In 2019, the ISCFC is going to finish some of the things it started, as we’ve got a few filmographies with review holes, movies we couldn’t get hold of years ago, new releases to long-running series, that sort of thing. So there’ll be more Donald Farmer, Len Kabasinski, Phantasm, and Puppet Master reviews coming your way soon; but we’re starting with Ray Dennis Steckler.
Steckler is bad movie royalty, having been featured in the Medved brothers book “The Golden Turkey Awards” (the grandaddy of every bad movie blog on the internet); “Mystery Science Theater 3000”; and British TV’s “The Incredibly Strange Film Show” – the latter interviews him in the late 80s and finds him a funny, interesting, smart, self-deprecating man. This fame was mostly for his 60s movies, but he carried on, after a fashion.
Between 1971’s “Blood Shack” and 1986’s “Las Vegas Serial Killer”, he made dozens of movies, but only one of them is what you could call “legitimate”, and that’s 1979’s extremely sleazy “The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher”. He got into the “jizz biz” in a big way, making such entertainments as “Sex Rink”, “Debbie Does Las Vegas” and “Weekend Cowgirls”. After uncredited directorial work on legend Ted V Mikels’ “Angel of Vengeance” in 1987, he seems to have retired (“The Incredibly Strange Film Show” was around 1988, and whatever he was shown filming at the time of that documentary remains unreleased). We’ve already covered his last movie, 2009’s “One More Time”, which is little more than a home movie made for his friends and family, but we’re here to talk about his last “real” directorial work.
“Las Vegas Serial Killer” is a sequel to “The Hollywood Strangler…”, featuring Pierre Agostino returning as Johnathan Klick, who loves killing prostitutes (helpfully illustrated by liberal use of old footage). Even though he died at the end of that movie, he was apparently revived and admitted to the murders, spending 6 years in a Las Vegas jail before…this is pretty stupid to write out, but they never found most of his other victims, apparently, and the helpful radio guy who acts as a narrator for proceedings informs us was probably just lying in order to be famous. The one victim they can pin to him only results in a 2nd degree murder charge, so he’s back out on the streets and ready for more fun.
There’s another plot, running entirely separately (apart from a very brief coming together at the end), which involves two unappealing-looking fellows, sat in a hotel room listening to the radio guy give us the details of Klick’s crimes. This piece of audio is repeated, as are several others, which indicates Steckler ran out of anything approaching a script and hoped we wouldn’t notice. Anyway, they hear about the newly released serial killer and decide that a trip to Vegas is a good idea. Are they people who kill killers? Assassins paid by the families of his victims? Or are the two events entirely unrelated? Those of you who guessed unrelated, give yourselves a pat on the back. There’s even a scene early on where both Klick and the two guys are sat at adjoining tables in a strip club and don’t look at each other, in case you were confused.
When you’ve got over the trauma of the fakest of the fake 80s boobs at the strip club, there’s a scene which was probably just intended to be a party backdrop for Klick’s next murder, but is inadvertently perhaps the sleaziest scene in the entire movie. It’s sad looking topless women and old men in speedos leching on the women, presumably some sort of fake industry party where the women were enticed with the prospect of meeting producers but actually just met ugly old men. That Klick is able to abduct a woman from this party and kill her in full view of everyone (although the voiceover in the next scene tells us he took her to a nearby field, as if he realised how confusing the editing of the scene was) passes as completely normal in this world.
ASIDE: the one good thing about that scene is that it was a birthday for Hollywood superstar Cash Flagg, aka Ray Dennis Steckler himself (it’s his acting pseudonym). I mean, it’s not worth sitting through the scene for, but it’s there.
Steckler realised at some point in the mid 70s that filming sound along with his pictures was unnecessarily expensive, so he just stopped, and got round this by trying as much as possible to not have someone’s mouth in shot when they were speaking. Obviously, it’s weird, but you sort of get used to it after a while.
Things drift along, for a while. Klick keeps murdering women with shocking ease, firstly as a pizza delivery guy, in one case sneaking into a house where a photo shoot is taking place, killing a woman who’d gone to get a soda, then stealing a camera in the confusion – the garden where the shoot is taking place is gross and ugly, but I guess they weren’t expecting people to check the amount of grass on the ground.
Seeing the camera gives him an idea, so at about 58 minutes of this 75 minute film, Klick goes back to his old plan from the first movie, calling “photo models” (aka prostitutes) and then killing them, having been unable at any point to just buy a camera. Heck, why do you even need a camera? You’re only going to kill them! He also loves whispering “die, garbage, die” as he’s doing his thing, but I’m not sure I’m buying his plan to just be cleaning up the streets. I think he might be deranged, you guys. The two guys, who keep running into Klick but paying no attention to him, just keep robbing people and hanging round street corners; and the radio news voice keeps repeating the same set of information for both sets of people. It’s odd. The two guys, by the way, wear the same clothes at all times, despite the movie taking place over, at least, a week.
There’s a couple of wider points about this grubby movie that I wanted to share. Firstly, is that none of it is titilating in the slightest. For a man who’d spent the best part of 20 years shooting porn, you’d think he’d have an idea of what turned people on, but this parade of hollow-eyed misery with an occasional bare breast isn’t anyone’s idea of pleasant, surely?
My favourite, though, is the way this serial killer is all over the media, presumably with photos everywhere, as the radio guy mentions both he and the robber pair are suspects in this spate of strangling murders that started as soon as he got out of prison. But, he’s able to walk the streets, get a job in a pizza place, and stand around photographing people without anyone recognising him. He’s pretty distinctive looking!
The last thing, though, is how this movie seems out of time, as by 1986 (the date of this movie’s release) serial killer movies had moved on quite a lot. When you’ve got multiplexes drenched in gore, it seems like a curious choice to make a movie this way, like Steckler wasn’t really paying attention to the wider world. Perhaps some of it was shot in the late 70s and he had to match to the footage he had available?
Klick never seems happy with his work, the murders bringing him no pleasure, or sexual gratification, or anything like that. It’s just something he has to do, like an itch he has to scratch every few days. Nor do they bring we viewers any pleasure, I suppose.
The ending is genuinely pathetic, like he remembered he had two plot threads and brought them together in the clumsiest, most half-assed way possible. Then the credits list a “psychiatric consultant”, and I’d be interested to know what they did on set.
Steckler seemed like a decent guy. He enjoyed meeting his fans, he enjoyed his work and the interview with him shows him to have a good sense of humour about his place in the world (and that his ex-wife continued to work with him after the divorce and has nothing but good to say about him in the more recent interview footage speaks well of him). But he got worse as a filmmaker! I understand budgets were tight, but that doesn’t excuse the layout of this movie, which repeats the same few beats over and over again to avoid coming in at a running time of about 45 minutes (which is all this story needed, honestly). It doesn’t excuse the dialogue or the fact he couldn’t be bothered to record live sound (which even micro-budget filmmakers like Donald Farmer managed, with largely similar equipment). It doesn’t excuse that back in the 60s, he could make a roughly coherent movie with a beginning, middle and end, and now that’s beyond him.
Its main redeeming feature is showing a side of Las Vegas we don’t get to. Not the flashy casinos and high rollers, but the grime and dirt and people living on the fringes and the exploiters and exploited. You may feel like you’ll need a bath after it, and I’m not sure it’s worth the time investment, but there’s something there. There’s an extra layer of sleaze in knowing that all the people he films on the streets of Vegas 100% did not give permission.
Expect more (non-porno) Steckler reviews, although, honestly, I assume most of them are going to be pretty much like this.
Rating: thumbs down