The Todd Killings (1971) Poster

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sleazerama26 July 2005
Based loosely on real life killer, Charles Schmidt (sp?), the Pied Piper of Tucson, 'The Todd Killings' is a marvelous, underrated gem.

There is much to love about this movie. The cast are terrific. Most notable are the lead performances; Robert F. Lyons is truly outstanding, infusing his character with a giddy mix of indifference and charm. He manages to seduce the girls, impress the guys and squirm his way through a police interrogation with absolute ease.

Praise must go to the gorgeous Belinda Montgomery (Doogie Howser's mom). She looks thoroughly enticing and gives a soft, natural performance that looks like it was bathed in 70's sunshine.

Adding to the pleasure is the location shooting, making full use of what appears to be a small, sleepy Northern California town. One notable highlight being Skipper and Billy at a Jack in the Box restaurant - complete with an old-school JB clown logo and the menu displaying stupidly low prices (35 cents for a hamburger).

But this is no mere exploitation flick. The filmmakers have taken care with every detail and it shows. The relationship between Skipper and his Mom is perfectly addressed while she nobly attempts to defend him in the face of an angry mother accusing Skipper of hiding information on her daughter's whereabouts. Their two worlds are miles apart.

There is much to go on about here, but in the end, I simply can't recommend this film highly enough. This is the real deal.
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Great fun, better than River's Edge!
thecutz27 October 2006
Very cool 1970 character study of a pseudo-hippy turned serial killer. From the first 5 minutes, you know you're in for a treat. Barry Shear directs with real vigor, favoring tight close-ups and odd angles. There are many nice touches, particularly the swimming pool scene and the amazing opener. Robert F. Lyons gives a very funny, realistic performance as Skipper Todd; the big-fish-in-a-small-pond woman(girl!)izing hipster who is really the ultimate misanthrope. The scenes with his liberal, 'understanding' mother (who even unknowingly defends him against the mother of a girl he murdered!) are especially poignant. The movie is rife with political commentary also, for instance when Skipper's lawyer suggests he blame his killing spree on LSD and the fact that the kids in town still idolize him after he's found out. It features a tremendous script and great supporting roles from Barbara Bel Geddes(Vertigo), Gloria Grahame (The Big Heat) and a bit part from Michael Conrad (Un Flic, Hill Street Blues). Recommended.
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Interesting Time Capsule from the Early '70's
lazarillo18 April 2004
This is an interesting little time capsule from the early 1970's. I watched it because the video box claimed it was similar to River's Edge (1987), one of my favorite movies. It turned out to be the fictionalized story of a real-life serial killer nicknamed the "Pied Piper of Tucson" who partially inspired the famous Joyce Carol Oates short story "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" (which in turn inspired the movie Smooth Talk with Laura Dern and Treat Williams). While it is a long way from being a classic, it does capture the restlessness and malaise of the period, and like River's Edge is a pretty honest, if extreme, story of wayward youth. As other reviews have noted, the movie contains some surprising nude scenes, especially considering the female lead looks to be pretty underage. (I wouldn't be surprised if these scenes were trimmed when the movie went to video since times are a little less permissive than they used to be). The characters are pretty good, although the Skipper Todd character doesn't really seem to be too much of a genius when he dumb says things like, "But wasn't Herman Melville a fag?", and Robert Lyon doesn't really have the charisma to play a young Charlie Manson type. Still it's nice to see a movie that despite its extreme subject matter honestly portrays the period, and it wasn't all that idealized peace and love crap some aging Baby Boomers would have you believe.
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A early Clockwork Orange/ River's Edge !!
PeteStud6 March 2006
If you are a fan of the film look of RACE WITH THE DEVIL check out this fantastic obscurity that has sadly been forgotten also. I wont give too much away but this was based upon a true story of a young hood who influences his peers and is totally nihilistic and misanthropic. Fans of THE RIVERS EDGE should not pass up the chance to see this equally controversial and powerful film. Sure the budget limitations show but the film still evokes a gut punch. Quite sleazy and creepy this was directed by Barry Shear who also directed the fantastic ACROSS 110TH STREET. Seek out this great "bleaker" and if you enjoy it, tell all your friends.I put it in the same depressive bin as TAXI DRIVER, COMBAT SHOCK, CLOCKWORK ORANGE and GOD'S LONELY MAN...just a earlier shoestring TV movie version. I loved it.
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The American Dream … Blown to Pieces!
Coventry7 June 2009
Director Barry Shear here delivers a truly unique and mesmerizing but also sadly unknown and unloved character study about one of the US' most unfathomable serial killers. The film revolves on the mid-60's Arizonian killer Charles Schmid Jr; nicknamed The Pied Piper of Tucson. Schmid was more or less like a crossbreed between Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. Similar to Ted Bundy because he was a good looking, charismatic and eloquent local boy who didn't have the slightest problem luring naive young girls (hence the nickname) and similar to Charles Manson because of the boundary-free hippie setting and because Schmid also had a great influence on his docile friends and involved them in his murderous schemes. Maybe I'm slightly biased, because I'm a big sucker for horror/thriller movies that are based on real-life serial killer cases, but "The Todd Killings" is a genuinely astounding film from many versatile viewpoints. Although the names of the characters were changed to protect the victims (and the guilty!), the script remains very true to the facts as they occurred. It's also a brutally honest film in terms of period setting and atmosphere. "The Todd Killings" shockingly illustrates that the mid-60's weren't all about peace and free love. The clichéd American Dream image of handsome teenagers with all the required capacities to succeed in life gets totally shattered here, because they merely just think about taking LSD and having sex. Robert F. Lyons gives a stunning performance as the unhinged killer protagonist Skipper Todd. He hates and mocks elderly folks, toys around with all the local high school girls that pitiably twirl around him and spends most of his days parading around in shorts at the swimming pool. Skipper eventually falls in love with a sincere girl (the stunningly ravishing Belinda Montgomery) but can't deal with the fact that she disapproves his derailed life-style. "The Todd Killings" is very raw and depressing, with sober cinematography and downbeat set pieces. The film is extremely low budget and doesn't contain a single moment of bloody violence, but the nihilistic ambiance is nevertheless horrifying and the (admittedly gratuitous) sequences of underage nudity form unpleasant confrontations with the wayward world of the 60's. One year after this, Barry Shear directed his most famous film; the stupendous Blaxploitation themed cop-thriller "Across 110th Street". They are two completely different movies proving Shear was a very gifted but sadly underrated filmmaker.
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Belinda J.Montgomery not nude as she should be.
icyfloes.iceway25 July 2000
In the theatrical release of this film Belinda J.Montgomery did full frontal nudity but it is missing from the video version. Don't watch it if you wanted to see it for that reason. Also Richard Thomas(John-Boy of the Waltons) did a full frontal nude scene that is still in the video version but toned down from the theatrical version.
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Robert F. Lyons excels in the lead role.
Scott LeBrun11 January 2015
Intelligent psycho drama inspired by "real life case histories", or rather, the story of an actual thrill killer named Charles Schmid Jr., a.k.a. "The Pied Piper of Tucson". A character who prefigured guys like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson, he is here named Skipper Todd, and is played by Robert F. Lyons. Skipper is a shiftless yet undeniably charismatic 23 year old man. The youths of the town of Darlington are completely enamoured of Skipper; he's one of those guys where the girls want to be with him and the boys want to *be* him. However, Skippers' outwards demeanour masks a dark side. And some of his associates are all too willing to help him cover up his crimes.

