Sunday, May 29, 2022

Las Vegas Serial Killer, The (1986)

... aka: Hollywood Strangler in Las Vegas, The

Directed by:
"Wolfgang Schmidt" (Ray Dennis Steckler)

Alright out there, a show of hands: Who asked for a sequel to THE HOLLYWOOD STRANGLER MEETS THE SKID ROW SLASHER?

Instead of being financed entirely by Steckler, this follow-up was bankrolled by John Golff and Salvatore Richichi of Camp Video, who had some minor success on the home video market in the mid to late 80s. Not content with just releasing other people's films, Camp also made some of their own in-house productions to expand their catalogue of titles. Those included the shot-on-video Death Row Diner (1988), VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987) and VIDEO VIOLENCE PART 2 (1988), ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE (1988; the first and only directorial effort for actor John Saxon and easily CV's largest budgeted production) and, their most famous project by far, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988). However, Camp ceased production on new films after only a few years and the company itself petered out soon after. It may or may not have had something to do with the fact Richichi was the son of Natale "Big Chris" Richichi; a reputed "capo" in New York's Gambino crime family and a one-time confidant of John Gotti. Richichi Sr. ended up in prison for extortion and racketeering charges and died behind bars in 2001. As for whether any mob money was funneled into this company or not, well, let's just say, stranger things have happened.

Steckler's association with Camp Video began the same year the company was formed. It was the first distributor to release his earlier films The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963), The Thrill Killers (1964) and Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1965; re-titled The Adventures of Rat Pfink and Boo-Boo) on home video. There may have been some kind of contract between Steckler and the company; say he gave them release rights to a few of his films in exchange for the funds to make another movie, but that's all conjecture on my part.

After killing seven young women in the previous film (it was actually ten, but who's counting?), the Nevada parole board and two court appointed psychiatrists have decided to release Johnathon Klick (Pierre Agostino) from prison after serving just six years. What could possibly go wrong there? As for their reasoning, well, since only one corpse was ever found, the shrinks came to the conclusion he was just making up the other murders to increase his notoriety (??) This also, of course, completely discounts the finale of Hollywood Strangler where the Skid Row Slasher repeatedly stabbed him with her switchblade and he fell over dead in front of a Deep Throat poster. But, ya know, unnecessary sequels and incongruity go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Apparently Nevada correctional facilities in the 80s just bounced prisoners with zero money, help or even transportation after they're set free because Johnathon is next seen simply heading down the road by foot outside the jail. He finally makes it to Vegas, and just in time to see Miss World Burlesque 1980 Toni Alessandrini perform a slow motion strip routine covered in glitter and showing ample T&A. Alessandrini became somewhat known in the 80s and early 90s for her appearance in the Tom Hanks comedy Bachelor Party and roles in some Rick Sloane B movies that were on cable all the time but, before all that, she'd appeared in a number of Steckler's Vegas-shot hardcore films, usually using the alias "Toni Reenee."

Arriving on the Vegas strip at around the same time as Johnathon are a couple of low grade hoods named Clarence (Ron Jason) and Jack (Chris Cave), who are there simply to rob people and scope out "broads." When they aren't snatching purses and such, they're critiquing the bodies of female passersby. Seeing how Steckler clearly just filmed random people walking around without their knowledge, the fact many of the voice-overs insult some of these people is in hilariously terrible taste. Women who are short ("Bad legs, bad legs"), slightly pudgy ("They waddle like a duck... Quack! Quack!") or old are all immediately dismissed. Apparently these two idiots only like to steal from chicks they find hot.

Johnathon crashes a "highly publicized" nighttime pool / birthday party for "Las Vegas film star Cash Flagg" (!!!), pulls one of the girls (Glenda Savage) into the bushes, rips off her bikini top and then uses it to strangle her to death. His next victim is a hooker, who he kills in an alley after she tells him her going rate. To make ends meet, he gets a job as a delivery man at a pizza parlor, which has a framed poster for the "Cash Flagg" movie Incredibly Strange Creatures on the wall. The two thieves frequent the joint and end up crossing paths with the strangler numerous other times.

While making a pizza delivery, Jonathan is greeted at the door by a large-breasted blonde in a bikini, who coerces him to her back patio, takes off her top, hops in the Jacuzzi and propositions him (yeah right), but she's saved when her friends arrive to eat. After the thieves knock an old man out and lock his much-younger secretary / mistress in the trunk of their Mercedes so they can steal a briefcase full of cash, Johnathan happens upon the scene, opens the trunk, strangles the woman to death and then just re-shuts the lid and walks off (!) Because the old man only saw the thieves at the scene and has provided a description to the police, Clarence and Jack are blamed for the murder.

