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The Las Vegas Serial Killer (1986)

Be wary, be aware, and be warned: there are times in your life when you will be so hard up for something to do that you will watch a nearly-three-decades old Ray Dennis Steckler crime movie. This is how bad your life can get. I think this is what is known as hitting rock bottom.

Or maybe starring in or making this movie is.

I used to like the now-deceased Ray Dennis Steckler when I was younger, having heard of him in Fangoria around 1984. He’s still an eccentric cinematic hero of mine, so when I chanced across this film on Youtube I thought what the hell, why not, though I don’t like slasher/serial killer films and wouldn’t have watched this had it been anybody else but the Steck who made it. I knew up front it was going to be bad, that goes with the director and the territory, of course, so I really have nobody to blame but myself for subjecting myself to it. Initially, I thought this was the film that Jonathan Ross was on the set of in 1988 with The Incredibly Strange Film Show, but I was wrong.

Strangler Johnathan Click (Steck likes to reuse character names – Click is a character from his earlier film The Thrill Killers) gets out of jail after a mere six years for choking several women and goes on a murderous strangling rampage in Las Vegas. Concurrent to his murders, a pair of purse snatchers walk around Vegas, yes, snatching purses. They often seem to walk right where Click is for some reason. There is a lot of walking round in this film. We have endless scenes of people walking, walking, walking! It’s beyond exciting. Then at the end (would say spoiler alert, but the whole damned film is a spoiler!) the petty criminals commit a robbery and shoot Click as he just happens to walk by at that moment. Incredible. I think this is what passes for Hitchcockian irony in Stecklerworld.

Man, what a mind-numbing piece of utter garbage this film is. And it’s not fun garbage, like some of his other films, it’s just bottom-of-the-cinematic-barrel horseshit. Steckler uses the pseudonym Wolfgang Schmidt, so it seems even he was aware of how chronic the film is. Several women from his family appear in the credits, and it seems bizarre that he could have gotten them to work on such a misogynistic, ham-fisted sack of cinematic cack. Guess they just took it in their stride, what with dad being so weird and all.

It’s difficult to tell what the worst element in this film is, it has so many of them and so little going for it. Maybe it’s the footage of local Vegas events that Steckler throws into the film to pad out the running (well, walking, endless walking) time. Thus the bad-acting purse snatching duo (who wear the exact same clothes through the film, which takes place over days, if not weeks) attend a show of WWII bombers. They attend a parade of some sort (and this is all real footage of events transpiring in Vegas during shooting – Steckler is notorious for recycling this sort of stuff), and a rodeo. Somebody shouts out that one of the rodeo cowboys looks like Cash Flagg (another Steckler pseudonym), but if the director has a cameo in it we don’t get close enough to see his face. There is practically no dialogue, and the purse snatchers mostly don’t talk to each other. It’s bizarre, quite frankly.

What is more bizarre – and genuinely disturbing – is the fact that Steckler uses stolen shots of Vegas residents and tourists constantly in the film. Thus we have the weird-Eastern-European-accent strangler looking for potential victims, and Steckler will film random women across the street. It’s creepy and voyeuristic and weird. The purse snatcher mime duo walk around sizing up women on the street, occasionally discussing their bodies, and once again it’s real people the director has snatched shots of. Weirdly pathological behavior – I doubt that many of the women in the film who don’t know they’re in there would appreciate being potential strangler victims, albeit in a fictional sense, or having their bodies discussed in such a derogatory fashion. These anonymous women give better performances than anybody else in the film.

Click gets a job in a pizza place called – get this – Pizza N Pizza (classic name! I am chuckling here. Such a varied menu!) so that he can kill women whose homes he delivers to. At one point he delivers to a woman sunning herself by a pool. She salaciously takes off her top, and is about to be strangled when a couple walk in. It’s like some bad porno scenario, and the whole film is just filled with random shit like this. In fact, this film should just be called Random Shit. Steckler just knits together stolen shots (whenever a woman is strangled, we have some surreptitiously snatched shot of an ambulance speeding down the street as if attending to her), repeated shots, occasional topless scenes, and various gibberish into a ‘film’ that sputters to a dead halt long before its mere 76 minutes has elapsed.

Use of sound during this film is strange. There are chunks of the film with no sound whatsoever that were obviously shot silent. The whole film uses radio bulletins (sometimes repeated for no clear reason) to keep us ‘informed’ as to what is supposedly going on. But they never quite manage to make any sense of it all. The film was made in 1987, but the soundtrack comes straight out of the 50s, 60s, and 70s – probably just to give Steckler stock music to use so he wouldn’t have to pay musicians to do a soundtrack. Then again, this does give us one of the sleaziest hump-and-bump-and-grind tunes ever committed to celluloid, as a woman with dodgy fake breasts does a strip in a club, so it’s not all bad

In one classic scene, Click strangles a woman, and Steckler zooms in on a stuffed Papa Smurf doll right after! Why? Why not? It’s Ray Dennis Steckler, and that’s enough of an answer for any questions you may have after watching this. The whole thing plays like a tourist travel advertisement made by somebody who had just suffered a serious head trauma. This is the only film I have ever seen that has a ‘Psychiatric

Consultant’ listed in the credits. Steck’s on-set shrink? Who knows. Certainly didn’t seem to have done him much good if it was. The ending is hilariously ludicrous too, with a (here’s that word again) random interjection of two little boys, a gun, and a potential threat of future violence to come. Deranged. Still, I’d rather watch this utter rubbish than modern horror films.

I also downloaded another Steckler film from Youtube, the marvelously-titled The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher. The mind boggles as to what the hell that one will be about! I like that title cos it sounds like a tag-team wrestling duo. Steckler certainly came up with some of the best titles in cinematic history. I don’t know if I should even subject myself to that other strange slash-n-strangler. I probably will. Appeals to the trash-loving masochist in me. I approach practically all cinema these days expecting to be disappointed, and am rarely let down by not being let down. At least I sort of known what I am getting into with Ray Dennis Steckler. I wonder if his actors and crew could truly say the same.

 

THE END.

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About Graham Rae

Graham Rae has been writing about weird and wonderfueled cinematic oddities for nearly 30 years. He started off writing for the legendary Deep Red, and since then has been bounced around like a human pinball around such venues as Film Threat, American Cinematographer, Cinefantastique, and Realitystudio.org.. A selection of his genre writings are available at www.facebook.com/raewrites, and he runs a Mad Foxes page on Facebook too. You have been warned.

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