All things considered, I can see how some people would find this film off putting. It is a sleazy story, to be sure, but it's compelling in a very sobering way. It does have some pertinent things to say about the way that people can find themselves drawn in by the force of someones' personality, for good or bad. Skipper is a mostly cool, unflappable type who makes it through police interrogations without flinching. His mom (portrayed by Barbara Bel Geddes) largely puts up with a lot of his aimlessness, and his new acquaintance Billy Roy (a pre-'Waltons' Richard Thomas) regards him with awe.

Well photographed in Panavision by Harold E. Stine, with a powerful score by Leonard Rosenman, "The Todd Killings" serves as a rather picturesque depiction of rural California in the early 1970s. Performances are all right on the money, with a large number of familiar faces on hand: Belinda Montgomery, Sherry Miles, Holly Near, James Broderick, Gloria Grahame, Fay Spain, Edward Asner, Michael Conrad, William Lucking, Meg Foster, George Murdock, Harry Lauter, Eddie Firestone, Eve Brent, Jack Riley, and an uncredited Geoffrey Lewis.

The opening sequence is a grabber, and producer / director Barry Shear prefers to just plunge us into the action, saving all of the acting and technical credits for the final few minutes. Close-ups are used to good effect, and Shear gives us an honest, unflattering account of these turbulent times in American history and a memorable antagonist who's very much up front about his contempt towards the world in general.

