When you watch as many obscure, incomprehensible movies as most of us at Mondo Exploito, it’s easy to feel like you’ve seen it all. Then something like Mike Mendez’ Killers falls into your lap and suddenly all your experience and expertise flies out the window. This is some shit.
aka: Real Killers
USA, 1996, Mike Mendez
It’s the story of the Ryan family and their run in with Odessa and Kyle James, a pair of murderous brothers who recently escaped from prison and started a new crime spree in their small town. The twist comes from the fact that the three ladies of the house happen to be obsessed with the James boys. The family’s patriarch, Charles, is as straitlaced as they come and, as you can imagine this leads to some conflict when the James brothers actually show up on his doorstep. After forcing their way in with the family at gunpoint, the titular killers – or are they? – soon have Chuck’s wife and daughters in the palms of their hands. This makes up the first half of the movie and eventually leads to a scene in which a bound Charles is forced to watch Odessa seduce his wife to the thunderous sounds of his daughter getting railed by Kyle upstairs. It’s as awkward to watch as it sounds and sets a great mood.
The second half ditches the dramatic single room story of the first in favor of what is essentially a fever dream. Suddenly the James boys are at the mercy of Charles, who reveals himself to be a Vietnam vet and killer mastermind. Turns out this is all a game to the Ryans, they’re all lunatics. Before long the James brothers find themselves in a labyrinthine prison beneath the Ryan home that suddenly appears with no lip service as to where the hell it came from or what purpose it serves. Then the cops show up, fall through a trap door, and end up in the same weird underworld fighting for their lives alongside the criminals they came to arrest. They’re fighting punk rockers, by the way. I dunno why they’re down there or why they’re seemingly working with the Ryans, but there they are.
Best part of the underworld scenes, though, is Bob. Who’s Bob? I have no idea, in relation to the family at least. As a character in his own right, he’s perfection given human (?) form. A lanky, noseless, pale individual who just wants to demonstrate his lovemaking prowess to a hog tied and very reluctant Kyle James. The body language this dude throws out is so supremely sassy that he practically becomes the star whenever he’s on screen. The surreality eventually collapses in on itself and suddenly there’s a shootout back upstairs leading to an ending that implies that maybe more people were in on this incident than we previously imagined. This story is… Yeah it’s fine. It’s actually kind of cool. As weird as this series of events is, the dialogue and pacing are so well done that it makes it not only bearable but genuinely fun to watch. Couple that with some interesting, if not random, imagery, great music, and standout performances and you’re in for a treat.
On the technical side of things, it’s kind of hard for me to be informative and fair here. It’s a well shot movie, the music is good and the licensed tracks fit the tone well, and the sound is fine beyond the hilarious use of stock screams through the whole thing. But the problem is, there’s no North American DVD or blu-ray release. I had to watch the movie on an older German disc through composite cables. On top of that, it seems like the transfer is based on a VHS copy. So, as you can imagine, the picture quality was like fuzzy, blurry ass. Which blows because other than the QUALITY of the video, it’s a very stylish, well shot movie and the sparse makeup effects here and there are good. So I guess I’ll say, in the event that a higher resolution release somehow wills itself into existence, it’s a decent looking movie with a slick style that I really enjoyed.
The acting, on the other hand, I can comment on enthusiastically. The movie’s writer apparently played Odessa James, and you can tell he went out of his way to give himself the best lines. He sounds like Marlon Brando with a mouthful of crackers and I love it. He chews scenery like he hasn’t eaten in a week and steals the show in the process. Charles, played by Burke Morgan, does a great job of coming off as a naive, innocent family man one minute and a well oiled killing machine with a penchant for out of place one liners the next. It’s a shame that after this he went back to his roots as a porn star, based on the titles on his IMDB. Unless I’m just close minded and Lap Dancing and Vampire Centerfold are actually wholesome family affairs. Everyone else does a fine job, the guy behind Bob’s latex facade being especially memorable, but they simply don’t hold up to the two leads.
The writing, on the other hand, has its issues. It’s very much self aware and humorous toward the end, but early on there’s an air of arrogance and pretension as Kyle pokes fun at Charles’ normie VHS collection and speaks at length about the “corporate suicide of the middle class.” It works as a jab at the pompous, self obsessed attitudes the more famous celebrity killers tend embrace but I could see some viewers questioning that motive and wondering if writer/star Dave Larsen was just an edgy teenager when he wrote this. Either way, the good outweighs the bad.
Killers is a movie that’s worth finding but may be a bit too much of a chore to get a hold of for a lot of folks. It’s a shame, too, because I feel like this is a movie that could find a new audience these days. It’s slick, self aware, and has that hateful cynicism that us jaded assholes of 2016 love so much. At the very least, whether you can find a legit copy or not, give the movie a try. Especially if you enjoyed the questions Natural Born Killers asked but wanna see them discussed with more slapstick and underground punk cannibal fights.
Again, German DVD. (And an apparently hard to find German LaserDisc) That’s the only home video release I can find outside of the US VHS. Video quality aside, the disk is actually pretty nice. There’s a commentary track with Mendez, a making of, and a bonus DVD featuring some random German movie with no subtitles.