The Thrill Killers (1964)

Ray Dennis Steckler directs and stars as bug-eyed maniac with a buzz-cut(“I hate people!People are cheap!”)whose brother is one of three lunatics having escaped an asylum for the criminally insane.

Gary Kent(..this is the third film I’ve seen of this guy and all three have him cast as a psycho, such as “Girls in Chains” and “The Forest”)is the claustrophobic nut with a knife, with a short fuse. Herb Robins is squirrelly Herbie, never relinquishing his axe(..which is used on an innocent couple with plans to fix up a house where the deranged nuts are hiding, startling them), always desiring to bury it into somebody.Keith O’Brien is Keith, Steckler’s brother. Steckler is Mort “Mad Dog” Click, and no one is safe in his presence(..he shoots a Latino traveling salesman for his car, and stabs a dancehall hostess in her rattrap apartment with a pair of scissors, on the verge of attacking a kid in her yard if mama hadn’t intervened).

The movie opens as an indictment of Hollywood, using the troubles plaguing actor Joe Saxon(Joseph Bardo), whose career isn’t developing well. His wife, Liz(Liz Renay), wants out of Tinseltown, a former actress who understood all too well the difficulties of securing projects in Hollywood. The film soon moves out of the city and into the mountainous desert of Topanga Canyon as the trio of loonies surprise Joe, Liz, Liz’s sister Carol(..played by Steckler’s wife-of-the-time, Carolyn Brandt)and a movie director scouting locations, pinning them temporarily in a diner(..which Carol runs and the director wishes to use as a setting where a murder occurs, to add a hint of irony to the proceedings). Soon Keith calls brother to come pick him up as the trio soon run into trouble with Joe whose heroism ruins their escape plans( does Carol who adds a special ingredient to Keith’s coffee).

The film is far more coherent and exciting than Steckler’s more notorious cult hit, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?” Here you have three major chase sequences. The first has newlywed couple Linda(Laura Benedict)and Ron(Ron Burr) besieged by the insane trio, with ill results, neither able to escape, innocence destroyed. The second has Gary pursuing Liz with Joe not far behind, soon resulting in a climb up a mountain, concluding in a rather suspenseful struggle with one plummeting to his death. The third is a doozy..Mad Dog survives several policemen, engaging in gunfire as he sneaks from behind them, soon shooting a cowboy(..stealing his hat!), hopping on his horse and riding down a nearby dirt-road with a motorcycle cop in hot pursuit! What’s neat is Steckler’s acknowledgment that the scenes with him as Mad Dog were actually not written in the script, used to pad out the movie! And, they were probably my favorite scenes! This, I think, would make an ideal double feature with The Sadist, Steckler one of those filmmakers who was ushering in a different kind of cinema as the studio system’s foundation was shaken with an underground independent movement on the rise. While obviously tame compared to more abrasive, ultra-violent fare in the 70’s, The Thrill Killers is a film which one might look at as a pioneer in how shock-cinema would later evolve.