Seven out of 10.
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Jaded modern teenagers and their killer mentor
moonspinner5524 October 2017
Fictionalized portrait of a real-life sociopath and killer from Arizona (nicknamed "The Pied Piper of Tucson"), a 23-year-old dropout from reality who easily enchanted all the bored, feckless teenagers hanging out at the local high school and community swimming pool. Robert F. Lyons is quite persuasive as the seductive charmer, disassociated from reality and living off his mother (Barbara Bel Geddes, who enables his freeloader lifestyle). He enjoys playing big brother and lover to the misfit kids in his stifling suburb (it feeds his ego) and, after killing a girl because he "had nothing else to do," he has no trouble getting a few of the teens to help him cover up his crime. Richard Thomas is somewhat miscast as a hitchhiker Lyons takes under his wing (Thomas is intrinsically too bright to play this antisocial rube), but the supporting cast is excellent, particularly Bel Geddes, Gloria Grahame as Thomas' mother, Edward Asner and Michael Conrad. It's a technically assured picture, but one which is ultimately uneasy as a dramatic entertainment. Was it intended as a warning film? Rather, it's an exercise in glamorously dangerous narcissism--the disaffected youth too cool for society. ** from ****
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Little known classic
FilmFlaneur21 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Based on the real life crimes of 'The Pied Piper of Tucson' thrill-killer Charles Schmidt, Shear's second film offered a completely different, and far more salutary, view of the younger generations than his first (Wild in the Streets) - in fact, arguably rejecting any empathy with it at all. Starting in strikingly edited fashion with the hurried burial of a victim and ending with the police recovering the bodies of two others, The Todd Killings is a work whose negative view of a generation and its alienation is unrelenting, bleak and compelling. The "fictionalised dramatisation" stars Robert F Jones as 'Skipper' Todd, a charismatic 23 year-old slacker, drug dealer and would-be song writer living in the small Californian town of Darlington. Todd lives off an allowance from his mother (Barbara Bel Geddes, her last film) who runs an old people's home. Worshiped by a clique of younger females, Todd's own view of his dissipated lifestyle is characteristically cynical: "fornication isn't much (but) it's about all Darlington has to offer". It's only when he is attracted to the initially standoffish Roberta (Belinda Montgomery) that things get more complicated. At the same time Billy Roy (Richard Thomas) arrives back home in town, fresh out of reformatory, quickly rediscovers his love for an old school sweetheart and is taken under Skipper's doubtful wing.

Although from this summary it seems a film with two infatuations at its core, The Todd Killings is not a romantic piece. On the one hand we have Skipper, scheming and callous towards Roberta, while on the other there is Billy Roy, naive, confused and, ultimately, just as cruel towards his own girl. Neither relationships will end well. In this they are typical of the party and drug set around them, where the only real relationship is with hedonism. Others have noted the fractured and documentary style employed by the narrative, reflecting the lack of real focus in the young lives of Darlington. Only Roberta gets some real sympathy, but ironically its her will-she won't-she attitude towards Skipper and his actions which make up some of the film's less successful elements. When we first see her she seems a cut above the rest of her sex; her continued affection towards Skipper, even after the the most serious suspicions emerge and rape, considerably reduces her standing. Ultimately, even with her self-awareness and conscience, she is barely different from the others.

In the first half of the film Shear breaks up the presentation of Skipper's sometimes frantic, always shallow existence with more formal, considered shorter scenes, as the young man is interviewed in turn by police and military (he dodges the draft by pretending to be gay). At other times too, when faced by the establishment, Skipper acts the considerate, polite young man, and initially impresses Billy Roy's parents by his manner. At first he also seems to fool his former teacher, who's out trying to save local bored housewives from their own intellectual "death sentence" with reading groups of 'Moby-Dick'. At one point he recalls Skipper as one of his brightest former students, but now the young man is as dismissive of literature as of anything else. But we know that the slimy charmer is already a murderer, his secret buried out in the desert - just as his real character lays buried beneath a facade for his elders' benefit. Indeed, with one notable exception, Skipper's violence is hidden from the audience as well. It is Shear's achievement that he makes something shocking and memorable out of the coldness which remains, in an exploitation piece par excellence.

