THE STRANGLER (1964) Reviews and overview

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‘What unnatural split in his mind makes him do it?’

The Strangler is a 1964 American crime thriller film about an overweight lab technician who is also a serial killer of female nurses. The plot was inspired by the real-life murders committed by Albert DeSalvo, known as The Boston Strangler, between 1962 and 1964.

Directed by Burt Topper (Soul Hustler; The Hard Ride; The Devil’s 8) from a screenplay written by Bill S. Ballinger (The Tooth and the Nail; Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series). Produced by Samuel Bischoff, David Diamond and James Cresson (uncredited).

The Bischoff-Diamond Corporation production stars Victor Buono (The Evil; Arnold; The Mad Butcher; Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte; What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?), David McLean (Kingdom of the Spiders; Deathsport; The Andromeda Strain), Diane Sayer and Davey Davison.

The soundtrack score was composed by Marlin Skiles (The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler; Gallery of Horror; Space Probe Taurus; The Crawling Hand; The Hypnotic Eye; The Disembodied; Spook Chasers).


“Burt Topper uses predictable methods to create whatever tension and life he can. There are, however, moments that indicate that Topper would have liked been a bit more imaginative in other circumstances. For example, the manner in which the first murder fills the titular character’s eye shows promise. Topper at least has the very good fortune of having Victor Buono on hand as his brow-beaten murderer.” AllMovie

“Buono is terrific playing a character who’s smarmy, egotistical and pretty unlikable on the outside, yet retains enough childish vulnerability that he’s also somewhat sympathetic. The supporting cast (particularly Corby and Sayer) is quite good, as well, and the supporting characters are all reasonably well-drawn and entertaining.” The Bloody Pit of Horror

“Though Burt Topper’s meager little exploitative cash-in on unfortunate real-life events is quite intriguing for that aspect alone, it is ultimately Victor Buono’s commanding, larger-than-life performance that enables The Strangler to maintain his grip upon us.” Cinema Sentries

“Whenever Buono is on screen (which is most of the time), The Strangler is mesmerizing; still hot coming off his Oscar-nominated performance in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), he radiates off the screen: Preening, sardonic, anxious, arrogant, malevolent – in a suave and substantial package. Make no mistake, Leo is no ladies’ man; impertinence and a perceived queerness with his doll collection sees to that.” Daily Dead

“Burt Topper adeptly directs a procedural crime drama about a paranoid schizophrenic serial killer strangler, with mommy issues and a doll-fetish, who kills ten women in Boston before the police kill him while in the act of killing another. The screenplay by Bill S. Ballinger is adequate and no more, as there are many inconsistencies in the storyline. The performance by Victor Buono as the psychopathic killer is chilling and is what makes the pic rock.” Dennis Schwartz Movie Reviews

” …Ballinger’s script sufficiently avoids the whodunit angle by introducing Leo as the killer from the onset, and it also includes the slick element of having the character elude the police twice, despite the improbability, with Buono’s confidently egotistical killer making it all plausible. The direction is well handled by Bert Topper […] with the murders all coming off as disturbing without being graphic or drawn out…” DVD Drive-In

” …for a low budget movie, it’s efficient and mostly well-acted, though I wasn’t impressed with the acting from Davey Davison, despite the fact that she’s given a prominent credit during the opening. In short, it’s good, but not great.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“The strangler’s psychological profile could be sketched as proto Edmund Kemper, and Buono plays it with a fair degree of creeper skill, mixing in periods of morbid ecstasy with child-like innocence (the fat man is most happy and at ease when playing games at an amusement arcade).” Few There Be That Find It…

“Unlike a handful of other films based on the Boston Strangler, this one creates an uncanny sense of the fearsome killer, rather than reducing him to a predictable psychological “type.” Kroll’s doll-fetish is the only aspect of his killings that gives them the vibe of the uncanny “bizarre crime,” but Ballinger skillfully relates the doll-motif to the killer’s unrealistic idealization of women.” Naturalistic! Uncanny! Marvelous!

“The direction is workman-like, nothing out of the ordinary, which also brings more power and energy to the script itself and especially the brilliant performance by Victor Buono. I mean, he looks like a doll – absolutely charming, a smooth and peaceful face and a lush persona – but here he’s so mean and cold, calculating. This casting is brilliant.” Ninja Dixon

“In lesser hands, The Strangler would be just another cheapo shocker meant to capitalize on the latest scary headlines. But writer Bill Ballinger, who worked mostly on TV, and director Burt Topper […] give their movie a serious base under its macabre setting. But ultimately, credit must go to Victor Buono, whose despondent, chilling performance elevates the movie to even higher levels.” The Ol’ Fish-Eye

“Buono underplays Leo with just the right amount of subtlety and minor ticks. Since the camera follows Leo on all his dastardly exploits, Buono’s acting choice proves a wise one; the viewer experiences Leo’s acts of terror, but never really gets to know him, never sympathizes with him.” The Terror Trap

” …compelling tawdry exploiter” Time Out Film Guide

“Dramatically skillful direction by Burt Topper and a firm level of histrionic performances help The Strangler over some rough spots and keep the picture from succumbing to inconsistencies of character and contrivances of story scattered through the picture.” Variety, December 31, 1963

“Director Burt (The Devil’s 8) Topper handles the police procedural scenes in an effective manner. Usually in these sorts of films, the parts where the detective interviews witnesses are dull, but Topper keeps them moving along at a steady clip […] Topper also delivers a couple of solid murder sequences too.” The Video Vacuum

Cast and characters:

Victor Buono … Leo Kroll
David McLean … Lieutenant Frank Benson
Diane Sayer … Barbara Wells
Davey Davison … Tally Raymond
Baynes Barron … Sergeant Mack Clyde
Ellen Corby … Mrs Kroll
Michael Ryan … Detective Mel Posner (as Michael M. Ryan)
Russ Bender … Doctor Clarence Sanford
Jeanne Bates … Clara Thomas, the Nurse
Wally Campo … Eggerton
Mimi Dillard … Thelma
Byron Morrow … Doctor Morton
John Yates … Intern
James Sikking … Police Sketch Artist
Robert Cranford … Jack Rosten
Selette Cole … Helen Lawson
Fred Aldrich … Apartment House Manager (uncredited)
Benjie Bancroft … Police Officer (uncredited)
Fred Fisher … Detective (uncredited)
Kenner G. Kemp … Detective (uncredited)
Victor Masi … Attendant (uncredited)


Production commenced mid-September 1963.

Technical details:

89 minutes
Black and white
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Home viewing:

The Strangler was released on manufactured-on-demand DVD by the Warner Archive Collection on November 10, 2015.


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