Cheap Thrills #1 - Killer X
First let me explain something. My best friend and I have an ongoing contest between us of which the rules are very simple. Who of us can find the worst film on DVD for the least money? A simple game, you might think, but one that has led to some dark places, oh yes. Aye, long have I haunted the pound shops and bargain bins of this land. And the things I have seen, oh the things! Hush, for I shall speak of them now. So heed ye well, friends. Heed ye well…
…aka The Monster Hunter. Or Natural Selection. Or The Demon Slayer. Yes, this film has a veritable plethora of alternate titles, which makes it a bit of a pain to search for on google. But I bought it under the name of Killer X, so Killer X it shall be.
Now, there are “quirky” films, like the kind Michel Gondry makes, and there films which of such genuine peculiarity you wonder what on earth anyone involved was thinking at the time. I would say Killer X is veering towards the latter.
The film begins in the guise of a spoof documentary about serial killings in a small Texas town, intercut with flashbacks of the events themselves taking place. As the story unfolds via interviews with the surviving protagonists, we soon learn how the authorities were baffled by the antics of Willie Dickenson(dubbed “The Postman” due to his prediliction for stuffing mailboxes with severed heads), prompting the arrival of David Carradine as renegade FBI profiler Louis Dehoven. However, it soon becomes clear that Dehoven was is operating well out of the bounds of Bureau jurisdiction. Dehoven believes he isn’t just hunting a killer, but a demonic presence in human form.
Killer X is a truly odd beast. Mockumentary, black comedy and supernatural thriller all jumbled together into a somewhat less than satisfying whole, despite some good performances, well-shot cinematography and occasionally interesting direction. The film also boasts a better than average cast for a low budget production, featuring such stalwarts as King Of The Hill’s Stephen Root, and Darren Burrows, recognisable to most viewers as Northern Exposure’s Ed.
I have to admit I did get more than I bargained for when I picked up this film. I looked at the lurid green cover with it’s sole image of a shotgun-wielding Carradine in sunglasses, and thought “Hurrah! This looks like pure z-grade bilge and no mistake”. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case. It’s true that the connoisseur of bargain price DVDs can usually expect to find nothing but the worst kind of cinematic offal, but there’s always the hope of stumbling on something genuinely expected, some obscurity which has fallen below the pop culture radar. And in that regard, this film certainly qualifies. But as to whether I’d actually recommend it, or even watch it a second time, well…I don’t know. I’m honestly not sure whether I liked it or not, to tell the truth, and afterwards I found myself left with a queasy feeling of confusion about what the hell I’d just watched.
Carradine, who seems to be playing a deranged version of Millennium’s Frank Black, is offbeat and amusing, but barely on screen for much of the film’s running time, and is disappointingly killed off half an hour before the end of the film. This also renders the supernatural aspect slightly redundant, as it is never referred to again. The script is also rather problematic, with several misleading dead ends suggesting the first-time screenwriters could’ve done with some serious editing. There’s a pointless subplot with Willie’s brother(whom we are told has a prediliction for sticking household items up his backside) which leads nowhere, and the frequent stabs(no pun intended) at black humour often fall flat. I can’t help thinking the film might’ve been improved by dropping the flashback sequences entirely(which just tend to muddy the water about whatever it is the writers are actually trying to say), and keeping the much stronger mockumentary bits.
The other major problem is that it treats it’s cast of characters as little more than simplistic caricatures, generating little or no emphathy with any of them. The closest to a sympathetic character, Willie’s wife Sally, is killed unpleasantly in one of the film’s gratuitously nasty moments, and by the end there’s literally no-one left to root for. To really overstretch an analogy, it wants to have it’s cake and eat it by being both a satirical take on the media obsession with killers AND an amoral carnage-fest, but ends up haphazardly scattering cake in all directions.
For collectors of quirky(there’s that word again) and obscure indie films it’s an interesting curiousity, but I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone else. Killer X is just too uneven and confused to pass as worthwhile entertainment.