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Killer's Moon (1978)

It's not often that I'm lost for words, but Killer's Moon has that effect on me. I've seen it twice now for the purposes of this site - the first time I forgot to take any notes because I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing.

I have two theories about Killer's Moon - the first is that it really is the most tawdry piece of badly made, badly acted and badly misconceived cinema I've ever seen. The second is that it's actually a brilliant comedy, written with a subtle flair by intelligent women as an attempt to bring down exploitation cinema from within.

Unfortunately, the first theory must be the correct one. The acting is just so bad, the tasteless scenes are just so shockingly unbelievable, that it can't be a satire. Can it?

For the uninitiated I'll try and set the scene. Killer's Moon takes some really nasty Clockwork Orange style sexual violence, aims it squarely at a bunch of teenage girls in nightdresses, and mixes in some astonishingly crass dialogue. Then it adds some weird Carry On style stereotypes (the bus driver, the teachers, a couple of campers, the minx-like girls themselves), and some appalling special effects (one character gets an axe in the head with a comedy "shhh-dunk!" noise). And it does the whole thing on a budget so obviously tiny that the word "shoestring" doesn't do it justice.

As you'd expect from a film with such obvious exploitative roots, the opening music could have been lifted straight from a porn film, as we see the schoolgirls making their way across the Lake District in a bus. Meanwhile a camper is busy snogging a topless girl, who decides to leave the tent after giving us all a quick flash. "Why?" he asks in the bored voice he keeps up through all the mayhem that is to follow. "Was my performance lacking?"

Before she has the chance to answer, a three-legged dog bursts into the tent. With one glance at the gory wound, the camper announces "that's cut too clean for a trap", and realises his axe has gone missing…

Up in Whitehall, a minister is meeting with a couple of doctor types, and he's not happy. "A dangerous criminal escapes, and where does he escape from? Not from a prison, not even from a secure mental home, but from a cottage hospital!"

The film makers could be trying to say something about namby pamby liberals here, a la House Of Whipcord, but any credibility this little scene has is about to be shattered, as the doctor types tell the minister that their escaped loony was on a special course which mixed LSD with dream therapy.

"You mean this criminal lunatic is walking around believing he is in a dream?" shouts the minister incredulously (well, as incredulous as his poor acting ability allows him to get, anyway). "In my dreams I murder freely, pillage, loot and rape!"

"You do?" replies one of the doctors, raising an eyebrow.

Luckily, according to the doctors, the killers stand out like "blood on snow". Killers? Yup, there's actually four escaped loonies on the loose, and they all believe they're in a dream.

"Haven't people got enough to worry about?" replies the minister. "Haven't they?"

Back in the Lake District, the girls' bus has broken down in the middle of nowhere, and in the best traditions of horror films, the teachers decide that the best course of action is to leave it and look for somewhere to sleep for the night (surely a huge bus would be comfortable enough? Obviously not). One of the girls wonders whether it's a kidnap, and they're all going to be sold to white slavers by the bus driver. "There's no such thing," another answers. "The market has been ruined by enthusiastic amateurs, my dad said so."

It's unwise attempts at humour like this that really throw you while watching the film. The mixture of unintentional laughs (I have no idea what the filmmakers meant to convey by the minister's admission of what he dreams about - were they saying that fantasies of "rape and pillage" are acceptable as long as they don't enter real life?) with lame stuff like this is frankly bizarre, and it carries on throughout the increasingly tasteless proceedings.

We now get our first view of the nutters, all dressed in white (hmm… Clockwork Orange, anyone?), as they make their way through the countryside.

The girls have run into a gamekeeper, who takes them to a nearby hotel. The bus driver decides to wander back to the bus alone, and gets an axe in the head for his trouble.

It's at this point, even though no-one actually knows about the escaped lunatics or the dead bus driver, that everyone starts having premonitions about impending doom for absolutely no reason at all, with the gamekeeper saying things like "Things aren't right!" and everyone getting far too worked up than is healthy about the phone not working.

Our first proper look at of one of the nutters comes as he finds the gamekeeper's cottage, inside which is the gamekeeper's wife and the gamekeeper's cat. The loonie shows how the woman shouldn't be frightened by cutting off the cat's tail, and despite repeated claims that he won't hurt her, she picks up a knife and gives him a nasty cut. Or sticks the knife into a lump of bright pink latex, you decide.

Sandy, one of the schoolgirls, has been sent to a nearby phone box, but comes across the messy body of the gamekeeper instead - and on running away, falls straight into the arms of the bored-sounding camper.

"I'm just an innocent bystander, trying not to be as scared as you," he assures her. "It's alright, we're not mad rapists." (did anyone say you were?) "The only fiends we are, are outdoor fiends…"

Once again, as far as he's concerned, nothing has happened yet (apart from a dog losing a leg). So why all the concern? She shows him the body, and he actually seems less bothered than he was before! "We are missing an axe…" he murmurs.

"Blood on the moon, one mangled dog, one missing axe, and a girl who's just found a body at the wrong end of the axe. How's that for the great British outdoors?"

The bored camper goes back to camp, where his friend is sitting inside their unfeasibly large tent (which looks for all the world like a film studio with some blue material draped across the back wall). "One of those nights, Pete…" he announces. "Blood on the moon, one mangled dog, one missing axe, and a girl who's just found a body at the wrong end of the axe. How's that for the great British outdoors?"

Once again, this line is like some kind of iconic moment when you're talking about what could qualify as the worst film ever made. But to make it even more superb, it's followed by an enormous missed cue, which for some reason the film makers decided to leave in. After a moment of silence, Sandy suddenly announces: "Don't talk about me as if I wasn't here!"


