Friday, April 2, 2010

Blue Murder (1985): or, Killer Klowns from Canada

So not that long ago I was flipping through Fantagraphics Press's Portable Grindhouse: the Lost Art of the VHS Box, and came across an intriguing-looking movie called The Porn Murders. On the front, a mysterious nude figure behind teasing Venetian blinds; on the back, a murder victim decked out in a dimestore clown mask with blood flowing down his neck. After reading the synopsis about a hard-nosed cop and crime reporter hunting down a porn-hating killer with a thing for clowns, I was sold. It looked grimy, sleazy, cheap and perverse, and I wasted no time in hunting it down for viewing.

As it turns out I, like everyone who grabbed the flick off the shelf of his or her local mom & pop video store back in the 80s, had been the victim of the classic bait and switch. Far from a grindhouse sex-and-gore disasterpiece, what I held in my hands was actually a 1985 movie called Blue Murder, which was made for and originally aired on Canadian TV. Instead of being angry, though, I was kind of delighted--it's been YEARS since I fell for that antiquated marketing ploy, and I had to tip my hat to the folks behind it, swallow my pride, and (like my younger, more naive self) watch the thing anyway.

The movie opens in media beer commercial, as busty big-haired babes in bikinis lounge around a pool, paunchy old men drink bourbon while wading waist deep, and a relentlessly peppy Casio keyboard reggae beat drills its way into our skulls. Soon we see a pair of black-gloved hands readying a silenced handgun, and soon the bloodless killing commences. The killer guns down 8 people before the opening credits roll, leaving them all with his calling card, the creepy clown mask from the back cover of the VHS. Even without blood or naked boobs, it's still a promising opening.

Clarabell had used the old squirting flower trick one too many times.

After the credits roll under the cheestastic glam rock theme song "Blue Murder" (sadly NOT performed by the eponymous Whitesnake splinter group), we meet newspaper columnist Dan Blake (Jamie Spears--identified on imdb as the father of Britney and Jamie Lynn, but clearly not the same guy) and his linebacker of love, a nameless cig-smoking beauty clad only in his football jersey. She informs him he has a phone call, which turns out to be the Porno Killer, who wants Blake to write a column condemning the porn industry, or else more pornographers (as those in the opening scene must have been) will die.

It was at this point the smile cemented itself to my face. First off, our hero Dan Blake has all the emotive ability of Batman-era Adam West, and also seems to have his haircut. Furthermore, we see the Porno Killer from behind on what looks like the set for a video dating shoot, and his voice--well, it's kind of a cross between the Caller from Black Christmas (without the bombasticity), the villain from the Inspector Gadget cartoon, and your best friend in junior high school trying to sound ominous while telling that old hook-on-the-car-door story.

Which is to say, it's PERFECT. Especially when spouting lines like this: "Tell them...WARN THEM...If they continue perverting the minds of innocent people...then...I will TERMINATE THEIR EXISTENCE!"

"I'm looking for the Goddess. Are you the Goddess?"

After finishing up with his lady friend ("We've still got 10 minutes," he purrs. "Well," she shoots back, "That oughta be just about right for you!"), Blake goes down to the police station to see his friend Lt. Rossey (Terry Logan) and tell him about the call. The cop has been working the killings, but seems strangely unwilling to credit his friend's story. "I just don't want to think we've some kind of schizo running around out there." What, after EIGHT MURDERS? Perish the thought!

Then we meet Big Time Pornographer Carlos Vespi (the awesomely monikered Henry Malabranche), who is less a skeezy porn-loop pusher than a minor-league James Bond villain, complete with outrageous accent and musclebound minions (including one with only one eye, though sadly not wearing a pirate patch), and who wants to move in on his dead rival's territory. Back at the newspaper, Blake confers with his editor and a priest (for some reason) about whether to meet the killer's demands. Afterwards the priest gives Blake a crash course in Serial Killer 101, and Blake tells Rossey he's going to "take the case," apparently forgetting that he's supposed to be a WRITER, not a homicide detective.

As close to porn as we get.

Luckily the cops forget this too, inviting Blake along to every subsequent crime scene and sharing all information about the investigation with him as a matter of course. They also don't mind that he's constantly packing a gun, which he uses often, and never flashes a license for. (Later when Blake asks for information, Rossey says, exasperated, "You're the detective!" Uh, no. I'm the NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST.)

Blue Murder tries hard for a gritty neo-noir vibe, with crooked cops, several red herrings, plenty of possible suspects, and even a love interest for Blake who happens to be the daughter of the media conglomerate executive who stands to gain the most from the shut-down of the porn industry. (They conveniently forget about Blake's girlfriend from the beginning--presumably a skanky one-night stand.) Unfortunately the bright sets, stilted line readings, and high school-level script thwart it at every turn. Director Charlie Wiener (what's so funny?) does okay with the opening murder and a later killing, but sadly has absolutely NO knack for building suspense, so that long chases that lead nowhere and investigations into brightly lit living rooms are just plain boring.

