At VHS Revival we cover great films, genre movies, cult classics, hit franchises ― all of them from bygone decades that evoke nostalgia ― but every once in a while I make a concerted effort to seek out movies with a doctorate in accidental hilarity, the kind film buffs occasionally indulge in over a round of beers or a tightly packed reefer, or if you’re me, both. Other times, such movies tend to seek me out quite organically, which was certainly the case with cheapo Italian sleazefest Night Killer aka Non Aprite Quella Porta 3, a low-budget slasher that came to my attention because it falls firmly into the Freddy Krueger rip-off category.
Don’t get too excited. There are no fancy dream sequences or practical effects on display here. Our killer simply wears a mask and claw that vaguely resemble those of Krueger, who in the late 1980s became horror’s first bona fide rock star and the subject of many a horror derivative. Our killer even sounds like Freddy, sporting the same sinister cackle and sadistic motivations, though Robert Englund’s cute commercial repertoire is here replaced by asinine voice over dialogue such as, “I’m crazy about your body…your breasts…the way you smell.” Enough with the witticisms, already! You’re killing me here!
Not content with aping one hit franchise, producers would rename Night Killer Non Aprite Quella Porta 3 or Don’t Open that Door 3. Non Aprite Quella Porta was the Italian name for Tobe Hooper’s influential 1974 American slasher The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which essentially makes Night Killer Italy’s answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3. This wasn’t the first time the movie’s co-directors had attempted to exploit the international home video market. Back then it was standard practice for Italian rip-off cinema, and this is the same writer/director duo who brought us 1989‘s sci-fi horror Shocking Dark, a blatant Terminator rip-off titled Terminator 2 before Terminator 2 was even a thing. But don’t expect to find Leatherface or his band of Deep South cannibals anywhere near this picture, which holds absolutely no relation to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the official Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, released in the US that same year. This film doesn’t even feature a hardware store, let alone a chainsaw.
When the title of a movie is this confusing, you kind of prepare yourself for the worst, which oftentimes means best case scenario. Normally, I would have given something like Night Killer a wide berth ― not because of its low production values, gauche editing and general illogicality, but because very little information exists about the movie, and, as is typically the case with obscure, low-end home video fodder, it is often difficult to find enough high quality press material to do the article, site and our readers justice. Fortunately, Night Killer is one of the lucky few to have landed an admittedly beautiful 4k restoration that allows for screenshots galore. Why would a film with this degree of obscurity receive such royal treatment? Asides from its brazenly derivative marketing endeavours and the kind of breathtaking curiosities synonymous with Italo-sleaze of this variety, the film was directed by Troll 2 alumni Claudio Fragasso, and for anyone who is unaware Troll 2 has garnered a reputation as the king of bad movies, one with such a universal cult following it spawned its very own making-of documentary fittingly titled Best Worst Movie.
Ironically, with Night Killer Fragasso initially set out to make a semi-serious psychological thriller about a suicidal beauty that didn’t rely on the usual sluts and guts — at least not to this degree. That was until sleaze-starved producers stepped in and hired former Fragasso ally Bruno Mattei to tack-on a series of scenes designed to correct that, which probably goes someway to explaining the movie’s nonsensical digressions and continuity negligence. That’s not to say Mattei and the money men sabotaged what otherwise would have been a fine slice of cinema. You only have to look at 1988‘s patchwork abomination Zombi 3, another movie marketed to tap into the legacy of a famous horror series, co-directed by the much revered Lucio Fulci, Fragasso and Mattei, to understand that the two have a storied history in exploitative, nonsensical trash, the kind that treats film editing as a nonessential component and understands it as much as one might understand a mystical herbal remedy with supposed life-prolonging properties.
So where exactly do I begin with a movie like Night Killer? I may as well start by admitting that I had to watch it twice, just in case I was a little too intoxicated the first time around. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully engrossed from start to finish ― when it comes to productions like this it’s hard not to be ― but there were so many unanswered questions once the credits rolled, so many blank spots that I began to question my own role in proceedings. Had I sunk one beer too many? Was that the best goddamn weed I’ve ever had the pleasure of smoking? Only afterwards did I realise that you don’t have to be drunk to misinterpret this movie. In fact, I felt just as hammered the second time around, tentatively testing my afternoon tea from fear of being spiked by a masked killer with a rubber hand, or, worse yet, the kind of deranged stalker who abducts suicidal women and sticks loaded revolvers in their mouths having saved their life only moments earlier. Confused yet? Give it time, you will be.
The movie begins very much in the Freddy Krueger vein as a heavily burnt monster with a razor-fingered claw offs a bunch of women after raping them, and you better get used to the idea of rape because this movie never shuts up about it. Rape is its beating heart. To begin with, I figured we were dealing with a supernatural entity since our killer is able to punch a hole through his victims’ chests with essentially his bare hands. I say essentially because the razor fingers mentioned are clearly latex and bend whenever they make the least bit of contact with something. When our villain uses his claw to pick up a bunch of keys the fingers bend. If a faint breeze passes through the set, it flops pathetically about the place. Whenever our killer rams the claw through a victim’s stomach, a shot repeated ad nauseam, it folds like a rubber chicken. A kitten’s paw would have been more terrifying, and probably more realistic. I’m assuming these shots were added by Mattei against Fragasso’s wishes because they’re utterly senseless and completely at odds with our distinctly human killer’s capabilities. Not only does the masked assailant turn out to be a regular guy, he is the kind of clean-cut male model who belongs in a trite 80s sitcom, or at the very least a Gillette razor commercial. Meanwhile, the movie’s A1 damsel behaves like she belongs in a straight-up porno flick.