But as if that wasn't enough, she follows it up with: "Why would anyone want to kill a gamekeeper?" (pause) "With an axe?"

Before we have time to wonder what it would have been preferable to kill the gamekeeper with, the topless girl from the opening scenes in the tent bursts back in.

"There were three of them," she breathlessly announces. "They wore white clothes, like surgeons. Their eyes were staring. They raped me…"

Luckily, Sandy seems to know exactly what to do following a hideous sex crime (what are they teaching them at the Maidenhill School?). "I'll need hot water…"

The men are by now (finally) approaching the hotel, where inside, the girls are holding an impromptu sing-along around the piano - all dressed in long, flowing white nighties and clutching teddy bears (just like all buxom 19-year-olds do). From outside comes an out-of-tune (and distinctly un-frightening) reply from the psychos, and they then proceed to burst into the building, kill the head teacher ("She's dead, poor thing." "Yes, but only a figment."), and perform a protracted rape on one of the girls, which involves lifting her nightie up over her breasts very… slowly… indeed…

Back at the gamekeeper's cottage, Pete (the slightly less bored sounding of the two campers) turns up and, obviously told to fill time for a while by the director, wanders around picking things up and shaking them until he finds the gamekeeper's wife pinned to the door by a knife through the throat. Before he has time to check out possibly the only half-decent effect in the entire film, her killer bursts in, there's a brief scrap, and the killer runs off again.

Back at the hotel the girls have all taken shelter in assorted bedrooms, but are tricked out of them by the old "ding ding ding - fire alarm!" routine.

Luckily, Pete has now made his way to the hotel, and immediately puts together a plan to rescue at least some of the girls.

Pete: "We'll have to go out of the window!"

Carol (one of the girls): "Should we tie some sheets together?"

Another girl: "Oh shut up, Carol."

Unfortunately, their escape route takes them past another window on the ground floor, on the other side of which are the nutters and a couple more girls. In possibly the most troubling moment of the film so far, the pluckiest of those girls still in the house realises that she needs to distract the murderers from the window, and exposes a shoulder to "Mr Trubshaw", asking him if he "likes girls".

This doesn't go any further (thank goodness), but it's at this point that it's worth mentioning the names of the four psychopaths - who all, in good old Carry On style, have ridiculous monickers. The one who chopped the cat's tail off is Mr Jones, Mr Trubshaw is the fat one wearing the bowler hat, the young sweaty one is Mr Muldoon, and their leader is Mr Smith.

Jones seems to be the worst of the lot (after all, he's already mutilated two animals and murdered several people), but we haven't seen anything yet. With a cry of "Is it a bird that sneezes near? Or is it a bee? No, methinks it is a dream sent to cure me!" he embarks on a cat-and-mouse chase with one of the girls. Despite having many opportunities to get away, she ends up staggering into a nearby lake, where her nightie catches on a nail and gets completely ripped off. Jones then advances on her and strangles her to death. As if this wasn't bad enough, the whole thing is accompanied on the soundtrack by someone attempting to play "Three blind mice" on a Bontempi organ, which is so hideously inappropriate that… well, I've run out of epithets.

Jones soon gets his (at the jaws of the three-legged dog) - hoorah! As the campers and the girls start to fight back, there's a bit of bizarre cross -dressing, and some frankly weird self-psychoanalysis by the crazies…

Trubshaw: "All men want to kill their mothers - isn't that what they say?"

Muldoon: "I think what I wanted was worse…"

…before they finally begin to realise they're not in a dream at all. Well, all of them except Trubshaw, who enthusiastically announces: "Of course it's a dream! And stuffed full of jailbait!"

(I am honestly not making this up)

"Look, you were only raped. As long as you don't tell anyone about it, you'll be alright. You pretend it never happened, I'll pretend I never saw it, and if we ever get out of this alive… well, maybe we'll both grow up to be wives and mothers…"

But the next line really needs some kind of a drum roll. If you can't quite believe what you've been reading here (and that such a film actually exists), this is the part that absolutely takes the biscuit. During a quiet moment in the kitchen, one of the girls has a quick chat to Anne (the girl who was raped when the gang first burst into the hotel), and has this nugget of wisdom for her:

"Look, you were only raped. As long as you don't tell anyone about it, you'll be alright. You pretend it never happened, I'll pretend I never saw it, and if we ever get out of this alive… well, maybe we'll both grow up to be wives and mothers…"

We've seen young girls' clothes falling off, dogs with three legs, stabbings, burnings, rapes… but nothing else in the film comes even close to this short soliloquy.

Outside, the gang has been reduced to just Trubshaw, who's busy pursuing Pete (who he now believes to be one of the doctors treating him) across the hotel garden. "Psychiatrist! Are you there?"

Pete (from a distance): "Go to hell, you bastard! You're mad!"

Trubshaw (to himself): "Now what sort of a reply is that from a National Health psychiatrist? I should've gone private…"

The film ends, as you'd suspect, with a fair amount of violence (most of it off-screen or bloodless). I think I'll let you make your own minds up about the whole farrago. But there are three final killer blows yet to be had.

The first is the re-appearance of a character seemingly forgotten half-way through the film.

The second is the arrival of a policeman in a panda car as the credits start to roll, with the immortal line: "Morning, miss… I understand you have a problem?"

And the third is the truly, truly appalling song that plays over the credits. Take it away (as far away as possible…):

My dream is a land far awayyy,

A place where my heart longs to strayyy,

A place beyond the stars above,

Where time stands still for perfect love,

I know I'll find my world some day,

For my dream is a land far awayyy…

And none of them ever worked in film again. I hope.

Last updated: April 27, 2010

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Killer's Moon

Killer's Moon

Killer's Moon

Killer's Moon

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