Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Killing as Sport

Killer’s Delight aka The Sport Killer aka The Dark Ride (1979)
D. Jeremy Hoenack
Code Red/ Media Blasters

Fairly tame but well made thriller based on the Ted Bundy murders that was made while the slayings were still going on. The movie opens with a van stopping on a side of a San Francisco hillside and a man getting out carrying a nude girl. He throws the body into the air and it freeze frames on her flying corpse and the title comes up. Except it is the title The Sport Killer, not the on package title Killer’s Delight which is never really explained anywhere. The movie kicks in with another murder of a young woman who is hitchhiking with her shaggy dog. she is picked up by this same van. Cut to later and a bevy of cops led by James Luisi as Detective Vince De Carlo. Seems a man and his son found her nude corpse at the bottom of a gulch with the dog. One rather haunting shot shows the dog, still alive refusing to leave the side of his former owner’s nude corpse. As the EMT’s are taking the body away we hear the little boy who found them ask if the dog is alright. A fairly realistic touch I thought. The movie has been on seven minutes and there has been two murders already.

The film settles into a fairly routine police procedural at this point with De Carlo bringing in San Francisco police Detective Mike (played by Martin Speer) to help him with the case since there have been murders of young women in his jurisdiction too. They hit the pavement together to tract down the killer who isn’t slowing down. The killer begins targeting girls at a local swimming pool. The disappearances there cause the cops to stake it out, but this only gets the pretty young pool attendant killed on one of the films more harrowing scenes. You really think she won’t get killed since movies tend to let this type of girl go. But not in this case. And the killer still manages to elude the cops and pick up more girls from this area, as he escalates his crimes. It becomes a cat and mouse situation, as the cops end up having to break some laws to figure out who he is, and then the heat is on.

The movie has some sleazy moments, as the opening credit shot will suggest, such as when the killer strips down two teens in his van (one with early large fake breasts) and begins to break her fingers and arm. But the kills scenes are at their most effective when we see the aftermath and the film shows them as b/w crime scene style stills. You have to remember this was 1979 before the deluge of TV true crime shows were this kind of thing was the norm. So this was a pretty groundbreaking way to present the material. And it is still striking and effective today. Once the killer’s identity is revealed and we get the standard Mommy fixation reasoning it loses its footing and becomes a bit more of a standard thriller. But a lot is to be said for the nihilistic, punch you in the nuts ending that only the 70’s could get away with.

The DVD is really nice, with a great picture. Code Red (with Media Blasters releasing) has done a terrific job restoring an obscure movie. The ultra low budget almost never shows, except maybe in the scenes when they are talking to the police captain, were it is clearly not in a a police station at all. The DVD is loaded with extras, including deleted scenes with George Buck Flower. Unfortunately these scenes have no audio as the sound track for these scenes were lost over time. There is a very short interview with the director and actor John Karlen who you may remember from some Hammer films and the great Daughter of Darkness. Plus an alternate opening credit sequence using the title The Dark Ride.

Altogether it isn’t a groundbreaking film, but it is at times a tense one, and certainly well made. The camerawork and editing are consistently strong, and the acting is top notch. So for a low budget film it is first rate and well worth recommending.

Andy Copp

No comments:

Post a Comment