When a local institution for the mentally ill suffers a power failure, four psychopathic inmates from the third floor walk out the front door to wreak havoc on a new Doctor’s family and anyone else who happens to get in their way.
This early production from New Line Cinema gives Jack Palance top billing as the leader of our quartet with murder on their minds. He’s a former military man joined by Martin Landau as a preacher who loves fire and Erland Van Lidth as a behemoth rapist. The fourth man of the group is a mystery figure known as the bleeder.
Adding to the fun is Donald Pleasence as the quirky Doctor who runs the institution. It’s the A-Team’s Dwight Schultz who is the new psychiatrist who the foursome have marked for death. They believe he is responsible for the death of their former doctor.
As the bodies pile up Schultz and family along with his sister and Phillip Clark find themselves trapped in their secluded house. It reminds me briefly of the set up in the farmhouse for Night of the Living Dead. Pleasence turns up to face down Landau and call out to him the Lord’s commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Landau with the craziest of grins has the perfect response. “Vengeance is mine!”
From here it’s a matter of which actors will survive and which will face a bloody demise.
Jack Palance lends his strong presence to this horror film from the early days of the slasher film era. While it gets lost in the mix it has an outstanding cast that shouldn’t be overlooked. Jack’s habit of breathing lines rather than just saying them once again gives him a fierce dynamic that is hard to match. While he jumps at the camera occasionally his performance this time out is rather restrained while he let’s Landau do most of the hamming.
Surprisingly this is a much better crafted film than the Halloween’s and Friday the 13th’s of the day but it lacks their drive and sole device of evil. Who’s going to make a series of films with Palance and Landau?
Erland Van Lidth is a mountain of a man who only appeared in four films including his role opposite Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the hilarious Stir Crazy before his early death.
The movie panders to the exploitation crowd with a customary teen sex scene that doesn’t end well for the young duo but it does allow for one of the film’s biggest marketing devices captured on the film poster.
Even the film’s trailer goes for the drive in crowd without revealing what the plot of the film is really about. Perhaps they should have played it straight with more details on the direction of the film for the t.v. ads.
This was the directorial debut for Jack Sholder who would go on to do many genre titles including the first Nightmare on Elm Street sequel which was also a New Line Cinema production.
Totally watchable thriller for it’s time with a freaky unveiling of the fourth killer known as the bleeder. Still I did find myself wishing for more Jack. With all due respect to Pleasence and Landau, Jack is the reason I’m tuning in.