Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Strangler (1964)

Title: The Strangler
Year: 1964
Director Burt Topper

In similar vein to Psycho's Norman Bates, The Strangler's demented protagonist, Leo Kroll (played by well known character actor Victor Buono) is a young man who has struggled his whole life with no father and a passive-aggressive shrill of a mother who inculcated in her son a hatred of other women. By the age of 30, Kroll is a lab technician by day and gentleman neck wringer of nurses by night, his use of the victim's own nylon stockings a direct reference to "Boston Strangler" Albert DeSalvo's murder MO (minus the sexual assault). Why nurses are specifically targeted early on is unknown, but Leo's mother is under constant nursing care and perhaps he's pathologically jealous of their intimate relationship.

As if that weren't enough Kroll also has an obsession with dolls, the winning prizes of an arcade ring toss game he frequently patronizes. The operator, Tully, played by Davey Davison in her first movie role, is the object of his unrequited affection and one suspects his outwardly wholesome desire for her company is the only thing keeping his life from going completely off the rails. Kroll associates each of these dolls with a victim, removing their clothes after the murder is committed and storing the naked dolls all together in his locked desk drawer at home. The origin of the doll fetish is unexplained and isn't really important, mainly serving as a plot device to connect the characters and aid the police investigation. With the homicide squad finally closing in, Tully, by rejecting Leo's desperate marriage proposal, sets in motion the movie's denouement.

The police procedural part of the film is largely forgettable, the killings rather too quick and sanitary, and the scenes with the archetypal domineering mother character (played by Ellen Corby of The Waltons fame) are by current standards tiresomely by the numbers, but taken as a whole the movie is quite good.  As mentioned earlier, Buono as Leo Kroll is the best reason to watch the film. Though Kroll is no master criminal mind, his dialogue and crafty delivery during scenes with the police, his co-worker, and the girls at the arcade are a cut far above typical drive-in shocker fare of the period.  Buono is believable as the killer (or "schizo" as the police psychiatrist calls him). He projects considerable egotism, sly menace, and emasculated vulnerability in equal measure, all in a big bear of a body.

While its attempts to exploit the success of 1960's Psycho and the real life Boston Strangler killings are striking and obvious, The Strangler nevertheless manages to succeed enough on its own to make it worthy of recommended viewing.

Rating: 6/10

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