Exploitation films

Lurid horror, women-in-prison movies, blaxploitation, etc.

Switch Killer

Switch_Killer_posterIn the 90s GLAAD objected to The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill on the grounds that the character was “a cross dressing, misogynistic serial killer.”

Well, don the fish nets and pumps as here comes Switch Killer (originally titled Transamerican Killer), an incredibly sleazy yet highly effective and affecting exploitation slasher set in Sin City.

Cara Jo Basso is extraordinary as Jamie, a woman abused by and trying to escape from an obsessive idiot who is leaving her threatening voicemails and sending her flowers. And that’s pretty much it plot-wise. Switch Killer’s narrative is as skimpy as the outfits.

Jamie takes refuge at her grandmother’s place, a charming old-timer who’s moved to tears by Bogey in Casablanca. On the side, Jamie takes a job as a stripper, becoming romantically involved with an attractive colleague while explaining away her nightly absence to granny as “a job in the restaurant business.” Because we’re better than that, you’ll get no “job” yuks on this site.

Meanwhile, a very svelte trans/cross dressing killer is stalking Jamie and her fellow pole dancers and spreading panic in Vegas around New Year’s Eve.

Switch_KillerSwitch Killer is a total grindhouse throwback, a film which has more in common with the likes of Maniac and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than any of its 80s final girl progenitors.

Director Mack Hail is obviously well-versed in what makes the horror genre great.

It’s interesting to see a stripper played so sympathetically, and the use of the uber-sleazy Nevada hub of gambling and prostitution as a horror backdrop makes for some captivating visuals.

For a film that’s this (some would say) nonredeemable in its sordidness, there’s surprisingly not much in the way of gore. Sure, a few dancers are gutted like freshly-caught trout and shoved into oncoming trains, but the tension comes from the build-up and the highly realistic depictions of the strip club scene (don’t ask how we came by this knowledge).

As is often the case, didn’t expect much from the title; Switch Killer delivers in spades, and all for a modest budget.

As for as depictions of the transgendered…well, this ain’t Dallas Buyers Club.

*** (out of 5).

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

Toolboxmurders1978posterThe wonderful thing about horror is titles often double as summaries. No explanation required for The Toolbox Murders. You got murders, you got a toolbox. None of this, what in hell is a Darjeeling and what’s limiting it? Or, what’s a Hudsucker and who’s its proxy?

Nah, The Toolbox Murders is exactly as promised. There’s a creepy giallo-type killer in a ski mask hunting tenants of an LA apartment complex.

video nasty banned in the UK (1982 to 2000), and finally released with nearly two minutes chopped out, you could say The Toolbox Murders built up a bit of a reputation, much of it deserved.

Bolt your doors. In this apartment block, management doesn’t even spring for extra security when unit after unit is suddenly becoming available…

The film mutates from a stalk-and-slash police procedural into a talky psychological thriller midway through. And that’s the part that actually makes it memorable, strangely enough.

The LAPD abandons any pretense of basic police work that a viewer could glean from watching a few episodes of Blue Bloods. To wit: not immediately sussing out that the entries weren’t forced, therefore the culprit is either known to everyone in the building or can let themselves in, or both. The biggest mystery of all is why they don’t immediately cast suspicions at the weirdo superintendent.


Not David Cassidy and not-the-lovechild-of-Wayne-Gretzky-and- Ellen channel their inner sleuths.

Attractive women along the covered/uncovered spectrum are offed using a variety of implements that can be found at Lowe’s. One’s even pierced with a nail gun (for those of you interested in horror movie weapons, please check out our acclaimed book Death by Umbrella!)

There’s even a scene that’s like Jack’s forced entry in The Shining, but HEEEEEEERRRREE the killer doesn’t bother speaking while going about his grisly business.

When young Joey’s teen sister goes missing, he takes matters (and his Ellen DeGeneres bangs) into his own hands, perusing the building to find clues since Los Angeles’s finest have clearly dropped the ball. For his efforts, cops actually haul HIS behind in for questioning, even though Joey has absolutely no motive to speak of.

B-movie icon Cameron Mitchell (The Swarm/Blood and Black Lace) is the building super and his nephew is played by Wesley Eure (a soap opera regular who was actually conscripted to join The Partridge Family, lest you think the cheap, caption joke at his expense has no basis in truth).

The Toolbox Murders was given a new lease on life with a 2004 reboot. Tobe Hooper did it, minus the definite article. It’s not the worst such film (The buggy Nic Cage remake of The Wicker Man makes a compelling case for that) but it’s far from one of the best (Invasion of the Body Snatchers/Dawn of the Dead).

***1/4 (out of 5)