The “brain breaks free of the body” romp that is Mind Killer is an SOV’er that also crosses over into regional filmmaking — two video fringe genres that’s our kind of our jam (yeah, we have a lot of those) around the B&S About Movies’ cubicle farm. Local Denver filmmaker Micheal Krueger made two of them as a writer and director: the shot back-to-back Mind Killer and Night Vision (1987).
As a writer and producer, he made his third film: the rock band vs. werewolf flick (Did he see Alice Cooper’s Monster Dog?) Lone Wolf (1988). In that same capacity, Krueger upped his game and shot in Panavision 35mm (but released in the same direct-to-video format as his previous three films), The Amityville Curse (1990). Sadly, the cinematic visions of Micheal Krueger’s mind ended at the age of 49 (of undisclosed causes) on August 27, 1990, in Denver, Colorado — where all of his films were produced and shot.
The copy on the VHS sleeve for Krueger’s first film proclaims it as “an intellectual horror film” — and that’s not just copywriter hornswogglin’. While obvious in its low-budget, the proceedings are far from the amateurism infecting most SOV’ers. Clocking in at a brisk 84 minutes (one hour twenty-four minutes), Micheal Krueger does his best with what he’s got to work with and takes the best of David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1987) and Ed Hunt’s (not released yet) The Brain (1988) — with a pinch of the classic (well, it is to the B&S crew) Fiend Without a Face (1958), and a little bit of Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982) and Brain Damage (1988) — and engages us with an introspective, but fun n’ sloppy romp. And the acting from the leads Joe McDonald and Christopher Wade (aka Wade Kelly) rises above the expected SOV thespin’ tedium norms.
Warren is a lonely library clerk addicted to self-help books and videos, particularly ones with advice on how to attract women — and he ineptly applies those teachings to the local singles bar scene with his even more awkward co-worker, Larry, and his buff roommate, Brad. Of course, Brad scores without books — and Warren creepily watches as he does — with the librarian he crushes (Shirley Ross, later of Night Vision).
Then, in the library bowels. Warren stumbles across a manuscript that he uses to develop psychic powers, which make him irresistible to women. Soon, his powers get out of control as his brain turns into a monster with a mind of its own — that bursts from his skull.
While this is more tightly edited — at 80 minutes — than the 100 minutes of Micheal Krueger’s follow up, Night Vision, as well as a bit more graphic-gooey than that latter film, the effects are cheesy-campy (but charming-to-inept amusing) and the thespin’ by most of the cast is from the stiff to the overwrought. The sound mix, in places, strains your ears deciphering the dialog. And, as with Night Visions, its all pretty uneventful until those last ten minutes — when our brain creature runs amuck, with slop and humor.
And does the ending remind you a bit of Re-Animator? Yes, and that’s not a bad thing.
And now for our second feature!
The copy on the VHS sleeve for Night Vision proclaims we will “tune into the nightmare channel and fast-forward into hell” . . . and that bit o’ copywritin’ hornswogglin’ sums up the ol’ haunted electronics plot we’ve enjoyed in the video ’80s with the likes of TerrorVision (1986; a cable satellite system), The Video Dead (1987; a portable TV set), and Remote Control (1988; possessed VHS tapes). Uh, okay. Yeah, yeah . . . and the vapid John Ritter-waster (he made so many; and you’re stuck with Pam Dawber, too) Stay Tuned (1992; a comedic, possessed cable TV hook up, or remote, or . . . I don’t care).
Unlike most SOV auteurs who vanished after one lone, in most cases, tragically inept film (that will still have its charms), Michael Krueger shows us he learned his celluloid lessons with Mind Killer. The production values on Night Vision are slicker and the acting from our leads of Stacy Carson and, as his girlfriend and fellow video store employee, Shirley Ross (from Mindkiller) are, again, above the SOV norms — but her constant gum chewing and smoking (and both at the same time) becomes annoying and ventures into a poor thespian choice (and gross); meanwhile, Carson is too old to play the naive teenager bit.
So, who’s haunted whom, here? Well, Andy Archer, a naive bumpkin from the Kansas cornfields heads into big city Denver — in lieu of his own state’s Wichita — to pursue a writing career. And the muse isn’t calling. Then he buys a stolen, portable TV and VCR from his new friend and local street hustler, Vinnie Sotto (a not bad Tony Carpenter). (Their friendship gives the film an M.C Escher meets a horror-slanted Midnight Cowboy vibe — with Carson as our naive Joe Buck and Carpenter’s Sotto as Ratzo Rizzo. There’s no evidence that was Krueger’s influence or intent, just my take on the material.)
Loaded into the VCR is a videocassette created by a group of electronic-worshiping Satanists (set up in the beginning of the film) — and the gadget — which plays back when it’s not plugged in; shocks you, pricks your finger, and oozes blood when it runs the tape (is it real or hallucination) — can also predict future murders. So our geeky Andy Archer writes short stories based on what’s on the tape — and finds success. Soon, those Satanic rituals and devil worshiping ceremonies on the tape — just as the box copy promises — fast forwards Andy into a Droste effect-type hell as murders sweep Denver — murders that Andy’s accused of, since he’s chronicled the murders in his stories and he appears on the tape as he commits the murders.
Sure, the proceedings plod along slowly, but the shots are professionally framed and the competently edited. But at one hour forty minutes, you can see an easy ten minutes trimmed. In addition, tighter writing could have easily paired Krueger’s Cronenbergian-cum-Lychian psychological thriller into a decent 80-minute film from the 100-minutes we’re watching. Again, it’s a competent effort and you’ve seen worse — far worse — from the SOV and 16mm canons. The oddity here is that Tubi offers Night Vision as an age-restricted sign-in, but there nothing here that’s the least SOV offensive-graphic (and doesn’t kick in until the last ten minutes).
You can watch Mind Killer on You Tube HERE and HERE, but the best upload is the free-with ads stream on Tubi. You can watch Night Vision on You Tube HERE, but there’s a better free-with-ads stream upload on Tubi. You can also learn more about both of these Micheal Krueger works, as well as all of the films produced in Colorado, at Colorado Film.com.
As always, our many thanks to Paul Zamarelli and his efforts to preserve the VHS artwork of these films. Visit him at VHS Collector.com and enjoy his reviews on his You Tube channel The Analog Archivist.