The Thrill Killers
|The Thrill Killers|
|Directed by||Ray Dennis Steckler|
|Produced by||George J. Morgan
Ray Dennis Steckler
|Written by||Gene Pollock
Ray Dennis Steckler
|Narrated by||Coleman Francis|
|Starring||Ray Dennis Steckler (as Cash Flagg)
|Music by||André Brummer (as Henri Price)|
|Cinematography||Joseph V. Mascelli
|Editing by||Austin McKinney|
|Running time||69 min.|
The story concerns several psychotic murderers who escape a mental institution and go on a killing spree in Los Angeles.
The story takes place in 1964 in Hollywood, California.
Joe Saxon (Joe Bardo) is an aspiring actor whose outlandish parties and spending worry his wife, Liz (Liz Renay). As per the narrator, he is "trapped in the world of non-reality".
In another scene, we see a young, Greek immigrant named Dennis Kesdekian (Atlas King) kisses his wife and family good-bye as he leaves for another day at work. Kesdeckian sees a hitchhiker (Steckler) and offers to give him a ride. The hitchhiker shoots the man and steals his car.
That night, Joe throws a party at his house. He and Liz do not know most of the people who attend, but it is part of Joe's plan to wine and dine producer George Morgan (himself), whose next picture Joe desperately wants a part in.
On the other side of town, the hitchhiker has picked up a nightclub dancer/prostitute (Erina Enyo) and takes her back to her apartment, where he brutally murders her with a pair of scissors.
While Joe and Liz are arguing, they hear of the murders over the radio, and learn that the assailant was Mort "Mad Dog" Click, long wanted by the police for similar crimes. Also on the loose are three mental patients who have escaped from the local asylum.
The next day, Liz decides to leave Joe and drives out to her cousin Linda's restaurant up in the hills. At the restaurant, Linda (Laura Benedict) congratulates her friends Ron (Ron Burr) and Carol (Carolyn Brandt) on their marriage and purchase of a nearby house. Liz pulls in just after the couple leave.
Ron and Carol get to their new house and look around. When they find their handyman missing, they look out back at a smaller house on the property, where they find him decapitated by the escaped mental patients—the axe-wielding Keith (Keith O'Brien), Herbie (Herb Robbins) and Gary (Gary Kent). Ron is decapitated in front of Carol, and then after some amount of chasing around the property, Carol is disposed of in a similar fashion.
Joe and Morgan show up at Linda's restaurant, as do the three killers. Herbie calls his friend, who turns out to be Click, to come by and get rid of the two others. When Liz and Joe realize who the three are, the killers hold them hostage. Linda poisons Herbie's coffee and kills him, while Gary chases Liz outside up in the hills.
While Linda and Morgan phone for the police, Joe follows the Gary and Liz up into the hills and a battle between Gary and Joe takes place on a mountain-top. Liz goes to get help, but is picked up and kidnapped by Click, who is now on the scene. Gary is pushed off a cliff and falls to his death. Joe, from afar, sees Liz get into Click's car, unaware that the man driving her is also a madman.
Liz escapes Click's clutches as the police arrive and take chase. Click shoots a camper and steals his horse, and heads further up to the hills on horseback, chased after by a motor patrolman. After a furious gun battle, Click is shot to death.
Sometime after the events have taken place, Joe has sworn off acting, until he gets a call from Morgan that he wants him (at $2,500 a week) to star in his picture opposite his newest discovery, Miss Transylvania—Linda!
After the success of Steckler's first independent feature, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963), he and producer George J. Morgan decided to cash in on the "psycho-killer" craze in Hollywood, brought upon by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.
The original film was to focus around the three mental patients, but Steckler found that while directing the film (with little to no set script) that the film was not running long enough and therefore began to shoot scenes with him as Click.
On a shoestring budget, Steckler was able to cast friends and associates for little to no money. Morgan, Brandt (Steckler's then-wife), Enyo, King, Titus Moede, George Caldwell and James Bowie had previously worked on The Incredibly Strange Creatures, while Joe Bardo (billed as Brick Bardo), Gary Kent and Herb Robbins were friends Steckler had met at a local community playhouse. Fellow low-budget film director Coleman Francis provided the narration. The female lead Liz Renay was a friend of Bardo's and had just finished a 27-month prison sentence on Terminal Island for perjury involving her then-boyfriend, gangster Mickey Cohen.
The Thrill Killers also marked the first on-screen collaboration between Steckler and Ron Haydock, who would later become the director's "partner-in-crime" up until his death in 1977.
When originally released, Steckler and company took the film on as a roadshow engagement, similar to what he had done with Creatures, with the film playing mostly midnight shows at hard-top theaters and on a regular bill at drive-ins. During the murder scenes, Steckler, as well as others in masks designed to look like Steckler, ran out into the audience with prop knives in an order to startle them.
Subsequent reissues of the film (under the title The Maniacs Are Loose) added a color prologue with famed hypnotist Ormond McGill (billed as "The Amazing Ormond"), as well as extended color sequences of a "hypnodisc" during the moments where Steckler and company would burst out into the audience.