Home Video Hovel: Nightkill, by David Bax
1980’s Nightkill is, perhaps disappointingly, not quite as dumb and trashy as its title would suggest. But director Ted Post (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Magnum Force) still brings a sense of matinee movie fun to this murder cover-up thriller. He also brings a bit of style with the help of German composer Günther Fischer, whose score offers some sultry soap opera weirdness not unlike what Angelo Badalamenti would later make the signature sound of Twin Peaks. Nightkill could never live up to that comparison but some of the same salacious loopiness can be found here.
Jaclyn Smith plays Katherine Atwell, a socialite in a loveless, opportunistic marriage of business convenience to a boor named Wendell (Mike Connors). She keeps herself entertained, though, by having an affair with Steve (James Franciscus), a young executive in Wendell’s company. One afternoon, the three of them are having drinks in the Atwells’ living room when Steve suddenly, cooly murders Wendell in front of Katherine. Now she is drawn into covering up a crime she didn’t commit or endorse, which becomes especially difficult when Steve mysteriously disappears and Detective Donner (Robert Mitchum) starts snooping around.
Nightkill takes place, and was shot, in Phoenix, Arizona, a fact that will not escape even the most distracted viewer. Maybe the production’s tax incentives increased with each mention of the city. My personal favorite comes after word of Katherine and Steve’s affair gets out and another society lady warns her, “Everyone in Phoenix is talking about you!”
Luckily, the Valley of the Sun drinking game isn’t the only fun to be had in watching Nightkill. Plot twists are abundant and, what’s more, they’re effective. Wendell’s murder is only the first time the rug gets pulled out from under the narrative. Each time, the surprise both serves the story and deepens the intrigue. And, miraculously, everything makes sense by the time it’s all over. Not that you’ll be much concerned with narrative coherence once you’ve survived the climax. Despite its title and the Blu-ray’s cover art, Nightkill isn’t what you’d call a horror movie. That all changes, though, in the shockingly gruesome finale.
Kino’s newly remastered transfer doesn’t seem to have been an extensive clean-up but the source elements were apparently in pretty good shape to begin with. The colors are mostly flat and muted but that likely has more to do with the pedestrian cinematography than the transfer. The same baseline competence applies to the sound.
Special features include an interview with Smith and an audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson.