Directed by Claudio Fragasso
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 very catchy but silly music. They’re rehearsing for a dance show under the critical eye of a bitchy choreographer lady (Gaby Ford).
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…
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. Now, the really hilarious thing is how Fragasso establishes this for the audience. Rather than showing a scene of Melanie’s difficult domestic situation, he goes for a sloppier and completely idiotic solution by having Melanie stand in front of the mirror, where she performs a truly embarrassing 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 and absurd is the fact that she pulls her breasts out and starts fondling them while she performs her idiotic monologue. There isn’t a single good reason for her to say 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 pretty unexpected twist near the end, which is likely to come as a big surprise to most viewers – basically because it’s completely implausible. It’s the kind of stuff 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 library music, 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 their graphic but quickly seen gore work provide some cheap thrills that spice up the proceedings a bit.
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 mentioned that Tara Buckman was somewhat of an expert at ‘wardrobe malfunction’ years before Janet Jackson’s boob fiasco at the 2004 Super Bowl made the phrase world-known. It’s amazing how many times Tara’s tits are “accidentally” exposed throughout the film. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you.
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”.
© 2008 Johan Melle