Well, since it’s Halloween, let’s hear it for . . .
US / 89 minutes / color / Saratoga Films, Paramount Home Video Dir & Scr: Dean Tschetter Pr: James A. Baffico, Laurence Barbera, Beverly Penberthy Story: Tom Tully Cine: Peter Reniers Cast: Jake Dengel, Joe Sharkey, Susann Fletcher, Beverly Penberthy, Jane Esther Hamilton (i.e., Veronica Hart), Shawn Elliott, Pat Logan, Don Brockett, Michael Eugene Fairman, Jan Pessano, Robert Stoeckle, John Moyer, Jhonnie Marie McCague, Richard M. Sieg, Jerry Ross, Bob Perkins, Debra Gordon, Gus Wiedl, Victoria Dym, Taso N. Stavrakis, Andrew Anthony, Alice Gerber-Eisner, Beatrice Krebs, Suzanne Krut, Tom Tully, Rosemary Natale, Maureen McCullough, Kathy O’Connell.
A serial killer is stalking Pittsburgh, leaving the bodies of his victims hideously mutilated by assorted power tools and embellished with cryptic notes in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The cops in charge of the investigation, Sweeney Birdwell (Dengel) and Joe Blocker (Sharkey), are a pair of doofuses, loathed and abominated for their stupidity by Police Chief “Buzz Saw” Ryan (Brockett). (So, you might ask, why doesn’t he swap them for a different pair of cops? Don’t ask me.)
Joe, who vomits at the sight of blood and gore and is allergic to women, has a guilty secret. He was stationed in Vegas a while back when the city was plagued by a series of murders exactly matching those now occurring in Pittsburgh—in fact, it was the resolution of that case, when Joe’s partner Deke Taylor (Tully) shot the perp, Semmet Cairo (Stavrakis), to pieces, that triggered Joe’s phobias and destroyed his marriage. Furthermore, Joe knew all of the victims, both here and in Vegas.
So the Pittsburgh cops call in Deke Taylor to aid them on the case. Trouble is, the cop who arrives isn’t Deke but his daughter Deedee (Fletcher), and she’s not a homicide dick but a parking cop—a meter maid, essentially. However, she’s got more brains and initiative than Sweeney and Joe put together, and soon the trio are a team.
Also, Deedee happens to read hieroglyphics, which is handy. She translates the message of the notes:
“So shall it be, three times seven
Begins to brew the loss of heaven.
Instead in blackness, void of breath,
They’ll weep and swallow endless death.”
Hm. Maybe not so very handy after all.
Deke Taylor has been missing for some while, and loving daughter Deedee’s trying to find him or, if he’s dead, nail the perpetrator but good. A likely suspect is Semmet Cairo’s brother Jackie (Elliott), who has moved from Vegas to Pittsburgh, where he now operates the seedy Café Nefertiti and its even seedier adjoining motel. Seediest of all is these enterprises’ manager, Lobar (Logan). Jackie Cairo clearly has had lecherous designs on all the café’s waitresses, including the most recent incumbent, Grace (Hamilton; in fact porn actress Veronica Hart, who played some straight roles too and is surprisingly good in this one).
In what seems at first to be an entirely unrelated plot strand, Sweeney is trying to get his wife Erna (Penberthy), an impossibly heavy smoker who speaks using a voice amplifier, to kick her habit. Her clinician at Smokestompers (Pessano) and the “physical therapist” there, Henry (Anthony), try violent aversion therapy, but to no avail . . .
The movie’s an over-the-top parody in the same sort of vein as Airplane! (1980) or Scary Movie (2000), although done in considerably more execrable taste than either. The main object of the parody is horror, and devotees of that genre will find plenty of grue to whet their appetites. But it’s all set in a noirish/police-procedural framework—to the extent that, had it not been for the chronological impossibility of this, I’d be suggesting that the basic reference was to David Fincher’s SE7EN (1995), released four years later. (Certainly the lighting design shows similarities.)
In terms of humor, the movie did elicit quite a few chuckles from me. In this respect, in fact, it actually scored quite a bit higher than most exercises of this type. For me, usually at least four out of five jokes in these over-the-top parodies fall flat or are groaners, with only a very few making me grin or even laugh aloud. Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh kept me wearing an amused grin most of the time.
It also, in its loud, crass, in-your-face sort of way, functioned really quite well as a mystery. Through clever misdirection and the exploitation of our expectations, the identity of the perp is kept well concealed—I was certainly fooled until the grand revelation.
A couple of trigger warnings. There are elements during Erna’s aversion therapy that—through no fault of the movie’s makers—became a whole lot less funny ten years later, in the wake of 9/11. And there’s some lampooning of Hollywood’s stereotyping of Egyptians, including in old Universal horror movies, that could be taken the wrong way. Those two are in addition, of course, to all the gore and the general bad taste—although, to be fair, there’s relatively little lavatorial or explicitly sexual humor.
One of those movies that’s best watched with a few beers inside you, I guess . . . although, if you share a certain weakness of Joe’s, that could be catastrophic.