Now matter how keen low-budget ’70s producers were on the notion of making thrillers about people using astral projection to commit murder, this weak film and the following year’s even worse The Astral Factor reveal the basic problem with creating suspense around astral projection—there’s nothing innately suspenseful about watching a dude sit in a chair while his projected image flits about elsewhere. That said, Psychic Killer straddles the fence between watchable escapist silliness and tiresome junk. Although the picture definitely falls into dull ruts at regular intervals, there’s just enough clarity and pace and sleaze to merit a casual viewing for those who enjoy vintage supernatural-horror cinema. Hell, the movie even boasts a tangible connection to an earlier era of fantasy flicks, because leading lady Julie Adams—still an elegant beauty at the time this picture was made—gained immortality two decades prior by starring in The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Psychic Killer stars Jim Hutton (Timothy’s father) as Arnold Masters, an everyman convicted for a murder he did not commit. While in jail, he meets a strange fellow named Emilio (Stack Pierce), who claims to have the ability to mentally project his image. Emilio dies soon afterward, bequeathing to Arnold a magical talisman that facilitates astral projection. So when Arnold is unexpectedly exonerated and released, Arnold uses his newfound ability to menace the people he blames for his imprisonment. Some of the resulting kill scenes are colorful, as when Arnold’s spirit possess a showerhead and boils an evil nurse to death with hot water. (Maybe try exiting the shower?) Other kill scenes are campy, notably the bit during which Arnold compels a crane to drop a giant rock onto a heartless businessman. Eventually, the trail of bodies leads to Arnold, so intrepid policeman Jeff Morgan (Paul Burke) investigates, enlisting Arnold’s prison psychiatrist, Dr. Laura Scott (Adams), for help.
Cowriter/director Ray Danton and his collaborators have difficulty maintaining a consistent tone, so the movie wobbles between jokes and jolts, with neither element achieving much power, and things take a turn for the goofy near the end. However, the picture is made with a fair amount of professionalism behind and in front of the camera, and the storyline has an appealing meat-and-potatoes simplicity. Too bad composer William Kraft couldn’t sustain the Jerry Goldsmith-style grandiosity of his opening-credits theme music all the way through the film’s score.
Psychic Killer: FUNKY