso film with a line reading that can charitably be described as vapidly morose. This is also when we learn that Clarissa’s dad was a cop kicked off the force for excessive violence.

I remember in seventh grade English that our teacher told us that in a mystery story, there’s no extraneous information. Everything could be a clue and that we had to learn to listen for them and discover how each small piece of the puzzle adds up to the solution to the crime. Obviously, she had never seen a Claudio Fragaasso film, where red herrings are thrown with the force of Major League Baseball fastballs right at your brainstem.

Note: Nearly every woman in this movie wears a fur coat.

With that in mind, we catch up to Melanie who is driving around in her convertible when Axel (Peter Hooten, who we all remember was the 1970’s Dr. Strange, as well as appearing in the truly ridiculous Slashed Dreams/SunburstOrca2020 Texas Gladiators and Just a Damned Soldier with B&S About Movies all-star Mark Gregory) drives up to her and starts sexually harassing her. He follows her into a women’s bathroom where she pulls out a gun and forces him to disrobe, then flushes all of his clothes down the toilet. If you learn anything from Night Killer, this is where you will learn that Peter Hooten has massive balls. I’m not talking nerves of steel. I’m worried that his massive testicles are about to burst that purple thong he’s wearing.

There are times in my life where I laugh so hard that I lose consciousness, where it feels like I can see through the very fabric of reality and I need to hold onto this plane of existence so that I don’t push my soul into another plane. One of these moments happened during this scene, as Axel chases after Melanie in his boxers. A guy at the front desk looks up and says, “Hey bud, what happened to your clothes?” Axel replies, “I got molested…in the little boy’s room!”

Melanie follows this moment of insanity by going to the beach, setting up a blanket, laying out all of her booze and the biggest prescription pill bottles you’ve ever seen in your life and proceeding to overdose. Axel arrives just in time and fully dressed, taking her into the seawater, which he claims is the only cure.

Axel: What the hell do you think you’re doing?

Melanie: Committing…suicide…

Axel: Well you gotta drink seawater so you can throw up all of that shit you’ve been taking!

Melanie: Are you…crazy?

Has Claudio Fragasso discovered the hidden secret to the opioid epidemic? Is it having Peter Hooten get you in a doggy style Heimlich maneuver while making you ingest H2O and NaCL as stirring synth music plays?

Keep in mind that we are literally one third through this movie and it’s already blown my mind numerous times. Folks, this is why you watch Italian ripoff cinema.

We cut to a dinner party where a drunk blonde girl is talking to a mysterious stranger. “You want me to go with you? Where? I wasn’t born yesterday. If a stranger asks for something, there’s a rat in somewhere. What my mama used to always say. But seeing as how I could never stand the sight of the old lady, I’ll come out with you and risk the unknown. To hell with the old bitch, here’s to the unknown!”

Melanie wakes up in a strange hotel room as more synths play.

We then cut right back to another room that’s filled with paintings of the Night Killer that look like the work of a small child. Our villain then takes that blonde from the bar into his apartment, puts on his mask and glove, and she says, “What are you doing?” Again, indulge me as I transcribe this dialogue.

Night Killer: Do you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood?

Girl: Sure. Ah. I get it. I’m Little Red Riding Hood and you’re the big bad wolf. You know, I think I’m just a little tipsy.

Night Killer: Go on with the story.

Girl: Oh grandmother, what big claws you have.

Night Killer: All the better to hold you with.

Girl: What a nutcase!

Night Killer: Don’t stop.

Girl: OK. Granny, what a big, ugly mug you have. Well? Now you’re the one who’s stopped. Oh, why grandmother. What big schlong you have. I don’t like this game anymore. Please take me home.

That’s when the Night Killer murders her by repeatedly shoving her face into liquid latex before he, of course, punches her through the stomach. It’s his signature move, after all! He then fondles her and tells her dead body that now, they’ll make love and he kisses her.

We cut back to Melanie locked in the hotel room with Axel, who comes in with a fresh box of KFC and her clothes dry cleaned. How long was she out? He goes through her pills (“Valium. Syringe. A gun! Barbituates!” which is dialogue that sounds like a Queens of the Stone Age song.) Melanie then puts a gun to her own head, to which Axel replies by eating fried chicken right in her face. “Takes balls to kill yourself. And the only person with those around here in the right place? Yours truly.” Yes, Peter Hooten. We’ve seen your giant massive beanbag, so we’ll agree.

Axel somehow gets her gun and puts it in her mouth, telling her he’s going to kill her when he says so, when she least expects it. He tells her that he’s her master and she lays down on the bed. They make a pact as he puts a switchblade up against her face. He then decides to go out and let off a little steam, leaving her locked up with all his fried chicken.

We then cut to an aquarium, where a doctor checks an overflow valve. The Night Killer shows up, slowly chasing her before feeling her up and ripping open her blouse. She screams and runs as he gives ever so slowly chase. I’ve seen plenty of girls run in slasher movies, but never one as lazy as this. She soon pays by taking the Night Killer’s big move backward.

Melanie isn’t doing well. She’s written “I kill you kill me” on the mirror in lipstick. Axel comes back to tie her to the bed as we get long shots of Hooten slicing up fabric against his manly chest.

More news footage follows as we see a press conference interrupted by the victim from the aquarium being loaded into an ambulance. “The maniac tore her into pieces and fed her to the fish. It’s enough to hurt my stomach thinking about it!” yells a cop. Hey look! It’s Claudio Fragasso as a reporter hitting the cop car window, trying to get more of the story!

