Film: Prettykill / Tomorrow’s Killer (1987)

October 30, 2017 | By

Film: Poor

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Suspense / Serial Killer / CanCon

Synopsis: The clues to a serial killer may reside in the upscale hooker being wooed by a boozing vice detective.

Special Features:  n/a




After the launch of Pay TV stations in the U.S. and soon after Canada, the 1980s became cluttered with direct to video and straight to cable films, most being highly disposable productions designed to fill a time slot and video rental rack than stand out among the crowd as anything of creative merit. A fair chunk were filmed in Canada due to the generous tax grants, and the CanCon points system in which the more Canadians were involved in premium positions, the bigger the write-off.

Prettykill is a perfect representation of the bottom-of-the-barrel productions that emerged and one of the most amateurish, with everyone seemingly aware that whatever materialized in the final cut would be forgettable.

George Kaczender had made a pair of romantic erotic cult films U-Turn / The Girl in Blue (1973) and the film festival hit In Praise of Older Women (1978), plus the CanCon classiques Agency (1980) and Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid (1981) before finding steady work in Canadian (Night Heat) and U.S. television (Falcon Crest, Freddy’s Nightmares), and he seemed the perfect fit for an erotic-themed serial killer thriller, whereas novice screenwriter Sandra K. Bailey didn’t seem to understand how a thriller worked, resulting not only in banal dialogue, but mounting plot incoherence which led to confusing assumptions and giant moments of serious dumbness.


Cinematographer João Fernandes had lensed the hardcore porn classic Deep Throat (1972) and several mainstream exploitation films (including several action and thrillers for Joseph Zito, such as Red Scorpion), and applied straight 1.85:1 widescreen composition in the likelihood Prettykill might get a theatrical release, but at least in North America, on home video the movie was hard-matted to 1.33:1, causing figures in two-shots to drift a little out of frame. If the film was ever truly destined for theatrical, the colour grading was done exclusively for video (namely its VHS and laserdisc releases) using a scheme that was highly in vogue during the 1980s: primary colours boosted to an artificial, hyper-real levels.

Greens became chroma-green, a term that characterized an oversaturated look that was almost exclusive to cheap productions released to TV broadcast. Instead of creating Miami Vice pastels on film, many of these shows were shot on 35mm, edited on video, and retouched with exaggerated colour levels which at the time seemed novel. None of this trickery came cheap, but in hindsight it dated the productions more by boosting the grotesqueness of big blonde hairstyles, chunky jewelry, and geo-patterns in clothes and wall art.

Prettykill doesn’t look cheap per se, but Fernandes’ lighting is overcranked for interiors, and Kaczender showed no desire for any camera movements, making this ersatz theatrical film look like a TV movie; a handful of “fucks” and the odd bare breast in a party scene exist to guarantee an R rating for the MPAA, insinuating a risqué eroto-thriller, which Prettykill ain’t whatsoever.

Being an American production, it’s also made with a deep paranoia for not revealing any aspect of Toronto, hence all interiors, some night scenes, and a few street scenes are shot very tight; with the exception of the detectives abusing a pimp (War of the Worlds’ Philip Akin in a shiny geo-patterned sweater), shot not far from the old CNE grandstand, nothing else is recognizable.

To maintain the illusion of a sordid tale set in NYC and its harbour, lengthy montages of street scenes and a news helicopter whirring past skyscrapers recur, and one can argue all that chroma boosting helps blend footage from both locations fairly well; the problem is the montages always feel forced.

With Kaczender showing little desire to create any tension (one suspects he succumbed to the production’s limitations), that left the actors forced to transcend the awfulness of Bailey’s script – an impossible task.

The connection between two story strands is the unlikely romance between hard drinking Det. Turner (David Birney) and upscale prostitute Heather Todd (Season Hubley, utterly wasted). Turner doesn’t realize the lone suspect of a police killing in a raid-gone-bad is a hooker named who lives in a home with Heather’s Madame, Toni (Susannah York, also wasted). Much of the plotting bounces between each lover’s career issues, and a murder case that quickly relates to the young stripper from the South that Heather’s taken in as a needy border.

Little Francie (Killer Klowns from Outer Space’s Suzanne Snyder) has split personalities, with the Id manifesting as her abusive father and ‘Baby Francie’ screaming defensively when daddy gets mean & profane. Snyder’s sudden switches between three personalities isn’t bad, but Bailey’s writing really slams into potholes when it’s very clear Francie shouts when she’s flipping personalities; there’s no way anyone could miss the guttural profane shouting and shrill baby screams in the stillness of night, especially when it happens a few feet away from a sleeping Heather.

There may have been extra scenes showing characters arriving at Heather’s pad, but scenes leap in bounds and characters one presumes are in the house are suddenly missing. More peculiar is Heather’s allowance for letting a drunk Turner pass out and dry out whenever he wants; the opening hugging montage excepted, the lovers never really interact beyond dialogue exchanges. The only scene that works in the entire film has the two burnouts searching for an acknowledgement on where they stand: Turner isn’t crazy about Heather’s dream to start a hotel in France, but by the finale they’re ready to give it a go, being done with their respective jobs.

Equally clumsy is Francie’s former boyfriend (Germain Houde) who remains a creepy streetwatcher that characters see but do little to address until he finally approaches Heather and tells her Francie’s 100% nuts. Naturally his lifespan ends at the tip of a blade soon after.

Co-star Yaphet Kotto is only entertaining when he’s grinning mischievously as Lt. Harris, a boss who uses Turner’s cycle of procedural fumbles to get him fired, but it’s piss-poor role compared to the gloriously likeable Al Giardello on Homicide (1993-1999). Late in his career, Kotto had moved to Ontario and appeared in another Toronto-doubling-for-NYC drama, the CanCon classique The Park is Mine (1985), and popped up in a glorified cameo in the truly awful A Whisper to a Scream (1989), another Toronto-shot, eroto-thriller dud.

Among the cast is Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter, Away from Her) playing one of two kids living in the neat, suburban whorehouse managed by Toni, but it’s a trivial role in which the child actress runs and cries when Lt. Harris raids the place, and terrorizes the women with threats of arrest and separation.

The score by exploitation specialist Robert O. Ragland (10 to Midnight) is unusually melodic, but it’s a score designed to class up a dull film, and his source cues for bar, a party, and strip club scenes are terrible. (Strangely, the End Credit works, perhaps due to the strong vocals by Kelly Britt.)

David Birney wasn’t a stranger to playing cops – he recreated the titular character from Serpico (1973) in the short-lived series – but the overwhelming bulk of his career lay in TV, and one of his better roles was as TV anchor Harry Chandler Moore in the similarly short-lived but underrated Live Shot (1995), an acerbic poke at a big city news department.

Prettykill marked the third time Season Hubley played a prostitute, and although a mature variant of prior roles, it’s a pale character compared to the street smart archetypes in Gary Sherman’s gritty and cruel Vice Squad (1982) and Paul Schrader’s ‘journey through Hell’ Hardcore (1979), where she played opposite George C. Scott.

George Kaczender’s final theatrical film is Maternal Instincts (1996), a riff on The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) that starred Delta Burke; being similarly populated by TV stars and shot in 1.33:1, it may well have been another direct-to-video production.

Although unavailable on DVD in North America, Prettykill does exist on YouTube, transferred from a VHS tape with hardcoded Portuguese subtitles.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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