From the video case: Victor Buono stars in this psychological thriller about a paranoid psychotic whose overbearing mother drives him to commit murder. Eight beautiful women have been strangled so far and the police are baffled. All they can do is wait until the canny killer tips his hand. But Leo Kroll (Buono) is very clever. He’s also a good son. He always visits his mother, whom he secretly despises. She’s an ill-tempered woman bedridden with heart trouble who has just survived a near fatal attack, thanks to her nurse, Clara. This makes Leo so angry he’d like to kill Clara. So he does. And now the police finally begin to close in. (1964, b&w)
Mark says: Until I started this site, I never really noticed how inane video/dvd box descriptions are. Anyway, the above description will work well enough as a synopsis.
This film is obviously based on the Boston Strangler killings that were taking place at the time, and I imagine it was considered quite disturbing. In fact, it is still unsettling, especially the scenes where Victor Buono (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte) experiences orgasmic delight as he chokes his victims to death. I have to admit to being a little shocked myself.
What’s interesting about this movie is that it is a portrayal of a serial killer before profiling became a popular tool in crime investigation. It’s not played as a mystery, but rather, we get to know the killer and a bit about his psychological make-up. We even meet the root of all Leo’s problems, his mother, played effectively by Ellen Corby (The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte). Of all the women in this movie, I think I would have strangled her first.
The Strangler‘s obvious asset is Victor Buono. He’s wonderfully entertaining to watch, and I particularly like the scenes where he spars verbally with the police detectives. Though this film can be slow-paced, Buono’s performance never lets you get bored.
If I were to find fault with this film, it would be that it sometimes comes off as a tv police drama. I was also disappointed that Leo’s obsession with dolls was never adequately explained. The dolls play so predominantly in the film that you would think we would get stronger clarification.
The Strangler borrows heavily from Hitchcock’s Psycho. Leo’s mother is psychotically overbearing and all the female victims are shown in various stages of undress before he strikes. There’s even a shower scene. Leo Kroll is no Norman Bates, but he is interesting enough to keep you intrigued.
This film is directed by Burt Topper.
Scene to watch for: Apparently, the hospital laboratory has no policy against smoking while performing lab tests.
Line to listen for: “I couldn’t afford to complete my medical education, but I have sufficient training to be a policeman.”
Trivia: You may recognize Victor Buono as “King Tut” from the Batman tv series, and as “Count Manzeppi” from the Wild, Wild West tv program. Also, Ellen Corby, who plays the overbearing mother, later went on to play Grandma Walton in The Waltons tv series.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.