A serial killer is frequenting seedy massage parlors in NYC and murdering whores plying their trade.
Sounds awesome, right? Chances are you were hooked by the title alone (I know I was)… the truth is, this little known sickie isn’t exactly what it appears to be – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite it masquerading under the guise of an exploitation/horror film, Massage Parlor Murders is a bit of an anomaly as it has more in common with many sexploitation films of the 60s than it does with its grittier 70s brethren. Replete with scenes shot silently and cloaked in voiceovers and a jazzy soundtrack, the film seems better suited as a Something Weird Video release than a Vinegar Syndrome feature.
As far as sleazy trash cinema is concerned, Massage Parlor Murders
is solid enough, containing liberal portions of nudity and action. The murders are inventive and cruel, with the faceless killer donning creepy surgical gloves to perform his heinous acts of misogyny that brought images of American Nightmare
to mind. If only the girls were a lot more attractive, they range from average to downright fugly. The most notable appearances come from Sandra Peabody (The Last House on the Left
) as Gwen, the first murdered whore’s roommate and love interest of one of the detectives trying to solve the case and Anne Gaybis (The Human Tornado, Ten Violent Women
) as Sunny, one of the massage parlor professionals. The remainder of the cast are virtual nobodies save for a bizarre cameo by Brother Theodore (The ‘Burbs
), who delivers one of the most fucked up monologues I have ever bore witness to and proves to be one of the highlights of the film.
In addition to Brother Theodore’s existential musings about the nature of reality, Massage Parlor Murders suffers from some other random weirdness that proves to be a detriment to the continuity of the film. There’s a drawn out orgy in some kind of public pool/bath house that culminates into a car chase through the streets of Manhattan where the pursuer is wearing nothing but a towel, and a beyond inane performance art segment where the detectives in the story end up spying on a topless prostitute and a porcine man in a leotard awkwardly dancing ballet style set to “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Such WTF moments only manage to damage the integrity of an already questionable production.
As is expected, the performances are about as weak as can be, with many members of the cast delivering lines like deer in headlights, murder victims who can’t stop blinking or looking around the room as the investigators mill about the crime scene, and girls who are only clearly there to take their tops off. The whole thing is reminiscent of an HG Lewis film, except it doesn’t have the over the top gratuity in the gore department as a saving grace. As mentioned earlier, a number of the kills are very satisfying including scenes where a girl has her face smashed into a mirror before being strangled with her own underwear, and another is knocked unconscious and then has her belly slashed open with a broken bottle. What the murders lack in visual flair they make up for by being mean in spirit.
Massage Parlor Murders tries really hard, but its lack of direction and obvious padding work against it. There is some definite potential here, if the filmmakers could have decided on a genre and resisted some of the silliness that plagues the production it could have been among those much-lauded grindhouse films of days gone by rather than the obscure oddity that it is. Exploitation fanatics will jump all over this, the casual viewer may not have the patience for its quirkiness or tolerance for gazing at girls who look like they got beat in the face with a shovel.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.