Exploitation is one of the hardest subgenres of horror to get right. Especially when a young filmmaker is attempting to do an homage. The best exploitation films of yesteryear (I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left) are films that take their subject matter deadly serious. Rape, torture, drugs, and murder..most of these topics are skimmed over when it comes to horror today. How does a filmmaker recreate this style of exploitation without even a hint of irony? If anything, irony is the mainstay of slashers today and the death of exploitation. As soon as a filmmaker becomes aware of the “joke”, the movies themselves cannot be viewed as Grindhouse or exploitation. These movies worked because they were all marketing, style, and low budget talent. It is with this in mind that I took in the latest 80’s style exploitation flick, “The Turnpike Killer” written and directed by Evan Makrogiannis and Brian Weaver. With a groovy marketing campaign (check out the details of the “VHS big box collection” below) and one hell of a premise, this film appears to have everything. Is this one of those cases where looks are deceiving? Let’s find out.
First of all, before I even go into discussing the merits of this film, let me remind you of one thing: “The Turnpike Killer” is low budget..ultra low budget. Gritty, grainy, occasionally out of focus..the film looks to be a mess (more on the later). If you want glossy, big budget Hollywood horror…well, I would say rent something else but why are you even reading this review in the first place if that is the case? So, with that out of the way. Let’s dig in.
“The Turnpike Killer” begins with a group of girls being held captive in a small building. Tied, bound, and naked, the girls are tortured (some are even death before the film has even begun) and killed by a masked man who is hearing voices in his head. This man is amply named John Beest and the voices are coming from his deranged father who drones on about Beest being the chosen one and these women are simply dying for their sins. Whatever sins they might be is a little unclear in this case but we are off to a ugly start as the opening sequence of this film contains more blood, guts, and nudity than I’ve seen in a horror flick in a while. I call this ugly but isn’t that the point? This is exploitation and who wants exploitation to be pretty and who even says murder is or should be pretty?
After his bloody vengeance, John Beest meets a young woman in the park. The woman has forgetten her cell phone and John needs directions. The way the actors interact in this scene feels unnatural and uncomfortable. In any other movie, I would say this is a problem. But here it merely adds to the tension. Beest gets quite angry when he finds out the young woman used his cell phone to call her boyfriend. She’s just a whore just like all the other women and she MUST be killed along with her boyfriend. This is when the threatening calls begin and the fun has only just begun. The detectives are on the case to try to figure out who the murderer is but can they stop Beest before he kills again.
Powered by a tour-de-force performance by Bill McLaughlin in the title role, “The Turnpike Killer” is the rare horror movie that actually made me feel disgusted and revolved while I was watching it. I don’t mean this as a criticism as I feel this is exactly what the filmmakers had in mind while they were making this grimmy little gem of a Grindhouse flick. The movie won’t win any awards for originally (“Maniac” followed a similar formula and had overall better production values) but you can tell that the people involved in this film did everything in their power to shock and revolt their audience. This is a film that I won’t soon watch again but it is also a film that I won’t soon forget. ”The Turnpike Killer” is sick, twisted and depraved. In other words, everything that I wanted it to be. For those of you that love your exploitation hardcore with a wicked edge, this is the one for you!
If you order through the website below you can receive the flick uncut on VHS and also include a limited edition DVD featuring uncensored cover art and the two bonus movies: Donuts and a Double Homicide – The Making of a Micro-Budget Horror Movie in New York City – a full-length documentary about the making of The Turnpike Killer and Devil Moon – a throwback to classic werewolf movies and other cult ’80’s favorites such as The Monster Squad and the original Fright Night.
The best part? All of this old school horror is packaged in a retro VHS big box! The VHS box cover poster features a Frank Frazetta inspired painting by distinguished NYPD homicide composite artist and ’80’s VHS graphic artist Robert Philios. Special bonus in this cult collector’s VHS big box is a VHS poster autographed by horror icon Ruby LaRocca.
To order: http://www.turnpikekiller.com/