Now on Blu-ray: PSYCHIC KILLER, Astral Projection Drive-In Horror
Back in the early 1970s, when Psychic Killer (also known as The Kirlian Effect) was made, astral projection was a big thing with leftover hippies.
The idea was that through focused meditation and careful, thorough training, a person could project their spirit to a place outside of their body, and in some cases witness or influence events on another plane of existence. Now, I'm not a believer in any of this, but it does make a great premise for a movie, and one that writer Greydon Clark and director Ray Danton milked for maximum effect in their film.
Arnold Masters (Jim Hutton) is framed for murder and sentenced to an insane asylum. While behind bars, he befriends an old man who teaches him the technique of astral projection, which allows him to leave his body and control objects with his mind. Soon, the real killer is found and Masters is released, but now he has plans to use his new skills on the outside. Masters is determined to take his revenge on all of those people who conspired to put him away, and it isn't going to be pretty.
The premise of Psychic Killer is dynamite, the execution is so-so. The film is a ton of fun in the way that only early '70s low-budget horror films can be. The acting is mediocre, a lot of the special effects are pretty dodgy, and the tone is all over the place, but you can't help smiling at the results. Murder by scalding shower, busted brake cables, and much more are on the docket in Psychic Killer. However my favorite of them all is most definitely the butcher who “meats” his end when he's forced to put his fist through his own meat grinder, with predictably gory results, which leads me to the biggest mystery of Psychic Killer: the rating.
Psychic Killer was released to theaters around the country with an MPAA approved rating of PG. This was a decade before films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Poltergeist inspired the ratings board to create the PG-13 rating for films that were a bit too much for tykes, but not quite outrageous enough for an R. The MPAA had a choice between rating this film as a PG, which it had recently done for Jaws, another pretty bloody film, or an R.
They chose PG, which is mind-boggling as this film would almost certainly be rated R even by today's standards. Violent gore, foul language, and an extended shower scene with copious amounts of topless nudity are only the tip of the Psychic Killer iceberg. Since the MPAA works under a notorious shroud of secrecy, there's no way of knowing what exactly they were smoking when they screened this one, but I'm pretty sure we all want a hit.
This film is a lot of fun, and director Ray Danton does a lot with what he's given. Plenty of violence and nudity, along with a sadistic killer who openly taunts his pursuers, make this a classic of the grimy period of exploitation filmmaking. It's definitely worth a watch.
Psychic Killer was digitally restored in 2K from the original negative by Vinegar Syndrome and it looks and sounds great. The colors really pop and it's hard to imagine that this was a low budget film shot over 40 years ago. This is really exceptional work. The lossless DTS-HD MA mono audio track is another winner, full enough to convey the dialogue and effects clearly, but not flashy; it does its job well.
Vinegar Syndrome do a great job of providing context for Psychic Killer in their extra materials as well. There is a short featurette titled The Danton Effect in which many of the crew talk about director Ray Danton in mostly glowing terms; also present are Danton's sons, who help shine a light on the man behind the bullhorn.
We also get an interview with writer Greydon Clark, who later came to fame as a director of films like Without Warning and arcade-era cult classic Joysticks, who talks about his involvement with the film. Last up is the producer Mardi Rustom, who talks about the b-movie business at the time and his surprise at the MPAA's decision to give Psychic Killer a PG rating. Vinegar Syndrome rounds out the package with a trailer and a few TV spots.
- Ray Danton
- Greydon Clark
- Mikel Angel
- Ray Danton
- Paul Burke
- Jim Hutton
- Julie Adams
- Nehemiah Persoff