October Horrorshow: Mindkiller

Before Michael Krueger horrified viewers by writing the execrable Amityville Curse, he wrote (with Dave Sipos and Curtis Hannum) and directed a shitty shot-on-video horror flick called Mindkiller. In the vein of a David Cronenberg film, Mindkiller follows a protagonist whose forays into psychoscience lead to a strange lovelife, followed by horrific consequences.

Warren (Joe McDonald) has a problem. He can’t get laid. He’s a thirty something with a dead end job in the basement of a library, doomed to spending his days filing meaningless reports, and his nights watching in envy as his roommate, Brad (Kevin Hart, not that one), hooks up with every hottie in sight. It’s all a personality problem. Warren is deathly shy and when he does work up the courage to talk to a woman, nothing but gibberish comes out. It’s a tale as old as flirting.

Things change when Warren discovers a bizarre self-help book in the library that allows the reader to unlike psychic powers. Mind control, telekinesis, and telepathy are the order of the day. All of a sudden, Warren has incredible game. As Warren says, though, this is just practice. He has his eyes on new librarian Sandy (Shirley Ross), and he trains all his new mental powers on her.

These new abilities come with a price. At first it’s splitting headaches, followed by clumps of hair falling out. As the film progresses, the plot moves out of the realm of college sex comedies, the Cronenberg touches become more extreme, and it moves into body horror.

Brad, Sandy, and Warren’s co-worker in the basement, Larry (Wade Kelley), recognize that Warren is spiraling, and do their best to help him, going so far as seeking out the author of the accursed self-help book. If everything went hunky-dory there wouldn’t be a movie, Mindkiller VHS boxso Krueger continues to feed Warren’s paranoia, leading to a final act that was far better than one will find in most SOV trash.

Although this was shot on video, and had a budget to match, this isn’t outsider art like something from the Polonia Brothers or Kevin J. Lindenmuth. There was a production behind this movie. That makes the final product more professional than would otherwise be expected. That said, this movie suffers from some woeful technical glitches.

The sound is the most obvious. In some scenes, the sound mixing is so poor that music completely drowns out dialogue. In other scenes, there is a mysterious grinding sound, origin unknown, that does the same. The sound problems are extensive enough that it is a huge distraction from watchability.

Like all SOV horror flicks, the acting is subpar. Some of the cast, especially in minor roles, had no business with speaking parts. The four principals named above were okay, although Ross struggled with her lines quite a bit. Of the four, only Kevin Hart (not that one) has a headshot on his IMDb page. The rest have faded from film history.

This was Krueger’s first film, and it has storytelling problems. The idea can be neatly divided into three acts. Act I: Warren’s development as a hopeless, lovelorn loser. Act II: Warren’s transformation and the development of his relationship with Sandy. Act III: It all falls apart. The film does follow that formula in general, but Krueger wasn’t able to stick the landing in the 2nd act. The relationship with Sandy goes from 0 to ‘afraid for her life’ far too swiftly. And then Krueger brings it all home for a tight, suspenseful, and gross finale.

The influence from David Cronenberg is impossible to ignore. Mindkiller was released directly to video only a year after the release of The Fly, and the broad outlines of the story are almost identical.

Budget and Krueger’s own inclinations limited the expanse of this film in some places, as well. This is a film about sex as much as it is about psychic powers or body horror. There was a lot more exploration into the sexual themes that could have been done, but Krueger never went deeper than adolescent fantasy. I suppose that was too much to expect from a cheapie like this, but it never feels like that kind of film was out of Krueger’s reach. In many ways the movie is like a demo tape, showing what could be accomplished should more resources be made available.

Alas, viewers are forced to watch the movies we have, not the ones we wish we had.

Unevenly paced, gripping in some moments, silly in others, bare in some moments, packed with events in others, Mindkiller doesn’t live up to its potential, but is still a decent shitty movie watch. It displaces Prince of Darkness in the Watchability Index at #276. That is about as watchable as SOV horror gets.

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