Friday, March 17, 2023

Night Feeder (1988)

Directed by:
Jim Whiteaker

Newly-single, thirty-something reporter Jean Michaelson (Kate Alexander) is working on an article called "Crime and Fear in American Cities," so what better way to do research than to move into a crime-infested neighborhood of San Francisco that's also recently been plagued by a series of mysterious murders? Jean even goes that extra mile by leaping head first into the seamier side of the cities night life, right down to hosting wild parties in her loft apartment where coke, booze, cigarettes, impromptu stripping, terrible hairstyles and punk rock all factor heavily. She claims to be doing so in order to gain the trust of those partaking in the area's grimy punk scene, but there's also another more personal, more rebellious reason. After one such party, her friend Marcia (Lissa Zappardino) is found dead and mutilated in her bathtub. Strangely, one of her eyeballs has been gouged out and her brain has somehow been removed.

Even though Jean and her useless, peroxided punk "plaything" pseudo-boyfriend, Bryan Soulfield (Caleb Dreneaux), who's a member of a controversial local band called DZS (pronounced "disease"), are now under the watchful eye of the police, Jean's writer instincts kick in and she decides to do a little investigating of her own.

Snooping around town, she discovers that many of the locals refuse to even discuss what's going on. She then learns that, years earlier, her boyfriend's band had been somehow involved in the deaths of three young groupies, who apparently OD'd on some kind of experimental drug that was originally made to treat schizophrenics. The drug's street name? DZS. Just like the band. Coincidence?

Jean's lawyer ex-husband shows up long enough to be murdered right outside her apartment and her compassionate new lover reacts to that by bringing home a bimbo groupie to their shared apartment. A construction worker is then killed after he throws a beer bottle at a hunchbacked, facially-disfigured bum nicknamed "The Creeper" (Robert Duncanson), who lurks around in the sewers eating shish kebab'd rats and seems to be present during most of the murders. While trying to crack the case, Jean becomes involved, romantically and otherwise, with the investigator on the case, Alonzo Bernardo (Jonathan Zeichner), and also becomes friendly with a spaced-out, impressively monotone punkette single mother named Victoria (Cintra Wilson).

During a long and surprisingly gory autopsy scene, a coroner cuts through a scalp, peels a face off and saws a skull open to reveal an empty brain cavity. He theorizes that the victims have been overpowered by someone or something and had their brain matter liquefied via some kind of acid so it could then be sucked out through the eye socket. Mmm! Not only that, but trances of the drug DZS have been found on all the victims. Though the screenplay tries to set things up as a mystery, complete with numerous detours, dead ends, obvious red herrings and the obligatory police stuff, nearly all advertising materials for this title and the reviews readily spoil the killer's identity, so there's no real reason for me to conceal it either! But here's your warning, anyway, so feel free to stop right here if you're interested in this title and not wanting anything spoiled.

Still here? Alright. The killer turns out to be a killer baby who's been mutated by the DZS drug and now has a snake tongue it uses to slurp up its daily intake of brains.

While admittedly a low bar, this is more ambitious, and put together with more skill, than your average 80s SOV film. At least some care has been taken with the photography and lighting, there are acceptable performances from the two leads (some of the supporting actors are downright awful, though!), attempts at actual characterization and surprisingly sharp dialogue at times, and the make-up fx courtesy of Jonathan Horton are solid. Of course the 80s milieu and aesthetic provides some additional fun and certain viewers may also enjoy a few of the musical interludes with Bryan's band, who are played by real-life San Fran new wave / punk group The Nuns. Unfortunately, the longer musical moment is ruined by deciding to hop back and forth between it and another scene.

The audio and editing are sporadically clunky but what really drags this down at times is the inclusion of too much filler that doesn't have much, if anything, to do with the main plot. While I enjoyed some of the blossoming romance scenes between the writer and the cop, a lot of the other stuff involving the punks and their love lives coulda shoulda been scrapped, as should have other scenes like a perplexing bit at a funeral that's actually quite reminiscent of a tasteless scene from the following year's Pet Sematary, a town hall meeting and more.

Some of the people involved in this - Horton, writers Linnea Due and Shelley Singer - later worked on the weird and somewhat better KAMILLIONS (1990), which also featured Alexander. I was unable to find any older release aside from a VHS release in Poland by Delta Video. (For the record, IMDb has a listing for a Mexican VHS under another title but I was unable to actually find any evidence of that.) In 2015, Bleeding Skull finally resurrected this, releasing it in a limited edition VHS and DVD. It was then reissued on Blu-ray by SRS Cinema.

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