Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Killing Hour (The Clairvoyant) (1982)

I recently spoke to – well, actually ‘instant messaged’ – a fan of this here bloggo who was telling me how much he loved to read what I had to say. As flattered as I was by that much-welcomed compliment, what intrigued me was how the only complaint that he had was that I don’t update it enough. Though he admitted the prior was a selfish statement, he was absolutely right. And though I have admitted here on occasion that I don’t have the time to devote myself to this little piece of handiwork as much as I’d like to, one of the real reasons I don’t – or in this particular statement, can’t – update it as much as I’d like to is because with the monstrosity of a collection I have, there are many a night when I want to stay up and write but have the bloody hardest time choosing which film to review next. Should I go for a classic? Or should I try and maybe take a shot and review something a little modern? I can’t tell you how many times I will sit in front of my shelves and cases of endless slasher booty and just spend hours – literally – trying to decide which one to sit in front of next? There are many of those nights where I get so frustrated that I just give up and go to bed, telling myself, we’ll try this again tomorrow. Yeah, right.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, I’d like to take a quick moment and say ‘thank you’ to all of you that have taken time to read this little ditty. Within the last few months, my hit count has skyrocketed into the atmosphere and I know that it’s because of you all that it’s been possible. You guys send me the greatest emails and messages telling me how much you enjoy reading LL80’sH so for that, again, I extend my gratitude. It’s great to see that there are people out there not only reading what I have to say, but both relating to it and enjoying it. Mil Gracias! And I do have to pause and say thank you to Jay Rinella and John Gibben for hooking me up. You guys rock.

I did not know anything regarding The Killing Hour until about a year ago when I was doing some research online about the giallo genre and came across it in another horror blog. I had seen the cover to the DVD before at the San Jose Rasputin’s but never bothered to pick it up. I did a little bit of reading on this one and decided that I would seek it out, as everyone knows I love a good thriller. I also read that it was very minimal on gore which piqued my interest even more as some of the best fright films out there have little to no gore at all. They rely on set pieces, atmosphere, mood, and character development. Most of all, they rely on a good story and this one fits that bill like a glove.

The film opens up with an art class in session. An unseen student is sketching a nude model on her pad as police pull a handcuffed body of a dead woman out of a lake. Suddenly, student’s hand begins to sketch on its own and reveals a drawing of the same cuffed hands. The art student is beautiful Verna Nightbourne (Elizabeth Kemp) who has a special gift of seeing things and sketching them as they’re happening somewhere else. We then cut to the interior of a gymnasium’s swimming pool and watch rather voyeuristically as a man is frightened by having the lights in the building shut off as he is doing his laps. He calls out into the darkened room and is immediately taken underwater by an unseen assailant who handcuffs his ankle to the ladder under the surface, trapping him there. The slayings continue, with the third victim having been electrocuted while working in a manhole next to a local diner.  With the modus operandi being exactly the same in each murder, the police force, albeit with not much evidence to go on, begin to investigate.  The case is being led by officer Larry Weeks (Norman Parker) who has a penchant for stand-up comedy and impersonations of classic comedians.  For fear that the murder spree will turn into an uncontrollable media circus, the chief forbids any sort of communication with the media. But not before local talk show host Mac McCormack (the always unbelievably gorgeous Perry King), who just happens to be a personal friend of Weeks’, approaches him in the hope of getting the ‘inside scoop’ on the case. They make a deal: In exchange for information on the investigation, Mac will attempt to bring Week’s comedic talents to the TV network he’s employed by. Having obviously disobeyed a direct order from the Chief, he agrees to give Mac inside information on the now-dubbed “Handcuff Killer”.

