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.
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 beforced...to TERMINATE THEIR EXISTENCE!"
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.
"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.
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:
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.