Robert A. Burns was the art director* of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Don’t Go Near the Park and The Howling, all movies that feature grimy and cluttered near-chattel houses filled with carnage. Just think of Eddie Quist’s apartment or the home of the Sawyer family. Burns’ artistic eye made all that happen and this is the one and only film he’d direct** (he also wrote the script).
This film takes place inside a Texas boardinghouse that has the spirit of S.F. Brownrigg hanging heavy over the place. When one of the tenants decides to tease the dog that lives in the basement, he ends up getting bit and the dog is put down. This upsets the quiet editor named Jerry (Terry Evans) who tries to keep his life orderly but keeps getting beaten on by nearly every scumbag that lives in this fleabag rattrap. His only good connections are Sharon, who he shares books with, and the latest renter, a handsome man named Ken. He’s attracted to both of them for different reasons, but it seems like Ken is the one who has his heart. However, Jerry isn’t fully human — more on that in a bit — and even the slightest attention from people sends him spiraling out of control. It doesn’t help that every single other person in this movie is vile, with the worst being Woody (a young Mitch Pileggi).
Jerry was also connected to that dog who died after Toad, one of the more insipid residents, teased its owner Ian about it until the dog gets loose. Jerry also had a major incident where a dog attacked him as a child, so he loses it and Woody guns the mutt down. Our protagonist starts to take on the characteristics of the dog — is he possessed by it? Does he see that he needs its feral nature to augment his shy demeanor? — which gets even worse when a prank goes wrong.
The men are jealous that Ken has just come in and ended up getting the girl of their dreams. So they send him a note that Sharon is waiting for him in bed. He runs to her room, strips and discovers the body of the dead dog dressed in lingerie. Shocked, he falls backward and is electrocuted.
This sends Jerry beyond the edge, his ideal man and the third and perhaps most crucial part of his mental menage a trois relationship deceased, he succumbs to the call of the wild and begins killing everyone one by one, his voice replaced by the raspy, growling sounds of the werewolf (while remaining totally human).
If you’re not excited yet, how about the fact that Aldo Ray runs this whole place?
Thanks to Ryan Clark, I can also discuss that this movie features a Deep Throat pinball machine that was custom made by Burns. This message board had the maker of the Rondo and Bob discussing owning the machine, which also shows up in Future Kill.
This is a slasher by the end — albeit most of the kills coming off camera, but it has plenty of stalking — but almost seems like a stage play concerning the plight of the human condition within this Texas boardinghouse. It takes a long time to get to where it wants to go, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Quite the contrary, it’s a strange piece of filmmaking that would easily find a home in the Vinegar Syndrome re-release catalog.
*Burns also worked on Re-Animator, Mausoleum, Tourist Trap, Play Dead and plenty more movies. It’s astounding how many movies he worked on are held in such high regard by me. He was also a noted genealogist and the world’s foremost expert on Rondo Hatton. Sadly, he killed himself after finding out he had cancer.
**Burns also made an early found footage movie called Scream Test that remains unreleased.
You can watch this on YouTube.
Is that VHS artwork familiar? It should be, if you’re a metal head from the ’80s. It also served as the cover for the Arista Records debut of Ronnie James Dio’s cousin, David Feinstein, who was in The Elves/The Electric Elves with Dio.