‘… He loved the girls to death.’
Sweet Kill is a 1972 American psycho thriller feature film written and directed by Curtis Hanson. It was Hanson’s directorial debut and was produced by Roger Corman’s former assistant Tamara Asseyev for distribution by New World Pictures.
The film stars 1950s heartthrob Tab Hunter and was actress Isabel Jewell’s last film. Future Phantasm icon Angus Scrimm [billed as Rory Guy] has a minor role.
Curtis Hanson had got to know Roger Corman while doing on set rewrites on The Dunwich Horror (1969). When that film was completed, Hanson said he wanted to direct a film he had written and Corman said he would be interested in a motorcycle movie, a women-in-prison movie or a nurses movie. Hanson was unenthusiastic, so Corman then said he might also be interested in a modern horror film.
Hanson wrote the script originally with the killer as a female. Corman liked it but asked that the killer be changed to a male. The ensuing production was filmed as A Kiss from Eddie for $110,000. The apartment where Tab Hunter’s character lived in Venice Beach, California, was owned by Hanson’s grandmother. It was submitted to the MPAA in 1971 as Sweetkill (sic).
On release throughout 1972, the film did not do well at the box office, so Corman added two additional raunchier scenes to try to increase its appeal and the film was re-released as in January 1973 The Arousers with no mention of Tab Hunter on the poster.
Hanson later described the entire experience as a “very unhappy” one. More happily, he went on to direct psychological thrillers The Bedroom Window (1987), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and the award-winning film noir L.A. Confidential (1997).
Eddie Collins (Tab Hunter) is unable to perform in bed with women because of repressed memories of his mother.
However, after accidentally killing a woman while trying to sleep with her, he finds that he is able to get aroused by her dead body. This leads him into a chain of luring women into situations where he can kill them for carnal gratification…
“Sweet Kill is essentially another grindhouse riff on the themes made popular in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), with Mother problems, impotence, rage and bathroom murder (here near the end) all on the menu. Hunter is excellent as the deeply disturbed teacher, whose good looks are like a honey trap for the ladies – and somewhat bizarrely has a never explained connection to pigeons! He has to be admired for trashing his image quite so fully.” Hysteria Lives!
” …Hanson’s uncomfortable visual schematic of isolation and insanity, with the dark, oppressive hallways and apartments of Hunter’s spooky apartment building contrasted nicely against the sunny beaches outside. It’s always hard to say why a movie didn’t connect with audiences, but with Sweet Kill, it seems pretty clear that a fuzzy screenplay, a critical mis-cast, and an unexpectedly (and perhaps unwanted) sophisticated mise-en-scene kept Sweet Kill … necessarily obscure.” DVD Talk
“What keeps the film afloat is the quality of the acting, with a bug-eyed Hunter effective in the ‘Norman Bates’ role and Nadyne Turney genuinely touching as the forever lonely next-door neighbour Barbara, who just wants Eddie to notice her (and is knifed in the shower for her trouble, as if the Psycho connection were not already obvious).” Christopher T Koetting, Mind Warp!: The Fantastic True Story of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures
“With the film’s shoestring budget apparent and the proper quotient of sex and sleaze that New World Pictures required present, director Hanson wisely used a very dreary and rundown looking Venice, California as an ideal downbeat setting. While a number of supporting characters and some of the plot padding seems disposable, there’s an amusing scene involving a young woman reporting her roommate missing …” DVD Drive-In
Cast and characters:
Tab Hunter … Eddie Collins
Cherie Latimer … Lauren
Roberta Collins … Calli
Isabel Jewell … Mrs Cole
John Pearce … Mr Howard
John Aprea … Richard
Angus Scrimm [as Rory Guy] … Henry
Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses – Roger Corman: King of the B Movie by Chris Nashawaty, Abrams, 2013
Mind Warp!: The Fantastic True Story of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, by Christopher T Koetting, Hemlock Books. 2009
The Movie World of Roger Corman, Ed. J. Philip di Franco, Chelsea House Publishers, 1979