If many early 80s slashers inverted elements that were previously benign or even held with affection (eg FRIDAY THE 13TH turning the summer camp to charnel house or PROM NIGHT (both 1980) flooding the dance floor with the red stuff), then it wasn't actually anything new. Tab Hunter – the beach blond 50s teen heart throb who was dreamily referred to as the 'Sigh Guy' – thoroughly trounced his wholesome image in this sleazy and violent psycho-sexual slice of early 70s proto-slasher grindhouse. Smelling salts must have been in high demand for any grown-up Bobby Soxer who found herself in the audience for SWEET KILL.
|Tab Hunter roundly trashed his wholesome dreamboat image by playing a pyscho-sexual killer in 1970's SWEET KILL|
Hunter plays Eddie, a popular and handsome high school coach; who is given to passing out advice about women to his charges. Only Eddie isn't all he seems – and probably isn't best placed to offer relationship advice. Whilst he carries on a seemingly normal, if chaste, relationship with a fellow teacher (Nadyne Turney) – who lives upstairs from him in an apartment block near Venice Beach – he has some distinctive sexual quirks. He regularly visits a blonde prostitute (exploitation movie legend Roberta Collins) who lies on the bed and pretends to be dead whilst Eddie lays his head on her chest and masturbates (tastefully hinted at by the flicker of a jerking arm). Despite the subject matter and evident sleaze, SWEET KILL admittedly doesn't go quite as far as fellow infamous corpse-shagger LOVE ME DEADLY (1973).
Essentially, Eddie was fucked up by his mother (although the film fudges exactly how). In a flashback scene we see what we presume is him as a child spying on his mother as she lies naked in bed. He graduates to stealing panties as a woman soaps her breasts in the bath – and there are a lot of naked breasts in this film. However, it is not until he accidentally kills a young woman he picks up on the beach (Kate McKeown) that his sexual quirks take on an even more disturbing twist and he finds that he can indulge his necrophile fantasies with real dead bodies…
|SWEET KILL was re-released with added nudity and sex scenes after it flopped at the box office as THE AROUSERS in 1973|
SWEET KILL is something of a disjointed mess as a thriller. This could have something to do with the fact that producer Roger Corman insisted that new sex and nudity scenes were shot after it initially bombed at the box office in 1970 (it was originally filmed under the title A KISS FROM EDDIE). It was re-released as THE AROUSERS in 1973 with an advertising campaign that highlighted the film's buxom attributes but neglected to even mention Hunter's involvement. It seems that it is this later version that is currently available, so it is difficult to judge whether the film worked better as a thriller before the re-edit – although given many of the leaden passages probably not.
However, there are a few suspense gems in there. In one scene the flatmate of the woman from the beach (Cherie Latimer) (who rightly suspects Eddie's involvement in her friend's disappearance) nearly gets caught when Eddie hears her footsteps from the apartment below when she is snooping around. Even more arresting is a scene where Eddie stalks her to her apartment and surprises her and her boyfriend as they sleep. A knife-wielding Eddie chases her through the night and she bangs on the doors of her neighbours screaming for help, only to be ignored. Obviously, John Carpenter added a very similar scene to HALLOWEEN in 1978 – and you have to wonder if SWEET KILL provided inspiration for it?
SWEET KILL is essentially another grindhouse riff on the themes made popular in Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960), with Mother problems, impotence, rage and bathroom murder (here near the end) all on the menu. Hunter is excellent as the deeply disturbed teacher, whose good looks are like a honey trap for the ladies – and somewhat bizarrely has a never explained connection to pigeons! He has to be admired for trashing his image quite so fully. Although his career had already hit the TV skids long before he agreed to appear in this. He went on to gleefully further subvert his image in John Waters' wonderful POLYESTER (1981). He also appeared in the slasher spoof PANDEMONIUM (1982) and was reunited for a second time with Divine in 1989's semi-slasher OUT OF THE DARK.
|SWEET KILL features a scene of a woman trying to raise help (and failing) that is very similar to the later HALLOWEEN (1978)|
Around the same time, fellow then-closeted Hollywood star Rock Hudson appeared as another killer high school coach in Roger Vadim's major studio picture ALL THE PRETTY MAIDS IN A ROW (1971). However, whilst that film was played as a black comedy SWEET KILL plays it surprisingly, er, straight. The only comedy in the film comes from Eddie's brassy landlady (Isabel Jewel – the last role for an actress whose career had spanned everything from GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) to Jacques Tourneur's excellent LEOPARD MAN (1943) (which had a few proto-slasher leanings itself)). Eagle-eyed viewers might also spot Angus Scrimm (soon to find infamy as the Tall Man in the PHANTASM films) as her husband.
As for 50s heart-throbs, something must have been in the water and special mention has to also be made of Troy Donahue going psycho in THE LOVE THRILL MURDERS (1971). Not to mention Frankie Avalon as a bug-eyed, flute playing, fork-lift truck driving nutjob in 1982's BLOOD SONG.
SWEET KILL was directed by Curtis Hanson, who – perhaps surprisingly – went onto high profile Hollywood fayre such as LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997). He also mined the psycho-thriller to much more polished effect with 1992's THE HAND THAT ROCKED THE CRADLE.
Worth a watch for the few arresting scenes and Tab Hunter's no holds barred performance.
female:5 / male:0
1) Female falls and hits her head
2) Female stabbed to death
3) Female stabbed to death
4) Female stabbed to death
5) Female stabbed to death