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The Thrill Killers

a/k/a Mad Dog Click

a/k/a The Maniacs are Loose

a/k/a The Monsters are Loose

     "A New Screen Innovation. So Scary -- We Dare You to See the World's First Horror Movie Made in Hallucinogenic HYPNO-VISION! Hallucinogenic Horrors -- Not Only on the Screen, But in the Audience -- All Around You -- You Become Part of the Picture! Live Maniacs in the Audience! All Over the Theater, Looking for Victims!"

-- Hmmmnn ... Maybe shoulda called it The Over-Killers     




Gonzoid Cinema




Ride 'em, Psycho!

Yippee-Ki-Yaaaay, Thrill-Killers!


Watch it!



Sights &
Thrill Killers

Newspaper Ads

The Many
Aliases of
Ray Dennis

Cash Flagg

Sven Christian

Sven Hellstrom

Sven Golly

Harry Nixon

Michael J. Rogers

Wolfgang Schmidt

Sherwood Strickler

Cindy Lou Sutters

And What

Wild Guitar

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies

Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters

The Thrill Killers

Rat Pfink a Boo-Boo

Sinthia: The Devil's Doll

The Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire

Blood Shack

The Hollywood Strangler meets the Skidrow Slasher


We open with over-the-hill actor Joe Saxon (Joe "Brick" Bardo) aimlessly wandering the streets of Hollywood. Taunted by our narrator, who, like Joe, is wondering where the next paycheck will come from to pay for all his Hollywood trappings, the actor returns to his mansion, where he finds his trophy wife, Liz Saxon (Liz Renay), lounging by the pool. Next, we switch away to another denizen of Los Angeles: Dennis Keskidan (Atlas King); an ordinary Joe, with and ordinary wife, ordinary kids, and ordinary job. Yes, Mr. Keskidan is just trying to live the American dream -- until he makes the fatal mistake of taking pity on a stranded hitchhiker and stops to give him a lift. For the hitchhiker in question is Mad Dog Click (Cash Flagg -- a/k/a you know who), who commandeers Keskidan's car -- after giving the owner a lethal dose of lead poisoning with a Luger injector.

Atlas King: Speed Bump

And just in case we weren't sure if Click was a sociopath or not, he picks up a hooker (Erina Enya); but, things seems normal enough until they get back to her apartment, where, washed in the blinking neon glow of the signs outside, things turn sinister when Click starts smacking her around with no provocation, and then ends the evening by stabbing her -- repeatedly, with a handy pair of scissors ... Meanwhile, back in the tarnished tinsel of LA-LA land, after a wild night of hosting a party they couldn't afford for several [real life] one-lung producers -- including Arch Hall Sr. and George Morgan (...and how they're going to get that motorcycle out of the pool is beyond me) -- Liz concludes that she's had enough of life with Joe. And since they're all washed up, she leaves him a goodbye note and sneaks off while he sleeps. Of course, she misses the radio report that three more lunatics have escaped from prison and are believed to be loose in the area. Also missing this broadcast, two more characters enter the fray: a couple of young lovebirds (Ron Burr and Carolyn Brandt), who want to take a tour of their soon to be new home. They were supposed to meet the old owner there that afternoon, but he's nowhere to be found. Since the house is unlocked -- and only a cursory glance shows this derelict will be one helluva fixer-upper, the two head inside, where there's signs that the owner is home -- the record player is going, food on the table -- but he still doesn't answer their calls. Moving on to the guest house, they find it in worse shape than the main building. Exploring further, the couple head upstairs, where they finally find the owner -- well, make that found the owner's dismembered head!

...Egad, but this is freakin' embarrassing. We've been at this for over -- what, five years and we're only now just finally get around to doing our FIRST Ray Dennis Steckler flick!? Man, I've let you down; I've let myself down. We've done Wood, Mikels, and two friggin' movies by Larry Buchanan, but no Steckler. Hell, I like Steckler. Oh, man. And I also just realized we haven't done anything by Albert Pyun, Al Adamson or Andy Milligan yet, either. Keerist I need to get on the ball or they're gonna revoke my union card.