We're next off to a mansion for a swimsuit / lingerie photo session with models Suzee (CHOPPING MALL's Suzee Slater), Joanie (Joan Ruedelstein aka adult actress Jeannie Pepper), Maria and Deborah. Johnathon sneaks in, manages to get Suzee and Deborah alone long enough to strangle them and then steals a camera. This scene really stands out from the rest. No, not because it's any good, but because it's photographed better (for some reason they used 35mm just for this one scene), was actually shot with sync sound and was filmed in the Hollywood Hills instead of Vegas. Johnathan then kills another hooker, uses his whole photographer shtick to murder another lady and then sets his sights on "stripper" Kat Carson (Kathryn Downey), who he's been stalking around town. He becomes a frequent visitor to the club where she (horribly!) dances in a one piece blue swimsuit that never comes off and may or may not eventually strangle her to death next to a stuffed Papa Smurf doll. I'll never tell!

With the exception of the modeling scene, this was shot on 16mm without sound, so nearly all of the dialogue, which is poorly recorded and incredibly insipid ("Die garbage!") was dubbed in later. Just like the original, this has the laughable premise that lots of young twenty-somethings are going to be throwing themselves at the near-elderly Johnathon. Just like the original, this has next to no plot to speak of (co-star Jason said there wasn't even a script). Furthermore, replacing the female serial killer character with two petty thieves just isn't as interesting. Some footage has been recycled from the first film and it also re-uses a lot of the same music.

The real deal breaker here, and what turns this all into an incredibly boring viewing experience, is the relentless time padding. We get endless shots of people walking around (many of whom look directly at the camera and are probably thinking, "Why in the hell is this man filming me?"), shots of various buildings, cars driving, the famous Vegas lights and whatever else happened to catch RDS's eye when he was making this. We get several minutes of footage from the "El Dorado Parade" where the camera focuses on clowns, Indians, an old car and a flag while a female voice-over goes "Oh look at the clowns!" "Oh look at the Indians!" "Oh look at the old car!" "Oh there's the flag. Salute the flag!" We also get footage from an airplane show, a rodeo, casinos and plenty of other useless filler. At this point in the game it appeared that Steckler would do, and shoot, just about ANYTHING to keep from having to actually write a script!

After the Camp video release, this was given several DVD releases. It was distributed by both Media Blasters and Guilty Pleasures; the latter including it on their 4 film "Midnight Movies II" set along with Steckler's Body Fever, Blood Shack and Hollywood Strangler. Later this year, it will be re-released by Severin as part of a massive RDS box set including 19 other films of his.

Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher, The (1980)

... aka: Hollywood Strangler, The
... aka: Model Killer, The

Directed by:
"Wolfgang Schmidt" (Ray Dennis Steckler)

Steckler was just coming off a long run of no budget hardcore pornos (plus a few failed and never-completed "legit" films) when he made this little comeback picture. I really need to check out more of this guy's stuff! The first thing that leaps out at us in the very first scene, and something that was also indicative of most of Steckler's previous X-rated work, is that this was obviously shot without live sound. What little bits of dialogue we do hear are a voice-over from the killer ("Soon she'll be out of her misery... I'll give her what she wants! I'll give her what she needs!") and a few poorly looped-in lines from the model / victim ("Doesn't my body turn you on?"). While the voice-overs work out OK because they're the killer's thoughts, the fact the woman's lips aren't even open when she's throwing out lines does create something of an issue. (For the record, Steckler claimed this was intended to be a silent film from the very beginning, but he couldn't find a distributor that would agree to release it unless music, sound effects and dialogue were added.)

Another carry-over from his hardcore work is how scuzzy the entire film feels. Most of the locations highlighted (adult bookstores, sex shops, massage parlors, cheap motels, strip clubs, cocktail lounges, filthy alleyways...) are incredibly seedy. It was shot, none-too-well, on grainy 16mm (Steckler opted for his "Sven Christian" alias here) for next to no money. And just the premise alone; starting with focusing on a fifty-something perv tapping hookers, strippers and young ladies from newspaper sex ads just so he can have them strip before killing them in drawn-out sequences that seem more tailored to the strangle fetish kink crowd than horror fans, will make you feel like taking a long shower afterward. And probably not a cold one either.

The first half of our titular duo is Johnathon Klick (Pierre Agostino), a sullen glamour photographer who's been going around strangling women to death in Hollywood. He goes on and on about some woman from his past named Marsha, whom he thought was "pure" but turned out to be a serial cheater, and now he actively seeks out female sex workers to punish for being "sluts." His second victim (played by one Snowy Sinclair - great name!) fits his preferred victim profile to a T when she answers the door in a sheer purple top / panty combo that leaves little to the imagination. After she flashes him repeatedly, offers up a "nice little shot of my buttocks" (hilariously pronounced "buttex") and shakes her rump in his face, he loses it ("She's... TEASING ME!") and strangles her on the couch ("Die bitch!").

