[review by Joseph Henson]
While Ron Howard was busy churning out Hollywood hits like PARENTHOOD and BACKDRAFT, his HAPPY DAYS co-star, Anson Williams, was relegated to directing TV movies, and the occasional direct to video entry. Potzie no more, Anson's biggest contribution to dusty video store shelves was All American Murder, a surprisingly effective murder mystery that was penned by someone with a love for witty dialogue and Argento-influenced mystery and murders. They may as well have called this, All American Giallo.
Artie Logan (Charlie Schlatter) has landed in county lockup after a misunderstanding involving fire and a snake left his dorm room incinerated. His father, a staunch, right-wing judge, bails him out, and laments that his only son has shamed him, having been kicked out of school after school for questionable behavior and the occasional bout of arson. However, after making a few calls, Artie's father has managed to enroll him at Fairfield, a local university where the shadiest thing lurking about is a deaf handyman - everyone else appears to be squeaky clean and straight from an episode of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. Artie, not one day in, manages to catch the eye of the Dean's (Craig Stout) sexually frustrated wife, Erica (Joanna Cassidy), while himself becoming attracted to little miss perfect, Tally Fuller (Josie Bissett). After a bit of awkward gawking, Artie finally gets up enough courage to approach Tally and wrangle a date from her. Before their love can blossom, Tally is set ablaze by a mystery man in a black trenchcoat, and Artie thus becomes the prime suspect.
It is at this point that we are introduced to Christopher Walken's character, PJ Decker, a local cop who we meet in a standoff with a psychotically jealous individual holding a knife to a pregnant woman's throat in a grocery store. Walken gets one of the best moments in the movie when, trying to talk the loon out of the store, instead decides to use sensitive information against the crazy individual to rile him out of the store - calling in the man's wife and using her sexual frustrations with her husband against him: "In the time it takes you to get a hard on, she could simonize a car and learn Hebrew." - and Walken's introduction into the story allows him to become the lead detective on Tally's murder, where rather than suspecting Artie for the crime, he sympathizes with him and believes the young man is innocent, and gives him leeway to find the real killer. Walken and Schlatter have excellent chemistry together, and fire off extremely entertaining dialogue at one another. In fact, this is where ALL AMERICAN MURDER reaches a zenith - it contains some of the most sharply-written dialogue in slasher film history, with such classic one-liners as "I've knocked off more undergraduates than Kent State." - and "What the hell is Doug Sawyer doing on my coffee table with a knife in his back?"
As Artie becomes a one-man PI in hopes of clearing his name, the bodies begin to pile up. There is a certain Italian influence with Anson William's camera angles and how they frame each murder - not lingering on the aftermath as much as the actual act of blades (and in this film's case, drill bits, flame throwers, and even hand grenades) entering, eviscerating, and melting human flesh. ALL AMERICAN MURDER's tone starts out sunny, taking place in mostly daylight, until the first murder, where upon the rest of the movie exists in a foggy cloud of 3 AM, where you half expect to see David Hemmings searching narrow dorm hallways for clues to the killer's identity.
If there's a failing, I suppose it would be with the identity of the killer and the motive. Now, anyone who's paid enough attention to these types of pictures will more than likely spot the culprit early on - there are a smattering of red herrings and false clues provided to attempt to distract the viewer, but the killer's true identity is fairly obvious. That's one strike. The second strike, and the biggest, is the motive. There is a theme of dangerous perfectionism behind the killer's reasoning that seems as if it would feel at home in the early 20th Century, and certainly not the late 20th Century. Granted, it's 2010, and alot of America is still dangerously conservative, but I don't know - the fact that most kids go away to college to partake in more experimentation than education kind of negates the killer's psychosis here.
Still, that's merely a small hindrance to what is an otherwise snappy little thriller with two uniformly excellent lead characters, a hammering of zingers, and yes, even a bloody murder or five.
female:2 / male:3
1) Female incinerated.
2) Male lobotomized with a power drill.
3) Male stabbed in the back with a butcher knife.
4) Female bitten by a poisonous snake.
5) Male eviscerated with a hand grenade.