Okay, then ... Now, What can I tell you about Ray Dennis Steckler that you probably didn't know already? You probably already knew that he has more aliases than any other actor or director that I can think of. (And all his films each have about a dozen different titles as well.) You probably already knew the notorious reputations of his films with their dubious titles like The Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, The Hollywood Strangler meets the Skid Row Slasher and Rat Pfink a Boo Boo. What I can tell you is that Creatures began life as Face of Evil, which then became The Incredibly Strange Creatures: Or Why I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed Up Zombie until Columbia sued on behalf of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove; and the rest is gonzoidal film history. And you probably already knew that his wife, Carolyn Brandt, starred in most of his films, and how she usually wound up meeting a violent end in damned near all of them.

As the legend goes, Steckler was bitten by the filmmaking bug early when his stepfather gave him an 8mm movie camera for his 15th birthday. Several home movies about cowboys and pirates soon followed. And after a hitch in the service, where he honed his craft in the Signal Corps. -- like a lot of other burgeoning filmmakers of the 1950's -- Steckler got a call from an old army buddy to come out to Hollywood to run the camera for Timothy Carey's tour-de-demented The World's Greatest Sinner, when the original cinematographer was fired. After that, Steckler managed to get his union card and kept stringing jobs together as a catch-all industry roustabout, including several TV gigs at Universal, where, according to another legend, Steckler was fired by Alfred Hitchcock himself after Steckler nearly ran the famous director over while moving several A-Frame flats around a set for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But Steckler landed on his feet at Fairway International, where Arch Hall Sr. turned him loose for his first directing gig, Wild Guitar -- which also turned out to be Steckler's acting debut when he had to sub in for the lead heavy because Hall feared southern drive-in audiences wouldn't be very keen on the original actor's skin color; and to save the potential box-office, Steckler adapted the screen name of Cash Flagg and went toe to toe with Arch Hall Jr. on both sides of the camera.

Then came The Incredibly Strange Creatures, where Steckler, a pretty good cinematographer himself, broke in the likes of Joseph P. Mascelli, Vilmos Zsigmond and Lazlo Kovacs before turning them over to Spielberg, Bogdanovich, and Boorman. And after that -- in perhaps a jab at his old nemesis's Psycho, and a nod to his old boss's The Sadist -- Steckler teamed back up with Creatures screenwriter, Eugene Pollock, and hammered out a script for The Thrill Killers. Unfortunately, when filming commenced, Steckler realized quickly that his story of Mad Dog Click was going to be way, way short of the magical 70 minutes. And so, as was his usual modus operandi, he started improvising and making shit up to get the required seven reels he needed to get the film distributed. 

In fact, that whole subplot about the three other escaped lunatics was added after the fact and wound up being the focus of about 80% of the picture! And it was those three escapees who killed and beheaded the previous homeowner, and now they've got their sights set on the new ones ... Keith (Keith O'Brien), the one with the bloody axe, kicks the head down the steps after the fleeing couple. Herbie (Herb Robins -- who we haven't seen since The Worm Eaters), the one with the gun, cuts them off and tackles the man, and then holds him down while the woman cowers in the corner. Then, the third, and most dangerous man, Gary (Gary Kent), promptly goes berserk because they just happened to shut the door. Thinking he's locked-up again, this triggers a psychotic-episode in Gary that quickly turns homicidal. And as the husband tries to defend his wife, he gets his head, pretty graphically, lopped off by an out of control Gary (-- okay, a dummy, pretty graphically, gets its head lopped off by Gary --), who is now so blindly out of control he goes after Herbie next, allowing the girl to escape. But she doesn't get very far before the other two get Gary calmed down enough to give chase, and then, taunting the victim as they go, this game of cat-n-mouse is dragged out for a reel and a half before she's herded back into the house, where she quickly runs out of real estate and Keith, not quite as graphically, buries the axe into her chest.

