Welcome to another edition of IT CAME FROM 1980 X where we tackle movies from our favorite cinematic decade, the 1980’s, or movies that might as well be from that decade. Obviously we’re talking about the creme de la creme. The box office giants like E.T. or Raw Force. This entry is no different as we focus on the New York Horror Film Productions micro budget soon to be classic, BIG BOX, VHS/DVD combo package, THE TURNPIKE KILLER. Being from Jersey gives you a different perspective on a movie called The Turnpike Killer. Bodies dumped along the New Jersey Turnpike and murders originating in New York City… this is pretty much par for the course around here. All you need is Jimmy Hoffa, Giant Stadium and a goal post and you’ll be eating bagels and pizza in no time. C’mon, hasn’t everyone seen a dead body on their morning commute while drinkin’ Light and Sweet Dunkin Donuts coffee and scarfing a pork roll sandwhich with ketchup, salt and pepper? While I have not seen The Super yet (and I assure you I’m on it) Evan Makrogiannis has definitely got my vote for Retro Hero. He’s fighting the good fight so that people like me who can’t stomach another Hollywood, big budget feature have a big box to call our home. Read on to better understand what makes this a movie to watch or at least a great collectible package of beautiful VHS goodness. This ain’t from the 80’s, but it’s 1980 X to be sure.
Synopsis from the back of the beautiful Big Box VHS:
In a city that never sleeps, a killer prowls the streets at night. Over a span of ten years the butchered remains of New York City women have been found dumped along the New Jersey Turnpike. The sadistic fiend behind these horrid murders has been coined “The Turnpike Killer”. His search for the “chosen one” has left a seemingly endless trail of bloodshed and brutality. Keep off the streets at night, stay out of the tunnels and avoid the bridges. You cannot escape him when all roads lead to death.
The cover art of the oversized VHS box has a disclaimer:
WARNING: Contains Scenes of Extreme Graphic Violence.
(and it ain’t foolin’ around boys and girls)
If this movie doesn’t sound or at least have the feel of the Toolbox Murders or maybe the Driller Killer then I must be rewatching some hackneyed remake. In fact the ski mask used for the killer’s disguise is very reminiscent of our favorite handy man horror hero that may or may not have been tapping into his illustrious tool box to get the job done. Not that it’s a rip off. It’s done in a particular style to evoke nostalgic feelings of a time before torture porn. It’s a time before movies had to have psychological back stories that gave a hint of justification to the killer’s brutality. The Turnpike Killer does not apologize. No one is depressed… no matter what strange cult/religious/mental breakdown subtext anyone throws in to play homage to this late 70’s/early 80’s style blood bath.
We’ve been seeing quite a few of these types of films in recent years. We recently review Mold! and The Sleeper which play on a similar nostalgia. That doesn’t necessarily make the movie any better than its early counterparts or even as good as the movies on which it bases its ambiance. What you are paying for when you pick up The Turnpike Killer is a chance to hold a big box VHS in your hands, watch a movie on DVD and then remember how disappointed you were at the entire mess that would ensue. I’m not attacking the TK. I’m simply saying that the product of an homage based on shit movies will be, ultimately, shit. All of the features in this new trend of retro packaging and based on concepts made popular during the salad days of VHS glory are low budget. The terms microbudget is used on the packaging itself, so you can’t say that you were blissfully unaware. It’s what you pay for. If you go in with that in mind that you will be a satisfied customer with a beautiful shock package to show your buddies.
The actual substance of the film is stereotypical homicidal maniac with sexually violent direction and no remorse. There are some exquisite blood lettings that will make you cringe. At the same time you’ll be laughing your ass off at dialogue that may not have been intentionally humorous, but will leave you in stitches. What’s more funny is that this is actually how we speak in the tri-state area (tourists you have been warned). It’s not a drinking game movie in that respect because of the sexual deviance that ensues. It also won’t make a good date night movie in front of the boob tube. It’s what I like to call beautiful gross. Brutal. Gentleman take note: This is not how you pick up a nice young lady for a night on the town.
Some of the flaws in The Turnpike Killer are endearing while others are actually a surprise. I would have appreciated music that was more fitting of the retro style. It’s not far off but I’m a music snob or at least I always pay attention to it. While I realize that digital photography and/or editing can be a necessary evil for filmmakers looking to do old school on the cheap, this film suffers because the quality, no matter how low budget, looks modern. I’m not saying it needed to be scratched to Hell like some of the other modern day Grindhouse classic reboots, but it doesn’t pass for old or at least not as well as some of the new wave of shot on video classics. I’m thinking of The Basement here.
The Turnpike Killer does come with some unique packaging. The big box comes with a signed poster and DVD copy with alternate cover art featuring bloody boobies. The tag line is gorgeous: YOU CANNOT ESCAPE HIM WHEN ALL ROADS LEAD TO DEATH. The DVD copy is chock full of special features including “Donuts and a Double Homicide” which is a feature length documentary on the making of a microbudget horror movie in New York City. Plenty of behind the scenes goodies and even a Fangoria interview with Michael Gingold. If that’s not enough stay tuned for Devil Moon, “a horror movie that pays homage to the werewolf classics”. This whole thing is for the fans. It’s made with love, and it’s about as far away from Hollywood’s current packaging as the 80’s style cover art that graces both versions of the film. We’re talking about art work here.
A lot can be said for a killer in a simple brown leather jacket and a ski mask. I’d call that timeless. The Turnpike Killer may not deliver everything you want in a retro flick, but it’s a good effort. I plan on watching this one a couple more times to find the funny. Its intensity cannot be denied.
Stop by the Turnpike Killer website HERE. Buy it. For about $25 you can’t go wrong with clever marketing. After all, isn’t that what the 80’s were all about?