Verna, convinced that she is able to see and draw the murders in this case as they are happening, is convicted to go to the police and aid them in their search for the killer. She presents them her sketches and they begin to analyze them in hopes of somehow using them to piece everything together. Weeks begins to date her, as does Mac and she soon becomes a part of both their lives. The only setback is that Mac wants her to appear on his television show to show the public what she can do and how closely it’s connected to all of the murders. This is not part of the deal that Weeks had intended and threatens to cut him off from any and all information regarding the investigation if she appears on his show. She agrees to appear just as a third victim is murdered, being handcuffed to the bottom of a freight elevator shaft and killed. The victim appears close to the beginning of the film in a hotel room with the likes of a Latino thug named Willie who actually becomes a very red herring at this point. Because it doesn’t make sense how – and why – he would be the one responsible for the murders. The police’s question now is, if a handcuffed woman was pulled out of the lake, why are all these victims of the same style of murder all men? We begin to wonder now if any – or all – of the victims had a connection to the woman from the lake. Who was she? And why is it that Verna can see – and draw – the murders as they are happen?

One day as Mac is returning to his apartment, he is attacked by Willie and beaten to the ground. When Mac’s housekeeper comes in and interrupts the altercation, Willie flees the scene and leaves a set of handcuffs behind. Mac immediately showcases them on his show and tells the police that he could very well have the identity of the Handcuff Killer. The police begin a manhunt for Willie and find him in his apartment and gun him down, thinking he’s the culprit. But, he isn’t. Well, at one point he very well could be because once Verna does appear on the show and draws the shape of a hand grabbing hold of a steering wheel, we see that someone assaults a friend of hers at the exact time she draws it and ties her up in her own car as she is going home from work and has her car tossed over a body of water. The film never really says who killed her but the only other person it could have been was Willie. Maybe because she was starting to ask so many questions about Verna’s drawings, was he afraid she would go to the police?  

I’m going to admit here that though the story as intriguing as it is, it’s very slow paced. If you’re expecting any kind of action or tension of any kind, you’re not going to find it right away. One of the reasons that I sought this film out is because it was recommended to me by a friend who claimed it was a ‘American-made giallo’ and that I would instantly fall in love with it. I hate to tell that friend that he was wrong…well, at least for the first half of the film. I will have to agree with him though that if this film had been made in Italy with Italian actors, it would be a giallo right on track with films such as Short Night of Glass Dolls and Who Saw Her Die? It concentrates on character development and story and if you’re not the type of person who can tolerate a slow-moving movie, you’re going to be very disappointed here. The murders aren’t gory. They are more implicit than explicit. But, one thing I will tell you is that if you love thrillers of any sort, don’t make the mistake I almost made and turn the film off! (I will confess that at about the hour mark, I was ready to turn it call it quits. Not so much because it’s very slow paced but because I’d decided to sit in front it during the late night hours and couldn’t keep my eyes open for much longer – and even Mr. King with his piercing eyes and fantastic body was somehow managing to lose my attention.) This is one of those films that you have to really sit in front of without any sort of distraction and one to definitely not watch in pieces. You have to pay attention to what’s going on in order for everything to make sense. Director Armand Mastroianni does a good job here of setting up the plot and silently begs you to just sit back and give the movie a chance. It’s not going to disappoint you. This is one of those films in which you have to be patient and wait for the goods to make themselves known.

So one night, Verna decides to have a glass of wine at Mac’s house and show her the latest picture that she’s drawn. It’s a drawing of all the victims so far and he begins to push her to draw her next one, but she can’t. With everything that’s been going on, she doesn’t have the mental energy to push through and draw and flees to the bedroom. It is here where the entire film begins its unexpected and amazing rush: Mac picks up the drawing while enjoying a glass of wine and begins to stare at the objects that she’s drawn. As he does, the police are looking at the other drawings that Verna has given them. They have been able to connect the sketches together to correspond with each of the victims. But there is one drawing that they can’t decipher. What is it? Is it a drawing of the inside teeth of one of the handcuffs? One of the detectives takes another look at it and suggests that it also looks like the inside of a crab’s claw. And when the scene immediately reverts back to Mac’s apartment to reveal Verna lying on his bed…next to a crystal sculpture of a crab’s claws on the nightstand…the film takes an amazing turn. We see Mac in the living room holding the sketch and we are immediately taken to a particularly disturbing flashback scene of a black-haired woman being handcuffed and tied to a bed in a random hotel room. She is obviously a hooker and she is surrounded by three burly men who are preparing lines of cocaine with the intention of gang-banging her silly. Her feet are being bound to the bed and as one of them unzips his fly and takes his pants off, inching to the bed and taking her head in his hands to bring her in close, I suddenly realize that the men are all the victims that were killed by the Handcuff Killer! And I seriously instantly emit a loud scream of shock when I see that the fourth man who slowly lies down on top of her and rapes her brutally as he kills her while the others watch is none other than Mac himself! What the f—k?!

