Yet another story about a traumatized Vietnam vet perpetrating a crime spree, My Friends Need Killing nearly works. The premise is intriguing and tragic, leading man Greg Mullavey’s performance is fairly credible, and writer-director Paul Leder came up with a offbeat ticking-clock device because the vet’s girlfriend shares her fears with a psychiatrist who determines that action must be taken to prevent bloodshed. Unfortunately, Leder’s direction is hopelessly inept, and the film’s production values are distractingly shoddy. What should have been a crackerjack thriller with a humanistic core—something on the order of a good Larry Cohen movie—instead becomes a dreary slog with too much gore and too little momentum. Worse, Leder slides into the exploitation-movie gutter with an unnecessary subplot during which the vet becomes a rapist. Since My Friends Need Killing probably isn’t exciting enough to stimulate the lizard-brain crowd, it’s unfortunate that Leder’s sleazy extremes alienate the thinking-person audience, meaning My Friends Need Killing isn’t likely to satisfy highbrow or lowbrow viewers.
That said, the premise is provocative: Upon returning from Vietnam, a soldier decides that he and his fellow soldiers committed such unforgivable war crimes that they all must die. You can see how this might have been powerful if executed with more skill. Gene (Mullavey) regularly suffers night terrors, alarming his wife, Laura (Meredith McRae). To soothe his conscience, he writes letters to his old war buddies saying he’s going to visit them—and during each visit, Gene savagely murders one of his friends. Back home, Laura pieces together clues and talks to Gene’s shrink, so they eventually try to stop Gene’s bloody vengeance mission.
Sometimes, Leder reveals what this movie might have been, as when Gene becomes conflicted about murdering his sensitive (read: gay) friend, Les (Roger Cruz). Other times, Leder follows the disappointing thrill-kill path, devolving My Friends Need Killing into typical grindhouse junk. The film has just enough depth and insight that it’s unwise to completely dismiss the endeavor; speaking generally, examining the way various filmmakers dealt with PTSD provides insights regarding attitudes toward veterans during a fraught time in American history. Dramatically, however, this film is very nearly a washout, favoring shock over suspense and thereby undercutting worthwhile themes.
My Friends Need Killing: FUNKY