Retro-review: New on BLuRay from Kino Lorber!
Directed by Ted Post
Written by Joan Andre (screenplay), John Case (story)
Starring Jaclyn Smith, Robert Mitchum, Mike Connors, James Franciscus, Fritz Weaver, Sybil Danning, Tina Menard, Melanie MacQueen, Belinda Mayne, Michael Anderson Jr., Helen Hardin, Burke Rhind
NIGHTKILL plays like an estranged ancestor to Cohen Brothers crime/thriller classics like BLOOD SIMPLE with a heaping dose of classic film noir, Depalma, PSYCHO, and kitschy 70’s stylings, making it a film I really can’t help but love.
NIGHTKILL starts out with an amazingly memorable montage scene of inanimate objects like a home, a car in a garage, a coffee-maker, an empty shower, and so on, set to a voice over of our leading lady Katherine (Jaclyn Smith) and another man who is clearly not her husband given the conversation. This opener is unsettling as we cannot see who is talking, but their conversation speaks volumes. Simply by the opening alone, I knew NIGHTKILL wasn’t going to be your typical slasher thriller flick. Once the characters enter the scene, it’s fun to try to figure out which one of the men Katherine interacts with is her lover.
They don’t keep that a secret for long, which I feel is a mistake, but we aren’t given long to worry about that as Katherine’s husband Wendell (Mike Connors) is poisoned. Meanwhile, someone is spying on the house (as indicated in the opener as one of the shots is at an undisclosed location where a recorder is recording everything that is going on in the home) and captures both Katherine’s adultery and the murder on tape. When Katherine’s lover is found murdered and a cop (Robert Mitchum) shows up to investigate her husband’s disappearance, it’s up to Katherine to dispose of the bodies. Of course, in true Cohen fashion, we all know how hard it is to dispose of a body and with the police at her door, Katherine finds herself in between a rock (a murder rap) and a hard place (being killed herself).
There are so many expertly paced scenes of tension in this film. From Katherine discovering dead bodies in her house to her trying to dispose of those bodies and running into a police road block—there is one scene after another that will make you chomp your fingerprints off the ends of your digits. Much of the film feels a lot like a riff off of PSYCHO as Jaclyn Smith does her best Marion Crane as a guilty woman trying desperately to cover up her misdeeds. Much of the film forces you to identify with this adulteress who admittedly was upset with her husband’s death, but definitely is guilty of trying to cover it up after the deed is done. It’s a testament to both the storytelling and to Smith’s acting that I did feel for Katherine’s well being. On top of that, the multiple takes to recording equipment and complex plottery reminded me of BLOW OUT and other DePalma joints. Along with the aforementioned BLOOD SIMPLE/FARGO-esque getting rid of the body scenes, NIGHTKILL feels like the Rosetta stone for all crime thrillers through the ages.
On top of the top tier suspense at play in this film and the unconventional ways of telling the story, NIGHTKILL is a fantastically acted film to boot. As I mentioned above, Smith is gorgeous and sympathetic as the adulteress who everyone wants a piece of. But the film is rounded out by a stone cold performance by Mitchum as the cop as well as some great smaller roles like Fritz Weaver as another one of Katherine’s lovers who loves the alcohol just as much. The seductive Sybil Danning is cast against type in a surprisingly sympathetic role here as Weaver’s wife and best friend of Katherine. Even though she as made a career of being sultry and always in command, it’s amazing seeing Danning’s range here in this convincing role.
All of this and this film has a pair of monkeys, a barking Doberman, and a wickedly gruesome shower scene climax (again reminiscent of PSYCHO). While this film feels derivative, it also seems to have influenced quite a few modern thriller classics. I absolutely loved this oddball gem and if you like your thrillers with an unconventional bent, NIGHTKILL is going to be a must see for you too.