mandag 18. februar 2008

Night Killer/Non aprite quella porta 3



Italy, 1990

Directed by Claudio Fragasso

Cast:
Tara Buckman, Peter Hooten, Richard Foster, Mel Davis, Lee Lively, Gaby Ford, Tova Sardot


While Bruno Mattei is widely acknowledged as a sort of Italian Ed Wood because of his numerous badly-acted cheap rip-offs of American films, Mattei’s frequent partner-in-crime, Claudio Fragasso, is for some strange reason a much lesser known name even though he has certainly directed his share of cheesy trash gems too. Fragasso helmed films such as the silly monster flick Monster Dog (1984) with singer Alice Cooper in the lead; After Death (1988), a cheapo zombie film starring gay porn legend Jeff Stryker; and of course the unforgettable monstrosity Troll 2 (1990), which is probably the most unintentionally funny film of all time. But there are others too, such as Night Killer, which is actually one of Fragasso’s more interesting films but, unfortunately, it also remains one of his least known works.

The film starts off on a pleasingly cheesy note in a theater where a troupe of dancers are strutting their stuff to the tune of some catchy but silly music. They’re rehearsing for a dance show under the critical eye of a bitchy choreographer (Gaby Ford).


The dancers do their cheesy routine...

...but the bitchy choreographer is none too impressed.


A blonde dancer named Elizabeth shows up late for practice and gets told off by the choreographer before she is sent down to the lockers to get ready. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, she is being watched while she changes by a guy with a Freddy Krueger-style mask and long, sharp monster claws. Suddenly, he leaps out and rips poor Elizabeth’s innards right out of her body!


Voyeuristic killer

The end of Elizabeth


Meanwhile, the rest of the dancers are still jumping about while the choreographer bitches about how terrible they are. Annoyed that Elizabeth is taking so much time to get ready, she heads down to the locker to get her but is naturally shocked by the bloody sight that greets her. The masked killer then jumps the choreographer and slashes her throat with his claws.

The next victim


The slash isn’t deep enough to kill her, though, so the terrified woman runs away as fast as she can and tries to scream for help. Unfortunately, the killer has slashed her vocal chords so she isn’t able to make too much sound.

She manages to escape to the theater balcony – overlooking the stage where the dancers are still doing their thing. Desperately, the choreographer cries out for help but the loud dance music drowns out her muffled cries as the killer sneaks up on her and finishes her off with his deadly claws. He then throws her off the balcony and she lands on the floor below as the shocked dancers look on…

So near, and yet so far from salvation...


This was a really great pre-credits sequence that really grabs the audience’s attention. But Fragasso’s film quickly shifts to a somewhat different approach for the rest of its running time.

We cut to a nice suburban neighborhood where we are introduced to the attractive Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman). Melanie is married and has a young daughter but her marriage is falling apart. Hilariously, Fragasso establishes this for the audience through a cringe-worthy sequence in which Melanie stands in front of the mirror and performs this face-palmingly stupid expository speech to herself: “Well, here you are, Melanie Beck. This is you. You have a daughter. You have a marriage on the rocks. And nothing but grey skies ahead.”

Even more hilarious is the fact that she pulls her breasts out and starts fondling them while she performs her moronic monologue. There isn’t a single good reason for her to be saying this stuff to herself, and even less reason for her being naked but one kind of has to admire Fragasso for coming up with the thinnest excuse possible to throw in a pair of naked tits.

An excuse for some nudity


Anyway, the phone rings and Melanie runs to answer – still topless, I might add. However, the call turns out to be an obscene one, so she quickly covers herself up. It appears as if the caller is the same man as the killer with the Freddy Krueger mask, and he promises Melanie that it will be different with her and that he will take the time to “fuck her brains out” before killing her.

The killer is on the phone...


Freaked out, Melanie hangs up and calls the cops, who tell her to lock herself in and wait for them to call back. So she does, and the phone rings again. Unfortunately, it’s the killer and, worse yet, it turns out he’s actually calling from inside the house.

To her horror, Melanie realizes the killer has grabbed her keys and she is now locked in with him. He corners Melanie and she lets out a blood-curling scream before the scene cuts away…

Trapped by the killer


Cut to some time later, Melanie is now in the hospital after having been beaten and raped for hours. Detective Clark (Mel Davis), who is trying to catch the masked serial killer, wants to interrogate her but psychiatrist Dr. Willow (Lee Lively) tells him that the impact of Melanie’s trauma has caused her to get complete amnesia. She doesn’t remember a thing from her ordeal – she doesn’t even remember who her own daughter is.

The now seriously troubled Melanie leaves the hospital and drives off. She stops off at a hotel where a slimy stranger named Axel (Peter Hooten) follows her to the ladies room in a lame attempt to pick her up. But the very messed-up Melanie then demonstrates some girl power by whipping out a gun and forcing Axel to take off all his clothes and shove them into the toilet, before she runs out and drives away in her car.

