What this looks like is a side project by a bunch of supporting character actors, 2nd unit technicians, aspiring producers looking to break out of their stunt performer jobs and a studio with nothing to loose. My suspicion is that this was either a made for cable movie of the week type thriller or perhaps a failed pilot of some sort that got fast tracked to home video. The whole thing reeks of small screen television, and while not ultimately successful, memorable or even particularly well made, it's still quite watchable for fans of violent 1980s urban potboilers mixing crime, horror, and occult themes.
The story is sort of an early version of what would become the sidesplitting hysteria known as THE FIRST POWER, Lou Diamond Phillips' 1990 satanic serial killer vanity project crossed with certain aspects of the premise behind "Twin Peaks". The idea here is a study in psychosis with a supernatural twist: A spree killer in a very 1980s San Francisco suffering from a multiple personality disorder turns out instead to be possessed by some demonic force which overpowers his natural personality and drives him to kill. Or, something like that.
There are some oddball twists, like the brother of the killer who is some sort of psychic hipster Franciscan monk. The pretty patient of a psychiatrist who may or may not be under the influence of hypnosis as she succumbs to the onslaught of demonic dreck. Then there is the cop, who looked so darn familiar I had to find out where it was I'd seen his huge lummox of a mug before: Douglas Alan Shanklin is best known in geekdom as the behemoth security guard who quickly regrets referring to Lt. Sulu as "Tiny" in STAR TREK III: SEARCH FOR SPOCK. He also has a hip, soul brother street partner who used to be a minister and advises the big lunk on his investigation of the maniac's bizarre killings.
Or something like that. The story isn't told with much resolve, with various police procedural and stalker menacing scenes leading up to a big set piece showdown on, yes, Alcatraz. What is it with San Francisco filmmakers insisting on coming up with a reason to shoot on Alcatraz? It's a memorable location for sure but aside from a brief reference in dialog to an earlier assault committed there the action of the film could have been centered around the Keebler Elves' Cookie Factory and been just as brooding, evocative & creepy. Perhaps even more.
That's the problem I have with the movie: It lacks the conviction to know how to scare an audience with a demonic gabbering dual personality serial killer. Aside from the soul brother partner and the soul searching quasi monk brother, none of the characters are written strongly enough to make us really care about them, including the killer. He's twisted, vicious, unreasoning and demented, but so is my upstairs neighbor's dog. The film has three or four good jolts, a great final shootout in a prison holding cell, and the imagery of occult trappings juxtaposed against modern day setting elements will please fans of stuff like "The X-Files". Which again makes me wonder if this wasn't a television production that someone decided to go theatrical with. Or to at least release it as a home video.
The main reason to seek it out is naturally the rarity of the home video releases, which are exquisitely difficult to find. There is indeed a perverse pleasure that comes just from being able to pop in a movie that most everyday people simply don't have access to. With a bit more guilty pleasure content this might have amounted to a nice little cult curiosity, but instead will have to be known as the straight to home video production that inspired THE FIRST POWER. Or, something like that.
4/10: Nice try.
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