The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher (1979)

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Ray Dennis Steckler would have disappeared pretty much without trace were it not for two groups of people – the Medved brothers, who featured a few of his films in their “Golden Turkey Awards” books; and “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, who did such hilarious work on “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies”. Like fellow auteur Ed Wood Jr, when the normal film work dried up, he wasn’t averse to dabbling in pornography (although Steckler was much more involved in it than Wood was); but unlike Wood, whose films at least made sense and whose inclusion in “worst of all time” lists seems pretty unfair, he was an absolutely awful director.

We’ve already covered Steckler’s last film “One More Time” at the ISCFC – maybe bottom five ever – but this movie was made in 1979, and judging by titles and rudimentary research, is the only non-hardcore porno film he made between 1968’s “Rat Pfink A Boo Boo” and 1986’s “Las Vegas Serial Killer”. Reading recaps of some of Steckler’s other movies is to really understand what “grindhouse” was all about, as even those porno movies have plots, murders and so on. It’s a weird and sleazy world.

Which is a perfect introduction to this movie. Jonathan Click (Pierre Agostino) phones up “models”, starts photographing them and then, usually when they take their top off (whether this is due to them actually being prostitutes or every woman in this movie being inexplicably attracted to the unappealing Agostino is never really made clear), strangles them to death. Due to this movie having no live sound – who can afford to record sound at the same time as images? Come on! – we’re treated to his inner monologue as a voiceover, which seems to be about cleaning up the streets, or finding a pure woman, or something. If he was looking for a pure woman, phoning up nude models seems to be an odd way to go about it, but who am I to question his process?

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At the same time, an unnamed woman who works in an adult bookshop (Carolyn Brandt, Steckler’s ex-wife, which must have been weird) waits to find homeless men who wander past her shop, then follows them to a dirty alleyway and cuts their throat. No explanation is given as to her actions, and she gets no voiceover. As the title goes, the two of them sort of run into each other a few times, then meet properly…

It’s a cavalcade of fun! The grime of the streets and locations comes through in every frame, and this is one of the most legitimately sleazy films I’ve ever seen. In between scenes, we’ll just get some random footage of people walking about, everything looks broken down and everyone looks vaguely hung over. It definitely provides a real flavour of the side of LA you don’t normally get to see – whether you’d want to see that side or not is by the by.

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Although the Strangler seems to get no pleasure from his actions, he makes a completely off the wall joke at one point – after killing a woman with a pillow, he says “I wonder if she ever saw that movie Pillow Talk?” with a suppressed chuckle. The only character we see from the Slasher is that she likes to run on the beach after doing a murder (echoes of the final scenes of “The Incredibly Strange Creatures…”). In one scene, there’s a poster for the more famous earlier Steckler movie on the wall, which for another director might have been a fun in-joke, but for this one just means he used his own office to film a scene.

This film could have taken 10 minutes and been EXACTLY THE SAME. There’s no development for either character, no consequences to their actions, so it’s just repeated cycles of murder, footage of LA, and the two killers looking at each other, until the end. Oh, plus weird off-key presumably public-domain easy listening music too.

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It’s awful, of course. But in its awfulness comes something interesting – certainly not “so bad it’s good”, but “so bad it’s curious”. It gives a real flavour of a bygone age and manages to be bad in a new way, a tough thing to manage. While I’m not going to recommend it because I like you all, readers, and want you to be happy, I’m certainly not sad I watched it.

Rating: thumbs down

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One thought on “The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher (1979)

  1. Pingback: One More Time (2008) |

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