22 December 2009


United States – 1985
Director – Donald M. Jones
Prism Entertainment, 1987, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 30 minutes

Because I enjoy horror films people often assume that I don’t mind violence and gore in real life, but that’s pretty off the mark. I like splatter and dismemberment performed by zombies and even sometimes people as long as they’re fictional, but the real thing is pretty repulsive to me. Even working in a meatcutting union I have a hard time watching the butchers break the sides of cow. That’s why I’ll never get the “popularity” of serial killers. I can sit through a Giallo or slasher movie fine, but I prefer silly monsters, and  Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer did not appeal to me.

Murderlust seems to have come at a time when things were changing from the fictional to the biographical in the serial killer microgenre. It would have been difficult to get away with too much realism before then, which I suspect is why Henry is considered such a watershed moment. Something happened in 1984-6 that hardened the American psyche, and that sort of callousness wasn’t so shocking anymore.
One of the things that distinguishes the pre-biographical era is its combination of the ridiculous and sinister and Murderlust is no different. In fact it actually has a lot in common with Bill Lustig’s Maniac (1981), and not just in that respect. Intentionally or otherwise, Joe Spinell’s Frank Zito was both a psychotic murderer, natty photography critic and affectionate boyfriend. But he was above all over the top.

In Murderlust Steve Belmont is pretty much the same , but his overarching problems are stupidity and religion. He manages to stain a borrowed necktie before even putting it on but easily forges a masters degree in psychology to land a job as the director of his churches teen crisis center. Steve is fundamentally unsettling but the character is portrayed with a sort of pitiful slovenly loserishness that comes across mildly comedic. The guy is literally beer swilling trailer trash and can’t hold down a job or pay his rent but functions as the church's highly respected Sunday school teacher. This dichotomy captures the irony of horror films for me; Steve does unpleasant things, but otherwise the guy is a bumbling laughable idiot. Even the direction and script treat the subject as a sinister joke, and while I’m not compelled to sympathize, I can’t help but chuckle, and I can appreciate it because of it's hyperbole.

Murderlust is a movie that I bought for the same reason I became obsessed with VHS tapes in the first place: I saw the cover art and had to have it. The artist responsible is Roger Loveless who went on to do young adult mystery book covers and Dungeons and Dragons artwork (right) before turning to religion and “inspirational” artwork as it is called on his website. I can’t find any other movie related art to his credit, and needless to say, the Murderlust cover is not featured on his website. Although disturbing, like the movie itself the cover is rendered too intentionally, in a way that lends it a surreal, posed quality that pretty much makes my point all over again.

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