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Leo Kroll, a lab technician in a large unnamed city, is responsible for the strangulation murders of several young nurses. He feels that in some twisted way, that he is getting back at his overbearing shrew of a mother. Leo also kills the nurse who is taking care of his mother in the rest home she is staying at. As a result, Mrs. Kroll dies from a heart attack. He also kills an arcade worker whom he feels can identify him.Written by
Brian Washington <Sargebri@att.net>
Here's something to contemplate - thousands of films are released in a year, from all different countries and at such a rate that leads to an often alienated public because of an overblown market of films. Many of us stick to what we know and what we see advertised and ignore what we don't want to see, as well as failing to look over the fence that has already been built around us. Sometimes films get a small release and are never even heard from again. With this happening year-after-year, it's simply inevitable that great films go unseen and films are almost completely forgotten about or ignored, with the only hope that blind luck occurs and cult-like interest is established for certain films.
I'll be crossing my fingers that such luck occurs for Burt Topper's The Strangler, a masterful little B-movie based off a real life string of murders committed in the Boston area in the 1960's. The Strangler was made while the killings were still occurring and the case still unsolved, which may provide us with a vivid explanation as to why this particular film was lost in a shuffle. For one, its release was limited, and two, it depicted ongoing murders that would only further scare an already tumultuous and nervous public.
Leo Kroll (Victor Buono) plays the titular character here - man dictated by his domineering mother whose only personality trait is frequenting a local carnival to talk to the two women operating the booth and to play their game to win dolls to add to his collection. Due to his feelings of alienation, his mother who never seems to appreciate what he does, and his inability to fit in with the public, Kroll takes on a violent life of sporadic, unplanned, impulsive murders that goes onto rock the entire nation and puzzle local-area detectives. Writer Bill S. Ballinger does a nice job at illustrating the relationships Kroll has in the film, from the spur-of-the-moment conversations with the local carnies to the one with his controlling mom, giving us an intimate portrait of a man with a collectively numb life.
Because The Strangler was written, shot, and released before the serial killer's crimes were solved, the film has the rare ability to allow personal beliefs and creative writing exercises to dictate its story's direction and outcomes. This makes the picture rather unique and subversive for its time.
While watching the film, I continuously kept thinking about Charles B. Pierce's The Town That Dreaded Sundown, another massively underrated film that concocted a similar concept for its story. The film centered around the series of murders that began occurring in Texarkana, Texas in the mid-1940's. The Killer was nicknamed "The Phantom" and boasted an attire of a blue-jean jacket, work pants, and a plain white sheet with two small holes for his eyes as his mask. The film used silence, beautifully-executed music cues, and atmosphere remarkably, and was released in 1976, when the case was still cold.
The Strangler doesn't have the same power on the horror level that The Town That Dreaded Sundown had but the film works as a truly remarkable little drama. This is largely thanks to a sophisticated performance by Buono, who handles this difficult material with a sense of subtlety and intrigue, exercising fright and believability quite wonderfully. Furthermore, director Burt Topper does the brave thing in the regard that he does not romanticize the violence in the picture, portraying the cold murders in the way they should be portrayed - as evil and unjustifiable. The bravery needed to make and release this film in 1964 was astronomical and the result paid off in an unbelievably rare way.
Starring: Victor Buono, David McLean, Davey Davison, Ellen Corby, and Jeanne Bates. Directed by: Burt Topper.
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