Sunday, October 18, 2020

Nostril Picker, The (1993) [©/ 1988]

... aka: Changer, The

Directed by:
Mark Nowicki

I'll give these folks some credit for trying to make this stand out from other 80s slasher flick shelf filler. For starters, the original (and far more appropriate) title The Changer was switched to the much more memorable The Nostril Picker, which likely would have prompted more people to pick this up at video stores... never mind the fact that the killer is only shown briefly picking his nose twice. Second, this boasts an amusingly tasteless premise; sort of a horror spin on an 80s teen sex comedy plot, though they clearly don't take it as far as they should have.

Middle-aged Joe Bukowski (Carl Zschering) keeps striking out with the ladies... and it's no wonder! He's an obnoxious, sloppily-dressed drunk who possesses no social skills, lives in a dilapidated apartment, typically has sex with a blow-up doll and eats dog food out of a can for dinner. As if that's not hopeless enough, he's also a former mental patient who was only released, against his shrink's wishes, because of overcrowding. After being threatened by cops for hassling a girl on the street, he bumps into a 'Nam vet bum (Horace Grimm) who tells him about something called "morphosynthesis;" a skill he picked up from "the gooks" in Vietnam. It involves reciting an incantation followed by whistling a song of one's choosing, which will allow him to either improve upon his physical appearance or change into someone else entirely. However, the bum warns that if he does it too much it will drive him crazy.

Later that night, Joe recites the spell and whistles his favorite song (uh, "London Bridge Is Falling Down") but nothing seems to happen. It isn't until he goes to a bookstore and tries to purchase a porn magazine that he realizes that he's transformed into an underage teenage girl (played by Ann Flood). And all it takes to flip back over to his male appearance is to whistle again. As the girl, Joe starts going by "Josephine" and quickly ingratiates himself with the popular clique at the local high school, led by Jennifer Armstrong (Laura Cummings). At first, he uses his powers just to be a pervert (spying on them in the shower room, using the bathroom, etc.) but things soon turn nastier.

Brenda (Aimee Molinaro), one of Josephine's new girlfriends, invites him over to keep her company while she babysits. As they watch "Attack of the Cannibal Girls" on the late night show, he reverts back to Joe, cuts off her fingers and then slashes her throat. It's the first of many murders to come. When detectives Vince Armstrong (Edward Tanner), who's also Jennifer's father, and Ed Simpson (Clyde Surrell), show up to investigate they soon realize the girl had also been raped with a knife post mortem and partially cannibalized.

Next up is Tracy (Heidi M. Gregg). Since everyone is on lockdown and forbidden from going out late at night due to the murder, Josephine and Tracy decide to sneak out of their homes to see "Great Big Buckets of Blood" because "Those TV critics hated that one. You know, the fat guy and the other one? It must be good!" Tracy doesn't even make it out of her front yard and is receives the same treatment that befell her buddy. Ditto for Crisi (Gail Didia), who's lured to a baseball diamond late at night with the promise of smoking weed. Posing of the teenage daughter of a war vet "cripple," Josephine then picks up a hooker and takes "her" home where he discovers "she's" actually a transvestite (Steven Andrews). After the hooker's attacked with a pair of water pistol dicks (!!) he manages to knock Joe out, escape and make it to the police to file a report. He's also able to lead them to his apartment. With the cops closing in, Joe starts suffering from hallucinations of his deceased mother chastising him and his blood-covered, lingerie-clad victims.

This starts out amusingly crude and fairly entertaining due to the ridiculous but truly off-the-wall premise but it starts running out of steam by the midway point once you realize they aren't going to be taking full advantage of the good central idea. As the police investigation becomes a more prevalent part of the story and they attempt to psychoanalyze the killer, giving him a serious backstory involving childhood abuse, suicide attempts and drug and alcohol addiction, the fun just kind of dissipates. This would have worked much better had they just gone all in on being tasteless instead. The acting is mostly terrible but there's at least some gore (including a bloody throat slashing) and a few interesting touches, including an unbroken 360 spin around a room as Joe does various things in his apartment and a record album plays.

The director went on to work on major Hollywood movies as a colorist. The special effects supervisor was Gary Jones, who'd move on to direct Mosquito (1994), Spiders (2000) and some other movies for the SyFy Channel in addition to fx work on over a hundred other films, including some of the early Sam Raimi cult classics.

If there was any kind of U.S. home video release in the 80s, 90s or first decade of the 2000s then I'm completely unaware of it. I'm pretty sure this didn't make its legit North American home video debut until 2014 when Massacre Video finally put it out on DVD. However, this was released at least three different times in the UK by the company Vipco, starting with a 1993 VHS release. The copyright date in the end credits is 1988.

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