Home Video Reviews
Twice divorced at the time of his untimely death and a confirmed bachelor, Jim Hutton preferred a solitary life and wouldn't countenance anyone feeling sorry for him. Still, it's hard not to pity the guy watching him ply his trade (or try to) in a Z-grade horror film like Psychic Killer, directed by actor-turned-director Raymond Danton from a script by Danton, Mikel Angel and Greydon Clark (who appears in a small role). Poised somewhere between Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Brian de Palma's then-unfilmed Carrie (1976), Psychic Killer is the story of a reclusive mama's boy (Hutton, in a nerdy cardigan and horn-rimmed glasses) wrongfully committed to an insane asylum who turns to voodoo and astral projection to avenge himself on those he feels has wronged him. Shot in and around the seedier sections of Los Angeles, the production avails itself of a supporting cast of Hollywood pensioners (Whit Bissell, Aldo Ray, Julie Adams, Neville Brand, Rod Cameron, Paul Burke and singer Della Reese) for whom you also feel profound sympathy as they jump through Danton's sordid hoops. (Cop on the case Burke's courting scenes with concerned psychiatrist Adams seem in retrospect like TV ads for Cialis.) Yet it's precisely the high level of empathy it evokes that allows Psychic Killer to transcend its trashy inclinations. Heroes and villains alike feel neglected and passed over by time, progress and modernity, making the body count of death by scalding shower, by meat slicer, by falling concrete slab seem like mercy killings. Made in the heyday of the "New Hollywood" of the mid-70s, Psychic Killer plays like a page torn from Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon; it's a throwback, an anachronism crafted by people the world forgot.
Dark Sky Films' Region 1 DVD follows a previous all-region disc delivered by Elite Entertainment back in 1999. The earlier pressing received generally high marks a decade ago and Dark Sky's current progressive scan release preserves its 1.78:1 widescreen framing with the addition of anamorphic enhancement. The color palate of this new disc is more vividly chromatic but a side by side comparison actually favors the earlier, cooler-looking release; Dark Sky's transfer appears oversaturated throughout, with skin tones being generally a touch too ruddy and exterior shots bearing the perpetual glow of "magic hour." Otherwise, the disc is very good, with a strong (if characteristically unexceptional) Dolby 2.0 monaural soundtrack. Extras run to a trio of TV spots and a theatrical trailer, all in dodgier shape than the feature. Dark Sky's packaging is first rate; it's always nice to see a DVD company put on the dog for an old howler like this.
For more information about Psychic Killer, visit Dark Sky Films. To order Psychic Killer, go to TCM Shopping.
by Richard Harland Smith