2 stars  

directed by: Ken Barbet
starring: Corbin Bernsen, Dee Wallace, Paige Moss, Jeanine Meyers, Bridgette Brooks, Andrea Langi, Joakim Alvarez, Scott Roman, Tim Carr, Larry Beyah, Bob Adrian, Frank Bonsangue, Melvin L. Cauthen, Sherman Roberts, Gregory Wood, Susan Moses

choice dialogue:

“Something tells me we’re going to regret breaking into this place.”

- Something tells me I'm going to regret watching this movie.

slash with panache?


[review by JA Kerswell]

  Does this kindly biology professor have the KILLER INSTINCT?

One of those movies you’d never guess was a slasher given its misleading box art, KILLER INSTINCT is a hot mess. Ditching the then prevalent SCREAM (1996) post-modernism, this harkens back to the subgenre’s exploitation roots. A group of teens search for each other’s underwear (!) as part of a scavenger hunt in an abandoned asylum. The only problem is that they are locked in with a psycho with a noose around their neck intent on punishing the group for the sins of their fathers. This has it all: toe-sucking, silver dildo waving, booby traps, boobies, a severed head rolling down an air vent, snarky teenagers nearing pensionable age, Corbin Bernsen devouring the scenery around him like a black hole with arched eyebrows, and the Mom from ET (1982) spitting out the line: “I can be a real cunt when I want to be. Gee it just seems like one of those times.”

15 years ago, townspeople hunted down a madman who had just butchered eight people and lynched him out in the woods. In the present day, a bunch of teenagers decide to break into Braxton Asylum - where the killer had escaped from - for a night of partying. One wag exclaims about the place: “Smells like my grandmother!” For some reason - presumably, so they will split up and be easier to take out - they turn off all the lights and take off their underpants and hide them around the building. As you do.

Meanwhile, Sarah Fairchild (Dee Wallace) is in town and investigating some shady dealings surrounding the local meat-packing business operated by Jenning Wilhite (Corbin Bersnen). Either that or she’s supposed to be overseeing some kind of merger. Details are sketchy. During her investigation/negotiation, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence around the lynching 15 years ago of someone who may have been a kindly biology teacher sitting on prime land or a knife-licking looney. I was trying to pay attention, but the plot seems to have been generated by a blender on mushrooms. The deeper she digs, the more Sarah finds herself in danger from the dastardly cartel that runs the meat packing plant and the bitchy waitress at the diner who keeps giving her side-eye.

  Assault with a deadly dildo in KILLER INSTINCT?

Back at the asylum, the over-aged teenagers have seemingly bought the entire content of a Yankee Candle store and the whole place blazes with the light of a thousand suns as they hunt each other’s lacy knickers and jock straps. Only, someone is less interested in underwear and more in hunting humans. The group discovers they are locked inside a booby-trapped insane asylum with a mad killer who wants to bump them off one-by-one …

Supposedly a troubled production and boy does it show. KILLER INSTINCT is more fever dream than movie. The teenagers look so similar it’s difficult to keep track of who is who and it doesn’t help that the sound is muddy and everyone talks over each other. The film is a throwback in a number of ways. Anyone bemoaning the lack of nudity in post-SCREAM slashers will be buoyed by the abundance of topless scenes in this. Which begs the question: who knew insane asylums had king-sized beds and on-suite shower cubicles? Taking us even further back in time one panicking teenage girl is slapped by a boy and the black guy dies first. Plus there is an ever-present thunderstorm raging to really give those Old Dark House vibes. The film flirts with modern touches - such as cameras set up to record the scavenger hunt before suddenly abandoning the conceit. In one effective scene, where the killer menaces someone tied to a bed and watches them from an overhead glass panel, it looks like they are wearing a mask. We never see the mask again. Nor their natty noose necklace. You know that children’s game where people draw body parts of a figure; fold it over and pass it to the next person to draw the next bit. This feels like the movie equivalent of that.

Co-written by the suspense behemoths behind one episode of the TV series THE NEW LASSIE (1990), the film appears at heart to be trying to ape the cartoonish devilry of EC Comics. It also appears to borrow the idea of murder by booby-traps from films such as SLAUGHTER HIGH (1987). It can’t help but have some minorly suspenseful scenes towards the end where a handful of survivors try and escape. There’s also a great decapitation scene involving an air vent. Although the climactic ‘inferno’ special effects make the burning ship at the end of Amando de Ossorio’s HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES (1974) look like the work of Industrial Light and Magic.

  Corbin Bernsen and Dee Wallace argue over who has the worst agent.

Both Corbin Bernsen and Dee Wallace have solid genre credentials over the years. Bernsen most notably for the killer tooth torturer in Brian Yunza’s THE DENTIST (1996) and its sequel. He followed this with the equally craptastic teen slasher DEAD ABOVE GROUND (2002). Wallace’s horror contributions stretch back to the late 1970s and early 1980s with notable appearances in THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), THE HOWLING (1981) and CUJO (1983). Both seem to be having fun here; although they don’t appear in any scenes with the teens. Unless you count the hilariously over-the-top one near the end where they wheel the bodies out and the grieving parents wail and grimace as if this was a Shakespearean tragedy rather than a movie that featured a silver dildo. In fact, Bersen and Wallace seem to be in a different movie altogether - and perhaps they were. Both continue to add their talents to help elevate low-budget horror.

KILLER INSTINCT was filmed over 20 days in March 2000 in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. The budget was rumoured to be $3 million - and most of it probably went on candles. In a move seemingly designed to stop slasher fans from watching the movie (and there were plenty around when this was released), the box art features skeletons. There are no skeletons in the movie. Apparently, the diner used in the film was the same as the one in THE BLOB (1958). And that might be the most interesting thing I can say about this bizarre misfire.



BODYCOUNT  bodycount!   female: 3 / male: 6

1) Male stabbed to death with a knife
      2) Male hung with a rope
      3) Male hit over the head with baseball bat and bitten by a snake
      4) Male killed with falling glass
      5) Male boiled alive in a bath tub
      6) Male decapitated
      7) Female stabbed to death
      8) Female blown up
      9) Female electrocuted



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