We’re back to Melanie and Axel in bed, as he kisses her and she asks to be untied. Somehow, this movie went from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Fifty Shades of Spaghetti. Or, more likely, The Devil’s Honey. Of course, they make love.

Another press conference follows as the media wants to know where Melanie is. Dr. Willow fills them in, as he explains how the Night Killer has impacted Melaine’s life.

Dr. Willow: Melanie Beck is living in a state of dissociative schizophrenia, triggered by the trauma of the experience she was forced to undergo. The poor woman went through the most traumatic ordeal that a human being can experience. A clinical examination of the patient revealed an inordinate amount of seminal fluid. The pure evil of the violence that was put upon her has unhinged her mind. The patient now has a very fragile grip on reality.

There’s also an insane theory by the doctor here where he believes that she gave in during her eight-hour ordeal so that she could survive and now, she’s punishing herself and wants to kill herself as the result. It kind of reminds me of that scene where all the old men discuss how a woman should behave in The Entity. The doctor claims if she goes through the same ordeal again, she’d be back to normal. But then, the psycho would recognize her and kill her.

One of the few movies that Lee Lively, who plays Dr. Willow, was in other than Night Killer was the Barbara Streisand vehicle The Prince of Tides, a fact that pleases me inordinately.

Peter Hooten is all sweaty and drinking outside the hotel room when Melanie decides to put a bullet into her mirror, leading him to do a spit take. No normal human being would ever make a movie that combines all of the words I’ve just said above this other than Fragasso.

The cops find Melanie’s car, but now they’re arguing with Dr. Willow, who had a plan to catch the Night Killer that has gone to hell.

Another press conference. Another fur coat. Now, the police reveal that they think the Night Killer has abducted Melanie. We cut to a Christmas tree as the next door neighbor watches the press conference. And the manager of the hotel calls the police to tell them he’s found Melanie.

The black cop gets to the hotel just in time to get jumped. And the next door neighbor grabs a gun and decides to go out after the Night Killer. Dude, seriously, I’m in the dark. Is he her ex-husband? Is the kidnapper her ex-husband? And now the neighbor’s wife is going crazy! How many red herrings can one movie have? When Fragasso at the helm, the number is beyond comprehension.

Melanie has on yet another fur — and the largest hat ever — as her kidnapper makes a taunting call to the cops, leading to her escaping. The tension is, well, not palpable, but there sure are a lot of f-bombs.

Now we have a multiple person chase with Melanie running, the kidnapper chasing her and the neighbor saying that he’s trying to help her as a sad saxophone plays and the kidnapper screams, “NO!”

The neighbor tells Melanie to lock herself in the house — that worked so well last time — while he gets help and her daughter. She watches as a man calls her from a pay phone outside her window. It’s the Night Killer! He’s back! She’s shocked and screams, but come on. Who else would it be? The phone rings again and there he is — back in the house. The Night Killer reveals himself to be the next door neighbor, who we finally learn is named Sherman. He claims that his wife is right, that she’s a bitch in heat and Mrs. Beck is the reason why he’s scarred for life.

We flash back to how he tortured her, which is the same way that Axel treated her. So wait — was Axel a cop and maybe even her ex-husband doing the same torture so that Melanie would remember who the killer was? What kind of cops and psychologists are these people? Also: all of these memories appear in a weird haze with liquid effects over everything.

Melanie comes on to the Night Killer, telling him how much she missed how he touched her, kissing him and cooing in his ear. She finds his knife and stabs him right in the cockmeat. Axel arrives just in time, jumping through a glass window and firing multiple bullets into Sherman. Melanie and Axel embrace, so I guess he is her ex-husband?

If you think this movie is going to end without more press conferences, you haven’t been paying attention. Dr. Willow says that Mr. and Mrs. Beck were guinea pigs and they had to make her relive this all to find the killer. Seriously, these are the worst cops and people ever. Axel Beck isn’t just getting his job back, he’s getting a promotion. And now, he’s back in bed with his wife and daughter. Seems like a happy ending, right?

Nope. Clarissa interacts with a gift box in the slowest of motion, carrying it lovingly up the steps as we catch up with the Becks in bed. Now, Clarissa is jumping up and down on the bed, ever so languidly unwrapping the gift. You just know what was inside the box — the Night Killer’s mask.

Clarissa is wearing it, as she ends the movie by saying, “Do you recognize me Miss Beck? I’m back. Just for you. Just for you!” and laughing.

Not since the end of Rats: Night of Terror has Fragasso pulled off an ending this audacious. Some would say moronic. Not me. After all, the Night Killer had to give Clarissa that gift before Axel kidnapped his own wife, knowing that they would kill him and Sherman/Night Killer would have to somehow teach her — or maybe his wife did it — how to talk like the Night Killer. Or maybe the mask is possessed? And why did he switch from claws to a switchblade and gun?

This movie is utterly confounding. This is why traditional movies end up boring me, because they make too much sense. If you’re looking for narrative jumps that leap into orbit, if you’re seeking out the unhinged, if you have ever wanted to watch a movie that goes from Elm Street to giallo to pre-Seven box related ending five years before that film was released and if you watched Troll 2 and said, “But what if the same people made a movie that makes even less sense?”, please consider this a strong recommendation.

Want to see it for yourself? You can order it like I did from Cult Action.

UPDATE: Of course, Severin put this out. I feel like I have to make some kind of blood sacrifice to pay them back at this rate.

5 thoughts on “Night Killer (1990)

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