Everything suddenly made sense. The woman found in the lake was the hooker whose body they’d disposed of in hopes that nobody would find out. Mac hired Willie to take out the other three either to throw the cops off or in case there was any chance of them going to the police. And once news had reached Mac that the other’s had been killed, he approached Weeks to get the inside scoop so he could know exactly what was going on, hoping that maybe Willie would take the fall for him. He’d asked Verna to come on the show out of his own disbelief that she would have known anything about the murders as they were happening and the more he got to know her, the more terrified he’d become that she was telling the truth! That’s was why he’d asked her to his home…to see exactly what she was going to draw next. He was afraid that she was about to figure the whole thing out! In pure shock, he squeezes and breaks the wine glass, spilling it all over the sketch.

At that moment, she realizes that she is next and flees to the bathroom as he comes after her. She hides in the shower after fooling him that she’d gone out the window and when he steps outside, she closes the window and makes a break for the outside hall of the apartment building. Mac sees her from the outside hall window and breaks it, sending her down up the stairs to the roof where he finds her and proceeds to kill her once and for all. Finally, dramatic and suspenseful tension! Just as we think she’s a goner, here comes Weeks to her rescue.  The two men wrestle it out and Mac ends up hanging over the edge of the tall apartment building, being held onto by Weeks. Knowing what he’s done and knowing that now there was no escape from death, Mac whispers softly. “Let me go” and Weeks reluctantly grants his wish as he watches him fall to the pavement. Nice!

The film ended up being much more entertaining than I had expected. You really had to follow the film and have patience with it and that’s one I need to stress about this film: Have patience! Not many casual movie watchers would be able to forgive the extent of its slow pace but it pays off in the final twenty minutes of the film. If you’re a giallo fan, such as myself, you will actually see many elements of the giallo genre in this film, right down to red herring(s), the use of black gloves, the obligatory twist reveal that it was one of the main characters the whole time, the altercation between the good guy and the bad guy, and lack of denouement. It’s too bad that this one is as underrated and overlooked as it is.

The DVD I have from Blue Underground is fantastic – as all the discs from BU are. The picture was clear, the sound was great and it had the original trailer. But, as I did research for this one, I read somewhere that the original VHS and subsequent DVD releases – even the original issue by Anchor Bay – had many scenes missing. This release has all the deleted scenes intact, most of them are extended pre-murder sequences that, in my opinion, explain more regarding the behavior and minds of the victims. Those missing minutes actually are quite essential as they would have given the story just a little more kick. I would love to see a special edition one day that has all the missing scenes put in with the rest of the film, just as it was done with My Bloody Valentine and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Maybe BU will give us a re-release. I’ve only seen this film on the store shelves once so I’m not sure if the BU version is already out of print – as I would only assume the AB version is already el-kaput. Before I went out and bought it, I was able to rent it off Netflix so if you’re the least bit interested, try to pick up there and take a look for yourself. It’s not going to be one of the best movies you will ever see, but it is definitely worth one viewing. Especially for the last twenty minutes where everything just comes together. (Pause) Well, okay…for the chance to see Perry King at the height of his 80’s heartthrob heyday. If you’re into that sort of thing (wink). 


Jay Rinella said...

Great review of a great film from one of my favorite 80's horror diretors.

Ana Foster said...

As always your reviews are dead on! ;-)