The character in question, Melanie Beck, is played by Cannonball Run‘s Tara Buckman, who also starred in the hugely controversial festive slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night. At the risk of sounding misogynistic, Buckman was clearly cast for her breasts, which pop out so often and unexpectedly they seem to have a mind of their own. Beck is the only victim who manages to escape our killer’s flimsy latex clutches. She even manages to get a look at the man beneath the mask, though a rather convenient bout of selective amnesia, the byproduct of “an ordeal that revealed an inordinate amount of seminal fluid”, means she can’t remember a single thing about the incident or the person responsible. Buckman is a terrible actress, the kind who can make an otherwise painfully protracted ‘retreat from the killer’ shot wildly hilarious. Her manic expressions and moments of unflinching melodrama are quite the spectacle, as are her queerly delayed screams, though their manic ferocity makes up for it when they finally arrive. In fact, it’s the movie’s melodramatic tendencies, the kind that juxtapose with moments of startling vulgarity, that make Night Killer such a queerly tasteless experience. That, and its use of music.
I suppose if you’re going to do nonsensical, you may as well go the whole hog. The choice of music here is just incredible. Sometimes it rings true, other times it seems like it’s been culled from a different production entirely. For example, we have a Lethal Weapon style jazz/rock track, the kind you’d hear as Riggs and Murtaugh hunt for clues with a hand on their holsters, only here it plays over a man waving to a young girl as she drives away in a car. We have impromptu sexy sax solos invading desperate chase scenes, and when our suicidal protagonist swallows a cache of pills at her absurd beach picnic for one, we get progressive orchestral disco as dubious male protagonist Axel attempts to shag the poison out of her. Most baffling of all, after the movie’s distinctly sinister twist, we’re treated to an end credits rip-off of Vangelis’ majestic, Oriental-singed The Tao of Love, a track devised around eastern cultural concepts. I mean, where’s the relation here? Just watch the scene where Axel almost drowns Melanie in sea water in an elaborate attempt at saving her life and you’ll see exactly what I mean. It’s so gloriously camp.
It’s almost impossible to make sense of this movie, especially when Axel, played by Orca: The Killer Whale’s Peter Hooten, comes into the fray and immediately begins stalking Beck, cornering her in a public bathroom like a ravenous sex case with total impunity. Melanie doesn’t refer to him by name or even make it clear that she knows him. She simply demands that he strip to his underwear and flush it down the toilet with a sly grin on her face. Hooten’s Axel obviously mistakes this for foreplay, graduating to sexual harassment, kidnapping and emotional torture over a period of days, though he does bring her fried chicken and do a laundry run for his victim, so he can’t be all bad. Not that this is enough to redeem Hooten’s straight-up headcase. There’s no meaningful introduction to his character. He just shows up and begins outdoing our resident killer. Only later do we realise that it’s all part of an elaborate plan concocted by disgraced former cop Axel and Melanie’s doctor, one that poor Mel is completely unaware of.
Since Melanie has repressed the memories of the day she was repeatedly raped at knife-point, the doctor feels it is in her best interests that Axel kidnap her and subject her to the exact same physical and emotional torture she experienced on that day in the hope that it will somehow clear the cobwebs, and that includes full-blown intercourse, though how they were able to reenact a day that nobody remembers is beyond my powers of perception. Also, is this grossly unethical on the doc’s part or am I just imagining things? Who exactly did he consult when proposing to have his patient tortured and raped? If you’re kicked off the police force for violent misconduct as Axel was, abduction and rape probably aren’t the best path towards redemption, regardless of the method to your end game madness. Not that this matters in Fragasso’s world. Not only will Axel get his job back for his part in this grotesque charade, he is actually looking at a rather tasty promotion at the end of it all. If only life was so simple.
If you struggle to get your head around all of that, maybe you can figure out why our killer feels it appropriate to speak in his sinister, Krueger-esque voice when out picking up women at bars, though the fact that the woman in question still goes home with him probably answers that one for you. He even has the gall to dress like Freddy while being fondled back at his art studio in a scene that is essentially porno. The art studio is one of several groundless clues to pick up on here. In fact, I don’t think Fragasso even considered it a clue. It has every right to be in a traditional sense, but the only tradition here is the kind of scattergun plotting synonymous with Italian horror knock-offs.
I had absolutely no idea what was going on half the time, and even less of a clue when it came to establishing the killer’s identity. At first I figured Mel’s ex-husband was the culprit, though I couldn’t identify exactly who that was. Next I suspected Melanie’s neighbour, then, inexplicably, the neighbour’s wife, who suddenly starts calling Melanie out as someone who “attracts men like a bitch in heat”, and even begins referring to Mel’s poor adolescent daughter as her own, but then you realise they’re dishing out red herrings for the sheer hell of it, and in the end the masked killer’s haircut is all you’ll need to finger the culprit. Melanie’s disorder is described as disassociated schizophrenia. If you don’t find yourself suffering from the same condition by the end of this movie, you’re a stronger person than me.