Meanwhile, Joe, with producer Morgan in tow, and a reminder on the plot-specific radio that the three killers are still at large, track down Liz at her sister Linda's roadside cafe. Wanting Liz back, Joe pleads with her for another shot, saying he's got a job offer from Morgan and they're out scouting locations. Heck, Morgan even thinks the cafe would be a perfect for his next picture -- but I think the dirty old fart is really just smitten with Linda (Laura Benedict). And I'll bet you'll never guess who happens to stop by the cafe next for a beer after a hard day of chopping people to pieces? E'yup. Our three amigos: Herbie, Gary and Keith. And although I think the bloody axe Keith is carrying around is a dead giveaway, our protagonists wonder quietly if these three could possibly be the escaped lunatics they've been hearing about. Anyways ... Needing to use the telephone, Herbie helps himself to some change from the register and calls his brother, who is none other than Mad Dog Click, to come and get him. Seems he's had enough of the other two, especially Gary, and plans to ditch them. Keith, meanwhile, discovers Joe's picture on the wall among several other movie stars and posters (-- of Steckler's other films). Herbie ain't all that impressed and decides to have a little fun with the movie-star by making their own little film right on the spot. Making Joe stand up on the table, Herbie sets the scene, and when he calls "action" the actor will be shot -- but with a pistol, not a camera.

Fast on her feet, Linda had managed to sneak some rat poison into Herbie's coffee. And as Herbie milks the scene, torturing his actor further, he offers Joe the coffee as a last meal. Luckily Joe refuses, and when Herbie finally takes a long swig the fastest damned acting rat poison ever recorded on film instantaneously kills him before he can finish his next sentence. Hell, before he could even get any backwash into the mug! During the ensuing mad scramble for Herbie's gun, Liz flees outside with Gary right behind her. Inside, Joe and Morgan manage to overpower Keith. Then, leaving Morgan and Linda to hold Keith with the gun, Joe goes after Liz and the extended chase scene is on:

Liz runs. And screams. Gary chases her. Joe chases after them. Liz runs some more. And screams some more. Gary chases her some more. And Joe chases them some more ... And after a quick check of the DVD player shows that only about 45-minutes have elapsed -- and since your standard Steckler opus usually runs about 72-minutes tops -- this is gonna go on for awhile, so why don't we just skip ahead a bit ... Eventually, Gary traps Liz on top of a cliff. (How they got up there? I don't know.) But Joe finally catches up and tackles Gary. They fight, with the famed Shatner technique, while Liz flees, screaming the whole way, back down the hill. Meanwhile, the -- well, I'd hate to call it a fight ends with Joe tossing a Gary shaped dummy over the cliff. But when he lands, another quick check of the clock says we're still about fifteen minutes short.


Anyways, Liz flags down a car -- a car that used to belong to Dennis Keskidan, but is currently in use by [dramatic music sting/] Mad Dog Click [/dramatic music sting], who forces her to get in. Joe, meanwhile, doesn't see the knife, and heads back to the cafe, where the authorities are hauling Keith away. Surprised that Liz isn't back yet, Joe asks if the car he saw pick her up stopped. But when the officer gets the car's description he links it to the Keskidan homicide, meaning it must be the other homicidal maniac that's been running loose! Wow. What are the odds? So, as a police dragnet is thrown out over the area, Click runs into a roadblock and has to ditch the car. He drags Liz up into the hills and -- here we go again -- she screams; the police give chase; he drags Liz further into the hills; she's still screaming; the police give chase; he drags her even further into the hills; she screams and CLOCKS HIM IN THE NOSE! (Surprised ya, didn't I.) This allows Liz to get away, leaving Click to flee from the police, who're still in hot pursuit. And since we're still about ten minutes short, Click shoots a convenient cowboy and steals his horse. Eh, why the hell not. But the police pursuit continues, and continues, and continues ... until the film at long last reaches the 70-minute mark and Click is finally caught and shot dead.

Then, the film wraps-up with Joe and Liz back home, reconciled and ready to give up the Hollywood life and move on to other things, together. That is, they were, until Morgan calls and offers him a part in a movie he's making about the horrible ordeal they've just been through. But, hey, at $5000 a week, three months guaranteed, I'm sure we'd all be willing to relive a little trauma.

The End

It is unfortunate that Ray Dennis Steckler's reputation as a bad movie director is based mostly on his film's titles. When the Medved's put Rat Pfink in their The Golden Turkey Awards book they hadn't even seen it. (Upon viewing it later, they actually reversed course and championed it.) I won't go so far as to say Steckler is a great filmmaker, but the man has some talent that shows up in his films -- and those moments stick out, starkly, amongst all the dreck. Two such scenes readily stand out in The Thrill Killers: first, the noirish sequence where Click kills the prostitute; framed in the strobing and pulsing neon light, it would have made Lang and Siodmak proud. The second is the stalk and chase of Brandt through the abandoned house. Steckler builds that scene up so well, and even despite the length it absolutely refuses to spin out of control.

