The VRAs: Delirium (1979)

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This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about their content. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

When I discovered that one of the video nasties was filmed and set in St Louis, soon to be my home (if I don’t get turned down for a visa, that is), I had to watch it. It manages to reinforce my belief, though, that the films caught up by the Video Recordings Act might as well have been names drawn from a hat, with a few exceptions. In other words, if I’d spent any money tracking this down expecting a gore-drenched classic, I’d have been very sorely disappointed.

No-one seems particularly interested in saving this movie from utter obscurity, with the exception of people like Tom Stockman, the St Louis film historian / cult movie expert who did a public talk on the movie a little while ago. This huge gulf between its brief notoriety over here, and the almost complete indifference to it in its home country, is sort of interesting – probably a lot more interesting than the movie itself.

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Anyway, a rather sad looking fellow called Charlie (Nick Panouzis) goes for what appears to be an interview, and ends up picking up one of the secretaries there, even though he’s almost completely mute; taking her back to her place, and then when he struggles to get an erection, murders her with a conveniently placed spear. Charlie does a whole bunch more killing throughout the first hour of the movie, including one bit where he picks up a hitchhiker, frightens her by driving too fast, then just leaves her in the car to go and sit by a lake. Rather than running the hell away, she joins him, gets naked and goes for a swim, inviting him in (he accepts and murders her).

The thing is, the killer isn’t really the focus of the movie. It’s a “Star Chamber” style group of local businessmen, who have decided to take the law into their own hands. The main guy in the group, a bald chap by the name of Eric (Barron Winchester), is an old army buddy of Charlie’s, and he’s been using him as a sort-of-mercenary for the last year, since his escape from a mental institution. Yes, the Vietnam war traumatised them both, which would have been a very recent memory for Americans of the time. Oh, and one of the group is the guy Charlie was having his interview with at the beginning, which is the tenuous thread holding all this together.

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The final spoke of the wheel is a cop, Larry Mead (Terry TenBroek), who’s got the major hots for the first victim’s roommate, Susan (Debi Chaney). Because he wants to have sex with her, he figures he ought to try and solve the case, so he and his partner go to interview the boss, realise there’s something fishy going on, and keep pulling at that thread.

“Delirium” feels like during its production it was taken over by different people, who all wanted different things. You’ve got a traumatised Vietnam vet movie; a serial killer movie; a vigilante movie; and a cop drama. Honestly, you could cut all the serial killing stuff out, literally all of it, and the movie would be largely the same; this is an indication that something went wrong somewhere. The pieces just don’t fit together – perhaps the best indication of this is, Charlie is killed during a random break-in a little before the hour mark, and it doesn’t change anyone’s motivations or actions at all.

If I was writing this review 15 years ago, I’d have made a lot of hay out of how “Sabotage”, the Beastie Boys music video, borrows footage from this for one segment and rips it off in another; “Delirium” was so obscure even by then that I don’t remember a single mention of it (and that video was talked about for ever by the music press).

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And if I was writing it at the time of its release, I’d have gone “hold on! That’s the Mastermind theme music!” British TV quiz show “Mastermind” (started in 1972, continuing on to the present day with a hiatus or two) used a piece of music called “Approaching Menace” by a composer called Neil Richardson for its theme. It was taken from a library music LP – compilations in various styles, where anyone can licence the music for a low rate (copyright resting entirely with the publisher, as the composition was a work for hire). If you’re reading this in the USA, the most famous use of library music is probably the theme tune to “Monday Night Football”; whereas “Mastermind” is the most famous in the UK, which makes it popping up when a gang of scumbag businessmen are torturing someone quite unusual.

As you can tell by my spending several paragraphs not talking about the movie, it’s sort of a tough one. The action is slow and horribly disjointed, with gore that’s laughably quaint by today’s standards. If they’d figured out which of the multiple plots they wanted their movie to actually be about and concentrated on that, it could have been interesting; but it’s a lot of very wasted effort.I’ve got absolutely no idea why it was banned, unless right-wing businessmen revenge-killing criminals was in the news at the time?

 

A quick note about the cast – most of them appear to be St Louis natives who have this as their only real credit (and there are stories on IMDB about one of them walking round malls with a parrot on his shoulder, like he expected this to be his big break). There’s some weak links, but they’re mostly fine.

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As is sadly traditional, a final word about the role of women. I mentioned it briefly above, but they’re absolutely only there to be sexual objects or murder victims. There’s a woman who works for the police who’s clearly brilliant at her job (retrieving ancient paperwork, quickly) but the male cops just thank her, then ogle her as she walks away. And she gets off lightly compared to the hitch-hiker. It couldn’t be any more of its time, with all the negativity that entails, if it tried. I feel bad for the women in director Peter Maris’s life, to be honest – Maris is the only person from this movie who had a “proper” career, directing as late as 2007 (this makes him an ISCFC two-timer, having also helmed 1986’s “Land Of Doom”).

You’re not likely to stumble on this any time soon. As the years pass from the video nasty moral panic, the movies that achieved brief fame are increasingly only of interest to movie historians; you can find worse violence and better movies on Youtube in a few minutes. Still, it’s the only slasher movie to feature the Gateway to the West, the arch that dominates the St Louis skyline, so it has at least one thing in its favour.

Rating: thumbs down

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2 thoughts on “The VRAs: Delirium (1979)

  1. Pingback: The VRAs |

  2. Pingback: Youtube Film Club: Night Screams (1987) |

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