Every once in awhile it works out in an actresses favor when they romantically hook up with a director, but not every director is gonna be Joel Coen or Tim Burton and for every Frances McDormand and Helena Bonham Carter there's a thousand Carolyn Brandt's who end up married to someone like Ray Dennis Steckler. Though the couple divorced back in 1973 after about ten years of marriage, their working relationship trudged on for a whole other decade. Alas, there was to be no Fargo or Sweeney Todd in Carolyn's future, just stuff like Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire and Teenage Massage Parlor. On the down side, narrating, doing voice-overs and even taking on non-sexual starring roles in her ex-hubby's zero budget porn flicks killed any chance of her having a career away from Steckler. On the plus side, by this stage in the game, she was probably just glad to be appearing in a film viewers didn't have to stick quarters into machines to see.

Carolyn, who also produced the film under her frequently used "Carol Flynn" alias, plays the second half of the murderous duo: The Skid Row Slasher. Her character, who is actually never given a name, runs what is perhaps the smallest, sparsest, most depressing and most pitiful-looking bookstore ever seen in any film. No wonder she has a lot of steam to blow off! As they always say in real estate, "location, location, location" and, because Carol's "location" is skid row, she attracts some pretty unsavory clientele. Most of her regulars are drooling, drunken bums who wander in causing problems and scaring off customers. After annoying her, one such customer leaves, lies down in the grass to sleep and gets stabbed through the throat with a switchblade.

Meanwhile, Johnathon lucks out and gets a twofer when he shows to photograph a girl, strangles her while her KISS-loving roommate is taking a shower and then smothers the roommate with a pillow. The voice-over chimes in, "Wonder if she saw that movie Pillow Talk?" Another model is strangled and drowned in a hot tub because "the world has to be cleansed of its garbage!" When he's not out killing, Jonathan shows his softer side at his suburban home where he cares for a bunch of dogs and has his own little aviary. Aww! And, when she's not killing, the lady bookstore owner likes to shop and go jogging at the beach. See, they're just like you and me! Johnathon starts stalking Brandt's character because he senses there's something different about her. Little does he know that "different" is not the kind he's really after as she has a collection of bondage items and Satanic trinkets she's purchased from the local occult store. After lots of awkward encounters where the two just stare at each other until he walks away, the two clash... in the final minute of the film!

This is truly terrible in nearly every regard but it's also sometimes hilarious, oddly mesmerizing at times and, as a time capsule, a rather fascinating glimpse at some of the sleazier parts of Los Angeles (some scenes were also filmed in Las Vegas). You can really see the staying power of films like Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones and Behind the Green Door (all 1972 / 1973 releases), as these films were still dominating adult theaters over five years later. We also get scenes shot around Chinatown and a look inside Plato's Retreat West, an ill-fated attempt to franchise the famous New York City swinger's club. Though it closed its doors after just six months, we get a peak at some of the activities inside while it was open, which include disco dancing, roller skating, lots of balloons and a huge-breasted dominatrix (played by Big Tits Malloy [!!]) going around whipping people. Of course ALL of that is just padding out this near-plotless and numbingly repetitive film to feature length status.

There are gratuitous voyeuristic tracking shots of people (most of whom probably didn't even know they were being filmed) walking down sidewalks as Johnathon walks around snapping photos and cruises the streets in his woody wagon scouting potential targets. The quality of the women on display runs from the gamut from the very attractive (the unknown hot tub lady is especially gorgeous) to seeming like they were just recruited off a street corner, but nearly all of them take their tops off. Steckler also takes time to plug many of his other movies and posters for The Incredibly Strange Creatures and many of his adult titles are seen on walls various places.

Though the release date is usually given as 1979 (which appears to have been the production year for at least some of this), the copyright date in the opening credits is 1980 so that's the year I'll be going with here. I'm not sure when it was first released. The 1985 VHS from Regal was called The Model Killer, which was also the title used for the Japanese video release. This was also released on video under its original title by Vegas Video, Ambassador Video and Video Treasures. The DVD came in 2004 from Media Blasters, which includes interviews with Steckler and Brandt, commentary from Steckler and a "comedy commentary" and introduction from Joe Bob Briggs.

Later on this year, Severin Films will be releasing "The Incredibly Strange Films of Ray Dennis Steckler;" Blu-ray box set containing 10 discs, 20 films (including this one) and with 30 hours (!) of bonus material covering Steckler's entire career. It's currently available for pre-order.

LAS VEGAS SERIAL KILLER (1986), also directed by Steckler (using the same alias) and with Agostino reprising his role, was the sequel. It was originally supposed to be called The Hollywood Strangler in Las Vegas.

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