A couple weeks ago I wrote an article detailing the numerous unofficial “sequels” to The Evil Dead released in Italy. Those films, the La Casa series, are ultimately the tip of the bloody iceberg that was the copycat culture of low budget cinema at the time. In America, we were gifted numerous carbon copies of Alien/Aliens. Italians just took their ripoffs one step further by recycling titles and releasing a glut of “sequels”. Sometimes several different movies were released with the exact same title! The Church, The Ogre, and Black Demons were each christened Demons 3 in various territories.
Beyond some of the more well-known examples, such as Fulci’s Zombi 2 (marketed as a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) or the infamous Cruel Jaws, there are some of much lesser notoriety. In the comments section of the previously mentioned La Casa article, a reader by the name of Giacomo Calzoni drew my attention to a film that had managed to elude my watch-list all these years, Non aprite quella porta 3 (AKA Night Killer). That title roughly translates to Don’t Open That Door 3. Huh? Say you’ve never heard of that series? Sure you have!
Tobe Hooper’s 74′ classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was released as Non aprite quella porta in Italy, because…sure, why not? Released in 1990, the same year as the legit sequel, Leatherface, this attempted cash in on the franchise was directed by Claudio Fragasso. Yes, the man behind Troll 2 dared throw his name in the ring with the Chainsaw legacy. This film actually sent me on a Fragasso kick. Yes, I am a masochist. With films like Zombi 4: After Death and Monster Dog, I can honestly say the man gets a bad wrap. Yes, they are far from “well made”, but they carry a certain charm that you can’t find in many other films.
With Night Killer being released as an unofficial sequel, it’s unclear if Fragasso or anyone else involved in the production had actually seen the previous two films in the series as the plot bares no resemblance to the exploits of Texan cannibals or otherwise. There’s certainly no chainsaw in sight. In fact, the killer actually has long, razor sharp claws for fingers not unlike another popular big screen boogeyman.
Night Killer is a bizarre blend of Giallo and more straightforward slasher elements with several “Shade of Grey” thrown in by way of a few baffling sub/dom sequences. This truly is a “Franken-film” cobbled together from bits and pieces of far superior works. Those at all familiar with my tastes know that this type of trash is right up my alley. The script, written by Fragasso and his wife (Rosella Drudi), potentially shines some intriguing light on the duo’s relationship. At its core, Night Killer is a tale of rapey love conquering all, but we’ll touch on that in just a bit.
The film opens with a leg warmer and leotard drenched dance crew preparing for a big performance. Their director/choreographer quickly becomes the first victim to the most poorly designed monstrosity you’ve ever seen condemned to celluloid (see below). Seriously, you guys, this “monster” makes the goblins of Troll 2 look like Rob Bottin creations. Mercifully, it’s revealed very early into the film that this in fact not a supernatural entity but a psychotic maniac in a mask (a really bad one still) who has been murdering woman all across town. Thankfully, despite incessant claims from police and reporters that the victims are all sexually assaulted, our Night Killer only seems interested in ripping out hearts and slicing throats. Thanks Fragasso for sparing us that detail.
In a surprisingly intense scene (with a twist ripped from a late 70’s thriller and classic Canadian slasher) our heroine is presented as a sexually frustrated divorcee. Her daughter has just left and now Melanie is all alone when threatening calls begin coming in one after the other. The raspy voice on the other line is the Ripper, and he’s got his pervy claws set on her. Fragasso manages to choreograph the scene for ample suspense despite the obvious nature of where it’s all headed. Melanie survives the attack because we’re only about twenty minutes into the film, so…yeah. The only problem is she’s suffering severe memory loss. Despite having seen the killer’s true identity, she can’t for the life of her remember who it was.
From here the film falls into two separate pieces. One side of the coin, we have Melanie slowly losing her grasp on reality as she tries to come to terms with the trauma she’s experienced. Ultimately, she’s taken hostage by a sleazeball named Axel who may or may not be the Ripper himself. It’s unclear, shaky moral ground as Melanie’s bond with Axel escalates from unwilling hostage to ride or die chick over a few sweaty nights in a locked up hotel room. Is this a case of Stendhal Syndrome or poor screenwriting? You decide!
The other half of the plot is a string of random slayings, each feeling more like a traditional American slasher than a stylish black gloved Giallo caper. These moments truly shine through, however. Each set-piece is given time to breathe and build tension. Fragasso proves himself adept at suspense, and I’m now contemplating how amazing it might’ve been if he’d been brought on to direct a Friday the 13th back in the day. A moment featuring a chase through a darkened aquarium is a true highlight with a nice, bloody payoff.
Night Killer is a wacky, kooky flick that culminates with a twist so absurd that Shyamalan would shake his head in disapproval. That said, the moment everything comes together had my jaw on the floor. You simply won’t know what hit you, and for that – I’ve got to give Fragasso and Drudi credit for concocting such a bonkers conclusion to the story.
No, this has nothing in common with TCM, and you have to wonder just what drove the decisions of some Italian producers. Oh, wait, it was money. Nevermind. The biggest takeaway from the film is that Fragasso wasn’t completely incompetent in the director’s chair. He crafted several moments that rose above the cheese and had me jumping from my seat. If you have a penitent for 80’s sleaze, do yourself a favor and track down a copy of this oddity.