In an interview, director David Winning compared this, his second film, to Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. I have to say that I’m terribly embarrassed I didn’t catch this comparison on viewing the movie myself! Sure, all you have to do is replace James Mason with Michael Ironside in a ratty ponytail, the crop duster with a dirtbike, Mount Rushmore with a forest in Alberta, and Eva Marie Saint with a dead hooker. My God, it’s virtually the same movie!
After legendary B-film outfit Cannon Films picked up the distribution for Storm, Winning’s heavily padded debut feature, the young director hooked up with veteran Canadian producer Pierre David, who helped bankroll a follow-up, Killer Image. Despite a bigger budget, a couple of bonafide stars and even a special effect or two, Winning’s sophomore effort is an eminently forgettable thriller that manages to be even less interesting than the flawed Storm. As a skewed tribute to Hitchcock, Killer Image isn’t even worthy of a comparison to a segment on the Master of Suspense’s TV show.
Canadian bad guy character actor Michael Ironside gets top billing in Killer Image as Luther Kane, the bad guy brother of Senator John Kane (M. Emmet Walsh). While quashing a potential scandal that could ruin his brother’s re-election, Luther runs over and kills snoopy photographer Ric Oliver, putting a valuable roll of film in the hands of Oliver’s brother Max (John Pyper-Ferguson) and Ric’s girlfriend Shelley (Krista Errickson). Soon, Luther starts to make frequent calls to Oliver’s Photography, the shop Max ran with Ric, demanding he hand over the photos. Max develops the last roll in the lab to find that his brother really was on to somethingthe pictures are of Senator Kane carousing around naked with his PR consultant.
To show that he means business, Luther sends a prostitute to Oliver’s Photography with a bottle of drugged hooch. When Max wakes up the next morning, he is shocked to find his hands crazy-glued to a leather belt around the neck of the strangled hooker. Max frees himself just in time to run into Luther, who pulls up in a Porsche and offers to drive Max to the hospital to take care of his raw and bloody hands. Max, yet to officially meet his tormentor, agrees. The ride turns out to be pretty uncomfortable, as Luther casually brings up the subject of murdered prostitutes. He flashes a Polaroid of Max strangling the girl, and suggests a trade of incriminating photographs.
Back at home, Max makes some duplicate prints of the senator’s tryst for the boys at the office, and heads off to an abandoned amusement park to make the switch. Luther has arranged for the exchange to take place while Max is on a harrowing ride on the rollercoaster with his dead hooker friend, but things do not go as plannedLuther informs Max that he has brought the wrong photos! Heading back to his photo lab, Max discovers a second roll hidden in the gas tank of his brother’s dirtbike. As he starts to develop the film, he suddenly learns that Shelley has been kidnapped. Hoping that she hasn’t already met the same fate as the pesky reappearing hooker corpse, Max suddenly realizes that there’s only one person who can help him stop Luther’s reign of terror.
Killer Image‘s script, tellingly finished before Storm hit theatres, not only fails to build any suspense, but it also self-indulgently meanders with a plot based solely on cinematic convenience. Max’s barely plausible romantic relationship with Shelley starts even before his brother’s coffin has been lowered in the ground, and exists only to set up her later kidnapping. Similarly, unless Winning mistakenly credited this film as a homage to Hitchcock when he meant Scooby-Doo, there is simply no good reason why Max and Luther have to exchange photos on a working rollercoaster at an abandoned theme park. Although this sequence is easily the most exciting in the film, it is completely extraneous, and relies on highly suspect logic to boot.
As a substitute for suspense and believability, Killer Image tries to play up its meagre production values. No doubt big bucks were handed out to stars Michael Ironside and M. Emmet Walsh (who garners very little screentime) in an effort to carry the flavourless script, while awkward elements like Luther’s Porsche and the rollercoaster seem to have been included solely to impress the audience via their very existence in the film. Early on, it becomes fairly obvious that the novelty of a budget was almost too much for Winning, who was unable to resist the temptation to use something just because he could. Ultimately, Killer Image seems less interested in hooking viewers in with its (admittedly weak) plot than simply tossing money at the screen. As a result, the film tends to fade from memory faster than an old Polaroid picture.
With nary a mention of Canada to be found, Killer Image at least offers some nice shots of Calgary for fans of Canadian schlock. The downtown core of the city is heavily featured throughout the first two-thirds of the film, but it isn’t long before Winning takes us back to Bragg Creek, the provincial park located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that saw most of the action in Storm. While many low budget Canadian B-films make excellent use of national wilderness to heighten claustrophobia and suspense, the scenes located in Bragg Creek, where Max finally has the chance to confront Luther, predictably fall flat.
After a stint in episodic TV, Winning followed up Killer Image with another bland thriller (Profile for Murder) starring another bad guy character actor (Lance Henriksen), before unleashing his biggest effort, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997). Thankfully, Winning had left Canada for Hollywood by this point, sparing both me, and you, from a review. With nothing to distinguish itself from the other run-of-the-mill Hitchcock knock-offs clogging video store shelves, Killer Image may only be of interest to Calgarians looking for a hometown effort.