Don't mess with a messed-up chick


Meanwhile, more blonde bimbos keep getting murdered by the masked killer, and Detective Clark and Dr. Willow are looking all over for the missing Melanie. Willow thinks the killer is going after her again to put her through the same abuse one more time and he’s very worried because even though she has seen the killer’s face, Melanie is not going to recognize him…

Melanie, however, is at a beach, where she tries to commit suicide by taking barbiturates. But Axel, who has followed her, arrives just in time and manages to save her before she is able to kill herself. He takes Melanie back to his apartment but we quickly learn that Axel is no saint in disguise after all. Quite the contrary; he turns out to be a complete psycho, and starts subjecting Melanie to all kinds of twisted mind games, psychological torture and abuse – driving the already traumatized woman completely to the edge of her sanity.

Mind games and abuse


Usually given a bum rap by the few people who have actually seen it, Night Killer can understandably prove a frustrating experience because it starts out like a traditional slasher film but gradually warps into a disturbing and nasty psychological thriller. The silly scenes of stupid, big-boobed bimbos getting their clothes ripped off and being murdered by the killer are cheesy fun and make quite a contrast to the nasty scenes where Melanie is being repeatedly abused, and this may be an uneasy mix for a lot of viewers. Personally, though, I found the film’s quirky approach to be quite interesting and refreshing.

As far as originality goes, this film isn’t going to win any awards. Certain parts are quite predictable and, surprisingly, there aren’t really any red herrings or suspects who could be the masked killer. There is, however, one really big and unexpected twist near the end, which is likely to come as a big surprise to most viewers because it’s so completely implausible. It’s the kind of WTF moment you’ll either love or hate.

Technically, this is a low-budget affair but looks decent. No composer is credited with the music, which appears to be all library tracks, but it’s fairly effective and the dance music at the start is quite catchy. The special effects by Franco and Gaetano Paolocci work pretty well and the graphic but quickly seen gore work provide some cheap thrills that spice up the proceedings a bit.

A couple of bimbos bite the dust


The relatively small cast is made up solely of American actors, with the very sexy Tara Buckman in the lead. Buckman is a pretty interesting actress, who acted a lot on television and played decorative supporting parts in many 1980s films – everything from The Cannonball Run (1981) to the infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). She later ended up playing leading roles in a couple of Italian films such as the Joe D’Amato softcore flicks High Finance Woman and Blue Angel Café (both 1989) but Night Killer is certainly far more interesting than her D’Amato films. And though she is no Meryl Streep, Buckman actually delivers a very solid and brave performance here. She has to go through a lot of difficult scenes of abuse and humiliation, and does a good job of playing frightened and traumatized.

It must also be noted that Tara Buckman proves herself to be somewhat of a pro at so-called ‘wardrobe malfunction’. It’s amazing how many times her tits are “accidentally” exposed throughout the film. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you.

Tara Buckman delivers a very strong performance


Also in the cast is Peter Hooten, another American actor who was a well-known face in many Italian films such as The Inglorious Bastards (1977), 2020 – Texas Gladiators (1982) and Wartime (1987). Here, Hooten does a decent job playing the psycho Axel but would completely abandon the film industry after this role. Too bad. The rest of the actors are made up of unknowns who don’t make too much of an impact. Note, however, that the casting director was actor Werner Pochath, known from The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire (1971) and Terror Express! (1979) among other things. Pochath was also the casting director on Fragasso’s earlier After Death and a couple of other films.

Something really weird about this film is its original Italian title Non aprite quella porta 3. Non aprite quella porta, which translates to 'Don’t Open the Door', is the Italian title of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), so Fragasso actually tried to pass his film off as the third entry in the famous horror series even though Night Killer doesn’t feature a single chainsaw or have anything to do with the other films (if anything, Fragasso’s film owes more to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as the killer’s look is clearly based on Freddy Krueger). But this is really nothing new. Apparently, Italian copyright laws were full of loopholes because many films were passed off as sequels to American films. For example, the Italian title of Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse (1987) is La casa 3 – with La casa being the Italian title of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1982) – and Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark (1989) was actually titled Terminator 2 in Italy! One has to wonder what unsuspecting audience members who went to see these films in theaters thought when they saw these “sequels”.


Freddy Krueger or Leatherface?


Night Killer is the kind of film you certainly don’t see every day, which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your taste. But it’s certainly something different, and far more inspired than most other Italian horror and thriller efforts from the early 1990s. Give it a try – you just might like it.


© 2008 Johan Melle




The cast:

Tara Buckman as Melanie Beck


Peter Hooten as Axel


Richard Foster as Sherman Floyd


Mel Davis as Detective Clark


Lee Lively as Dr. Willow


Gaby Ford as The Choreographer


Tova Sardot as Clarissa


??? as Annie Floyd


??? as Elizabeth Ross

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