Ric Oliver (Paul Austin) is an ambitious shutterbug. As 1992’s Killer Image opens, viewers see him trailing and taking photographs of Luther Kane (Michael Ironside) dumping what appears to be a body off of the Glenmore Dam south of Calgary, Alberta. Luther sees what Ric is up to, tries to shoot him, then runs him down with his car in cold blood.
Written, produced, and directed by David Winning, with further screenplay credits going to Stan Edmonds and Jaron Summers, Killer Image is a prototypical example of the kind of direct-to-video/late night cable TV thriller fare that was popular in the 1990s. The main difference being that this flick mostly skimps on the gratuitous nudity.
Luther Kane isn’t just some random murderer. He’s the brother of Senator John Kane (M. Emmet Walsh), and is something of a fixer/black sheep in the family. Viewers who have seen many new-noir thrillers like this will suspect that Senator Kane has been up to no good, and Luther is cleaning up his mess. That’s not so. In this flick, Luther is his own psycho.
Meanwhile, the deceased Ric is partnered with his brother, Max (John Pyper-Ferguson), in a photography business. Max is distraught over the death of his brother, of course. After he comes home to the studio/apartment they share, he finds that the place has been ransacked. Someone has been looking for some photographic evidence, it seems. Luther, fearful of going to prison, now stalks Max, framing him for multiple murders, all in an effort to find the roll of film Ric was taking when Luther killed him.
Killer Image has all the twists and turns one would expect from this kind of cat and mouse story. Luther is a crazed murderer, and Max is the only person who can bring him to justice. Max, for his part, wants nothing to do with any of this. He just wants to grieve for his brother and move on with his life, but he’s not able to do so with Luther dogging his every turn. It gets so bad that Max becomes a wanted criminal, and the only person he can turn to for help is Ric’s girlfriend, newspaper reporter Shelley (Krista Errickson). While all this is going on, a viewer might be wondering what the police’s role in all this is. Well, there isn’t hide nor hair of a meaningful police presence in the story. The idea that all this killing and criminal activity would necessitate a detective character or something seems to have been lost on Winning and company, or they decided that the conflict between the two leads was enough.
Max and Luther go back and forth all movie, trading efforts at extorting each other, until a climax that, while fulfilling, would probably lead to Max spending the rest of his life in prison out here in the real world. It’s a good thing, then, that this is just a shitty movie.
Its offenses against the art of film are few, but a couple are nicely nitpicky. Early on Max suffers nasty wounds to the palms of his hands. It was enough of an injury for his hands to be wrapped in bandages for the rest of the film, and his character acknowledges throughout that his hands don’t work that well…except for the first scene after he’s injured, where Max is able to grip the handles of a motorcycle with no problem.
My personal favorite moment of shitty filmmaking was the inevitable love scene between Max and Shelley. He’s trying to explain to her that he’s been framed for murder, but he leaves out some crucial details. He tells her that there are photos of him with his hands around a woman’s neck, and doesn’t provide Shelley with any context. Then, she gets horny and sleeps with him. As we all know from watching movies, nothing turns on women more than the death of a close relation, almost being raped, or the possible threat of physical violence. It’s lazy filmmaking, and I can’t help but laugh every time I see a movie try it.
As for the performances, Ironside was quite good. He got more screen time in this movie than he normally would, and used it. Luther is wound very tight, and there are compelling moments when Ironside portrays him as barely holding on. He was an excellent bad guy in his day. M. Emmet Walsh was just too good for this movie, plain and simple. As for Pyper-Ferguson, he didn’t stink up the screen, but subtlety wasn’t a part of his arsenal. His performance was emotive in a way that would make more sense in a car insurance or toothpaste commercial, rather than a thriller. The main reason for his casting appears to have been his early ’90s bad boy looks. Again, he did not suck, and in a movie like this, that is a win for the audience.
As far as thrillers go, Killer Image could be worse. Its objective quality is similar to something HBO would produce during that era. It’s entertaining, a little simple, and good for passing the time. Had Winning kicked it up a notch or two, with more bloody fodder or some genuine erotic sex scenes, maybe this flick wouldn’t fade so readily into the background. Killer Image slots into the lower half of the Watchability Index, displacing Bad Ass at #335.