My notes on Mickey Keating’s Psychopaths.
Sometime in the past – bits of costuming, hairstyles and tech suggest anywhere from the ‘50s (turntable gramophones) to the ’80s (VHS players) though the psychedelic locus seems to be the ‘70s – serial killer Henry Earl Starkweather (inevitably, Larry Fessenden) goes to the electric chair after ranting that the evil in his head will escape upon death and infect many, many others. It seems that this is indeed the case, though the clutch of murderers who wind through the long night of this narrative are all mad well before the switch is thrown on Henry – even if connections do emerge to the big daddy killer. Stylised violence evokes giallo and J-horror, but the people have a definite ‘70s California drive-in vibe … as does an impressive score from Shayfer James, which runs to an album’s worth of original songs (is this a new genre trend? – FrightFest selection Diane also has a song-based score, and Jordan Galland has collaborated with Julian Lennon on all his films).
Out in the night are Alice (Ashley Bell), a dangerous escaped inmate with a hair-trigger split personality who lives out fantasies as a singer and a brittle Douglas Sirk housewife but also lashes out with violence all the more hideous for being undefined (she monologues in several personalities with exquisite, perfect ‘50s makeup but sometimes a hand gloved in blood strays into the frame). Alice calls on the home of a squabbling couple (Mark Kassim, Miranda Parham), whom the arch narrator (Jeff Daniel Phillips) describes as not being bad people ‘by the standards of this story’, and settles in for murder and monologue. Next door is Blondie (Angela Trimbur), a stripper who has picked up a moustachioed charmer (James Landry Hebert) fresh from his own latest serial murder (he strangles women and collects locks of their hair) and a motel room bludgeoning and immobilises him with anaesthetic in a carseat clinch before playing Audition games on him in her torture basement (acupuncture needles under fingernails, etc). Also in the mix are a masked, scarred guy (Sam Zimmerman) who has violently invaded Blondie’s club in search of a victim (Christina Elizabeth Smith) who turns out to be already dead, seemingly under the influence of Starkweather (who might be his abusive father) and a cop with non-regulation hair for any time period (Jeremy Gardner) who takes the masked man out into the desert for summary execution only to find he has a struggle on his hands.
Writer-director Mickey Keating is turning out movies at a hectic pace – Pod, Darling, Carnage Park – and establishing his own set of interests and mannerisms (plus a repertory company of interesting actors) which in this instance puts him somewhere between Rob Zombie (albeit with a functioning human heart) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Keating’s favourite light source is pastel neon). He jumbles his storylines, starting with one of several climaxes and zipping back and forth, winding between atrocities while connections spark … or close encounters are narrowly averted. Starkweather Jr and Blondie both have cartoony plastic masks, to conceal Cropsy/Freddy-like scars or a scarcely less blank pretty face, while Alice arches her eyebrows and twitches as she argues with herself and Starkweather rants at the camera. This night is so dark that exteriors have a feel I associate with HG Lewis – well-lit upfront action (a burning police car) and characters but deep space behind them – and it might all be taking place in a pocket universe or stage set a la Dogville or some of the odder corners of David Lynch’s filmography. It’s an emptied box of jigsaw pieces the viewer has to fit together while the film plays, with visual and aural clues and cues – but there’s a double edge to the narrator’s shrugged admission that it’s all on the sketchy side (‘sorry if the violence was too gratuitous and the story was too ambiguous’) and as many viewers will stumble out scratching their heads as won over by the enclosed weird world.