It's hard to think of another film with a heart quite as nihilist as The Todd Killings, a movie in which murders are committed just to see what it feels like, or because there's "nothing else to do", and in which a shiftless society of teenagers seem alienated from the magnitude of their actions. Other films have shown rebellious, shallow and disenchanted youth, but few are so thoroughgoing and so completely dark. For Skipper one of the most despicable emotions is pity, and his lack of empathy with others and is echoed back by his loose circle of friends whose only concern, even when the full horror of his crimes is revealed, is what to do when he's no longer around. (In fact the original shooting script was apparently called 'What Are We Going to Do Without Skipper?'). Some have compared Shear's film to (I think less bleak) River's Edge (1986), while passing similarities can also be seen in another favourite, Mean Creek (2004). A further film based on Schmidt's real life crimes, Dead Beat (1984) is not in the same league.

By turn charming, dangerous and self-centered, Jones' charismatic portrayal as the murdering misogynist is unforgettable, while The Todd Killings further benefits from an excellent supporting cast which, besides Bel Geddes, also includes Gloria Graham and Edward Asner. With hindsight, Richard Thomas' casting shortly after this as TV's John-Boy Walton, where he was to co-star in a completely different moral universe, gives his appearance here particular resonance. A pathetic figure, he is easily led in a world where nothing matters and "there's the crap, and living like you want to live." All of this is aided by some excellent cinematography as well as an outstanding, sometimes frenetic musical score by Leonard Rosenmann. Earlier in his career the composer had worked on Rebel Without a Cause. One wonders what he felt creating music for another, if later generation, equally estranged,but with a much more dangerous alienation, in which personal angst is almost entirely absent.

If you haven't seen The Todd Killings, then it may be one of the best films you've hardly heard of. If you have, then you'll surely welcome any chance to see it again.
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One of the great unsung gritty gems from the 1970's
Woodyanders30 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Caustic and sullen, yet crafty and charismatic psychopathic misanthrope Skipper Todd (superbly played with magnetic cool by Robert F. Lyons) kills a few lovely teenage lasses strictly for the sick kick of it in a sleepy small California town. Several severely alienated local youths help Skipp cover up his heinous crimes.

Director Barry Shear astutely nails a strong feeling of adolescent malaise, aimlessness, and pure unadulterated nihilism. The bitter and daring script by Joel Oliansky and Dennis Murphy boldly explores the darker aspects of American culture that include fear of aging (Skipper's mom runs an old folks home), obsession with preserving youth for perpetuity (the 23-year-old Skipper refuses to get a job and avidly pursues underage girls in an attempt to stave off encroaching adulthood), misguided (anti)-hero worship, and the impossibly high and unattainable standards perpetuated by the alluring, but frustratingly evasive American dream. The sterling acting by a top-rate cast helps a whole lot, with especially stand-out contributions from Richard Thomas as naive and awkward hang-on Billy Roy, Belinda Montgomery as the saucy and enticing Roberta, Sherry Miles as the ditsy Amata, Holly Near as fawning groupie Norma, James Broderick as perceptive English teacher Sam Goodwin, Barbara Bel Geddes as Skipper's stern mother, Gloria Grahame as the worn-out Mrs. Roy, Fay Spain as the distraught Mrs. Mack, Edward Asner as imposing bigwig Fred Readon, and Michael Conrad as a hard-nosed detective. Leonard Rosenman's moody score further adds to the overall discomfiting tone. Harold E. Stine's sharp widescreen cinematography provides an excitingly vibrant look. Unsettling for sure, but definitely potent and gripping just the same.
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A correction of previous comments
queenofthe9nile1 December 2002
I did not really care for this movie too much. I found it to be a little gross-a twenty three year old man consorting with high school girls...where in the heck were the parents....And also to enlighten future viewers, Richard Thomas does NOT do a frontal nude scene, he doesn't even take off his shirt. The frontal nude is done by Robert Lyons and personally I think he should have left his clothes on. It really was not necessary. But you can judge for yourself if you stay with this big disappointment that long.
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Thomas Condon, MA10 January 2007
I had a friend on the set of this turkey; an actor named Frank Webb. Thus, I was allowed to sit in on the filming as I was Frank's unofficial chauffeur during the time his license was suspended. The actors in this film were lucky to have work during a very stressful time in Hollywood so they took this project on. The shooting script was entitled "What are we going to do without Skipper?"

I watched a young Richard Thomas and Robert F. Lyons act...and very well considering the poor script. Even then, before I knew screenplays, I was astounded at the poor quality of dialog. I felt for the actors who had to wade through that muck.

This movie is barely viewable. It gives low budget films a bad name.
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