THE THRILL KILLERS
In tribute to the
January 2008 death
of the unsung trash auteur Ray Dennis Steckler, here’s a review of one of his
few authentically good films: THE THRILL KILLERS, a typically whacked out
mid-sixties psycho fest that’s also suspenseful and exciting.
THE THRILL KILLERS (a.k.a. THE MANIACS ARE LOOSE and MAD DOG CLICK) was
made in 1964, during Ray Dennis Steckler’s most fertile period. It was the
second of his 1960s-era masterworks, following THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES
WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES (1964) and preceding THE LEMON
GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS (1965) and
RAT PFINK A BOO BOO (1966). Of the four, THE
THRILL KILLERS is the only movie I found myself laughing with rather than
In the cast you’ll find many Steckler regulars, including the leggy Carolyn
Brandt (Steckler’s then wife) and Herb Robins (future director of THE WORM
EATERS and THE BRAINSUCKER). Also featured is R.D. Steckler himself, playing
the psychotic Mad Dog Click under his Cash Flagg pseudonym. Another big name
worked on the crew, though uncredited: the legendary cinematographer Vilmos
Zsigmond, of McCABE AND MRS. MILLER, DELIVERANCE and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE
THIRD KIND fame, who in the early days of his career (partially) photographed
THE THRILL KILLERS.
Following a title card informing us that “Events in this picture are
said to be true......and to have transpired back in the year 1965 as here-in
depicted,” we meet Joe. He’s a Hollywood resident who dreams of becoming a
movie star, and, according to a know-it-all narrator, is caught in a “world of
We also meet Dennis, another Hollywoodite who’s stuck
looking after a bunch of bratty kids. He’s trapped in a “world of reality.”
But not for long, as driving to work he stops to pick up a hitchhiker--who turns
out to be the psychotic Mort “Mad Dog” Click, who callously shoots Dennis and
steals his car!
Mort commits another murder shortly thereafter, this time a young woman he
lures into a cheap motel room and then stabs to death with a pair of scissors.
The next day a young couple turns up at a desert house
they’ve purchased...which just happens to be inhabited by three escaped mental
patients harboring a severed head. The trio makes fast work of the couple and
then they take off. They stop at a diner in Topanga Canyon and hold the place
up. Among the terrified clientele are Joe (Mr. Non-Reality himself) and his
pretty wife. They end up chased through the canyon by the maniacs, two of whom
die in the melee. The remaining nut is apprehended by cops.
However, Mad Dog Click turns up in the area and kidnaps
Joe’s wife, precipitating yet another hoary chase through the canyon.
Even without the presence of Cash Flagg (a.k.a. R.D. Steckler) in the cast,
Steckler’s touch is evident in the perpetually shifting tone and ever-fluid
narrative. Steckler has admitted he more-or-less made the film up as he went
along, and it shows.
This does not, however, mean the proceedings are in any
way choppy or discordant. What emerges is a fully cohesive flow of invention,
from the outrageous Ed Woodian narration that opens the film (and then is never
heard again) to the severed head that heralds the maniacs’ arrival to the
mundane radio drama that plays on the soundtrack as the maniacs go about their
But THE THRILL KILLERS also works as a straightforward
psycho thriller. The black and white photography is impressive in its
starkness, and the violence is strong and surprisingly graphic. Plus at an
economical 72 minutes the film moves fast and never overstays its welcome--that
is until the final chase through Topanga Canyon, which quickly grows monotonous
(Steckler was admittedly in love with the scenery). Otherwise, though, this is
a top-notch production from a one-of-a-kind talent.
THE THRILL KILLERS
Morgan Steckler Productions
Director: Ray Dennis
Producer: Arch Hall Sr., George J. Morgan, Ray Dennis Steckler
Screenplay: Ray Dennis Steckler, Gene Pollock
Cinematography: Joseph V. Mascelli, Lee Stronsnider
Cast: “Cash Flagg” (Ray Dennis Steckler), Carolyn Brandt, Herb Robins, Liz Renay,
Joseph Bardo, Gary Kent, Keith O’Brien, Laura Benedict, Ron Burr, Titus Moede