Steckler's strength is with the camera itself, and his greatest weakness has always been his scripts. His films, as a whole, lack a certain cohesion and never really gel. All the made-up-as-we-go subplots don't fit together and relied heavily on improvisation from his actors or the whims of the director. Case in point: the entire sequence where the couple first meets the killers only came about because Steckler spotted the abandoned house while scouting other locations. And that leads us to the fatal flaw in all of Steckler's films. Oh-migod are these things padded out with repetitive or irrelevant sequences that go on and on -- seemingly, forever. If you thought Jerry's final sprint into the ocean in Creatures went on forever, brothers and sisters, you ain't seen nothing yet. The first half of the ending chase of The Thrill Killers was bad enough, but I'm pretty sure Steckler used every frame of footage of him on that horse covering every square inch of Topanga Canyon. 

An interesting side note on the horse and cowboy was that they were both borrowed from the nearby Spahn Ranch. You know, where Charlie Manson and his brood hung out.

As for the cast the film is populated almost completely with Steckler's usual stock players: Brandt, King, Titus Moede and The Brick. Turns out Herb Robins was Steckler's acting coach and a veteran of many a Ted V. Mikels movie. Robins was a method-man to a fault and never said the same line the same way twice -- so Steckler usually just turned him loose. The lone newcomer was Liz Renay, who had just gotten out of prison the day before shooting commenced. Seems Renay had been Mickey Cohen's mol, and when the notorious LA gangster got busted, she refused to testify against him and spent the next three years at Terminal Island. Not quite as big a scandal that befell Cohen's hired muscle, Tony Stompanato, who was killed by Lana Turner's daughter.

One of the things that gets overlooked the most about Steckler's career is how big of a showman he was. Picked up for re-release by Joe Karston, Steckler would tour with his re-titled films, setting up shows and incorporating all kinds of gimmicks for the screenings. Most popular was interrupting the movie and sending out costumed individuals, dressed like the monsters on screen, to run amok in the audience at strategic points during the film. The Thrill Killers was no different. Ballyhooed as the first horror movie filmed in Hallucinogenic HYPNO-VISION! the film was preceded with an introduction by The Amazing Ormond, America's "premier hypnotist" who would use a swirling red spiral on the screen to hypnotize the audience to help "enhance" their viewing experience. He also warned that at certain points during the movie, the red spiral would appear, meaning the killer was now sitting among you. Of course, there would be a planted member of the audience dressed like Click. Mayhem and flying popcorn usually ensued. And over the years, Steckler kept arranging to have his films re-released under different titles for these road-shows, most notably as The Maniacs are Loose, where, according to more folklore, Steckler himself made several appearances as Mad Dog Click, chasing girls around the audience with a rubber knife, until either a man in the audience had a fatal heart-attack during one of the simulated attacks or some punk capped him with a pellet gun but the kibosh on his live-appearances.

Shriek Show's DVD includes Ormond's introduction as a bonus feature on their recently released disc. There's also a ton of promotional material, an interview with infamous filmmaker, and a commentary that proves what an amiable kind of guy Steckler really is.

In all seriousness, I've always been a fan of Steckler and try to defend him whenever I can. His films are a far cry from good, let alone great, but are nowhere near as bad as their reputations. His films have an organic surrealism to them that I can't quite quantify, but I likes 'em. Sue me. If you could just distill his movies down to the bare essentials, and cut out the fat, I think you can honestly appreciate the man's talent behind the camera -- if not the wonky weirdness of his art.

The Thrill Killers (1964) Morgan-Steckler Productions / P: George J. Morgan, Arch Hall Sr., Ray Dennis Steckler / D: Ray Dennis Steckler / W: Gene Pollock, Ray Dennis Steckler / C: Joseph V. Mascelli, Lee Strosnider / E: Austin McKinney / M: Henri Price / S: Ray Dennis Steckler, Liz Renay, Joseph Bardo, Gary Kent, Herb Robins, Keith O'Brien, Laura Benedict, Erina Enyo
Originally Posted: 04/18/04 :: Rehashed: 07/20/10

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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