Somebody hit the after-Halloween sale at Walgreens!

So yeah, Blue Murder is pretty bad. However, it's also littered with touches of wrong-headed stabs at humor and inexplicable weirdnesses that help make watching it at least a little fun. To wit:
  • That football jersey Blake's ladyfriend is wearing in the opening scene? Get used to it. He wears it A LOT. So much, in fact, I began to wonder if Jamie Spears was a CFL star turned actor in this project, wearing his own number! Can any Canucks help me out here?
"Doug Flutie, NO!"
  • In addition to the awesome title song, we get a torch singer crooning the love theme, "Madly in Like with You"--inexplicably sung by a Marilyn Monroe impersonator!
  • "There's a certain kind of woman that gets turned on by cops with moustaches. It's a well-known fact!"
  • Blake and Rossey get slurringly drunk together, and Rossey is called into the latest crime scene. He sobers up fast and brings Blake along, literally carrying him into the room when they arrive!
  • Why the killer thinks Blake will have the power to close all the hardcore movie houses in Canada and shut down production of all blue movies with a stroke of his pen is at best unclear.
  • At one point we see visit a porn movie set, complete with underwear-clad actors writhing in satin sheets. The camera pans down to reveal a TIME BOMB under the bed...then cuts away to another scene, never showing us the explosion or even referencing the incident again!
  • Blake has some colorful informants all over town, including a teenaged Jamaican bodybuilder who appears to have a morgue in his basement, and a Charles Nelson Reilly lookalike on a yacht with his Venezuelan houseboy, who upon seeing Blake has been roughed up by the porn moguls' henchmen quips, "What happened to you, did you pinch the wrong boy's BOTTOM?" (This line becomes a running gag.)
He had his very own line at the DMV, and made sweet sweet love to a manatee...
  • As Blake and his date get ready to open a bottle of champagne, he suddenly stops her when he notices A BOMB wired to the wine bottle! He runs out to his garage, grabs some wire cutters, and quickly disables the IED, after which they carry on with their date as if nothing ever happened!
  • In the most head-scratching scene of the movie, Blake and Rossey brainstorm possible leads on the Porno Killer case--while Lieutenant Rossey takes a bubble bath! (No context, no explanation, and no indication that either thinks it's unusual. Rossey even asks Blake to pass the bath soap!)
A side of police work you don't often get to see.

The non sequiturs and craziness of the first half of the movie was almost enough to redeem it, but unfortunately the second half is made up largely of the suspense-free chases and nowhere-investigations I mentioned earlier, together with some shoe-horned family drama and an obvious red herring, which make the slog to the end credits a bit of a drag. Contributing to the boredom is the disappearance of the Porno Killer himself for much of the second half of the movie, removing the entertainment factor of his growly line readings and curly head of hair.

Still, it's got enough weirdness to offer a few chuckles, from both the non sequitur plot developments and the extremely stiled acting from everyone involved. VHS renters who expected some kind of porno holocaust were doubtlessly HUGELY disappointed, but I'm not sad I took the time. If you've got a taste for the inept, you might find something to enjoy. 1.5 thumbs.

"Okay , but you still haven't explained how the patio furniture got into the kitchen!"


Karswell said...

When I read "clown" and "Canada' I immediately thought this was going to be The Clown Murders starring John Candy, but that one I think was from the 70's (and from what I remember, possibly almost as inept as Blue Murder.)

The Duke of DVD said...

Ok, I was enjoying this greatly until I got to the "Doug Flutie No!" caption, and then I just lost it, spewing bourbon (as I had just taken a sip, pinkie fully extended, naturally).

Bravo sir! This sounds like a movie that I'll probably not get around to watching, but am glad to know about nonetheless.

Emily said...

This sounds amazing.

Actually, I'm sure your review is about 1000 times more fun than the actual movie, but I'm kind of thinking I have to see it. Love me some prominent mustaches and 80s feathered hair!

Liam said...

I think I may well have to track down and watch this, got to love inexplicable bizarreness that is never explained.

carlosvespi said...

I was overjoyed to find your review of my alltime favorite movie. Blue Murder is the undisputed KING of bad movies. You hit the nail on the head with "The Scene" in the bathtub. I can't say enough about this movie. I just got my copy off of Amazon. The original comes with a very impressive tray that should be sought out. The dialogue is non stop catch phrases. I was so surprised to find this review and have it be so recent. I've been a huge fan of "Blue" for many years. I'm considering a pilgrimage to the New Brunswick House Tavern since I've just discovered it's still there in Toronto. Any comments can be emailed to me at

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks carlosvespi! The Internet often offers just this sort of strange synchronicity, I've haven't thought of a thing in years, like Babies with Beards or Mr. T. Ate My Balls, and then suddenly just as it occurs to you, you find someone else thinking about exactly the same thing! Of course in my case it's usually the Duke and ex-cons, but the principle remains valid. ;)

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