Don’t be fooled by the opening prologue for this film, where a text crawl contends the “latest statistics indicate violent crimes committed against women are rising at an alarming rate,” which is followed by a running slideshow of crime scene photos where women were the fatal victims of some heinous act. Now, I'm not disagreeing with their claims, far from it. It's just this kind of disingenuous finger wagging and hand-wringing by the filmmakers is nothing more than a cheap and simple framing device that (they hope) equates to a “Get out of Jail Free” card, meaning they can now show us the very same heinous acts being committed against women as long as they already acknowledge it’s a problem; oh, and here’s a graphically detailed testimonial to show how right we were all along, and SOMEBODY really oughta do something about all this, am-I-right?
Anyhoo, as the opening credits finally roll, we tune into a radio station where some midnight talk show host is taking calls from concerned citizens about a series of murders dominating the local news lately, focusing on the latest victim who was discovered just that morning. Evidence shows these attacks were all committed by the same man, and callers are terrified they could be the next victim of this deranged psychopath, whose methods of rape and torture are so horrible the media refuses to give out the more graphic details. And as one caller complains about the cops not getting the job done, and another expresses how this killer shouldn’t be arrested or put on trial but should be put down like the vicious animal they are -- after a sufficient amount of torture has been inflicted first, we discover the person who had been driving around and listening to the show was actually the killer all along as he pulls over in a secluded spot and dumps yet another dead body in the dark.
And it appears this madman is escalating as we immediately cut to the following day (-- or it could be a week later, who the hell knows for sure), where we find a woman stuck on the side of a lonely road with a broken down car. When a beat up cargo van comes along -- that couldn’t scream “Stranger Danger!” any louder if it tried, our trusting motorist waves the driver down and asks for a ride to the nearest service station. At this point, the film is still trying to conceal the killer’s identity for one more reel as the driver, his face constantly out of the frame, pretends to help by taking a look at the stalled engine before pouncing. And after a short chase into the woods, despite the victim’s valiant efforts to fight back, she winds up violated and strangled to death just like all the others. And I don’t think we wanna know where that broken bottle went.
Next, we leave the killer behind and meet a suburban housewife, Nancy Ulman (Roberts), as she drops her kids off at school. On her way home, she passes a convenience store, where a long-haired gent exits and leers at her rather ickily as she drives by. Once home in her nice middle class neighborhood, we see Nancy is a stay-at-home mom, who lives in a nice middle-class house, with her nice middle-class businessman husband, Peter (Freilino), their two kids, and the family cat. Despite these trappings and appearances, however, it soon becomes clear the Ullman’s marriage is on the rocks, and it has nothing to do with a rash of crank calls Nancy has been getting lately, where the caller refuses to speak and immediately hangs up once she answers.
Turns out that crank caller is none other than the man with the greasy long hair who lustily leered at Mrs. Ulman earlier. This man is Carl (Max), who lives alone in a seedy apartment with his pet rabbit, is friendly with his elderly landlady, who dotes on him, and works as a mechanic at a small gas station with his boss, Charlie (Longo), and co-worker, Richie (Tucci). Carl is also the serial rapist and strangler. And when he isn’t perving on customers in the women’s restroom through a peephole, getting curb-stomped by a pimp, who caught him leering, or out picking up hitchhikers, who are never seen alive again, or luring young bicyclists into the shop and out of sight to ‘fix their flat’, when the air pump is outside, while working a late solo shift, Carl daydreams and fantasizes about Nancy constantly.
Seems Nancy is a regular at this gas station, which explains how Carl most likely got her phone number; and the only reason she’s still alive is because the killer doesn’t know where she lives. At least he didn’t until Nancy brings her car in to get serviced and the problem proves a little more serious than originally thought, meaning it will need to be left at the shop for an indefinite period and most likely overnight. And while she offers to call a cab, Charlie wouldn’t hear of it, saying Carl would be more than happy to give Nancy a ride home...
Back in 1973, first time porno filmmaker, Shaun Costello, hidden under the pseudonym of Helmuth Richler, produced, wrote, directed, edited, and handled the visual and special makeup effects for a squalid little roughie called Forced Entry (1973), which told the tale of a psychotic Vietnam War veteran, who abuses his position at a gas station to trick women during their credit card transactions to reveal their home addresses. And once he gets this information, this surly asshole tracks them down later, then attacks and rapes them while he flashes back to his combat days (-- flashbacks that incorporate real news footage of the war), which jacks him up even more, until he loses it and violently kills them as he, well, climaxes out.
This questionable expenditure of film is framed as a flashback as it opens with the police investigating the apparent suicide of this nameless veteran (-- billed as Tim Long, but it’s really notorious porn-star, Harry Reems), who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. We then flashback to see how we got here as the film sets up the rapist and killer’s M.O. as he stalks, tortures, rapes, sodomizes, and kills a pair of victims -- one through the credit card scam, another a lost driver who innocently asked for directions back home. But things go off the rails when he next targets a couple of hippie lesbians, who are too stoned to take his demands seriously when he breaks in on them and laugh when he demands oral sex at gunpoint. This unexpected response does not compute with our psychopath, which triggers a complete psychotic break as his ‘Nam flashbacks start mingling with the brutal acts he’s committed since his discharge. And this proves too much for the man, who turns the gun on himself, which brings us full circle.
Make no mistake, despite some lofty claims of brazen social commentary and the historical significance of being the first piece of media to feature the soon to be stereotyped psycho-Vietnam vet as a villain, Forced Entry is, was, and ever shall be a complete sleaze shit-show that I was happy to cross off the list and will happily never watch again. Even Reems thought it was a piece of shit, stating in his autobiography, where the “Superstud of Erotic Films” told all in Here Comes Harry Reems!, that Forced Entry was the only film he ever regretted making -- and believe me that’s really saying something, even though Reems was destined to sober-up and be Born Again in the late 1980s and wound-up pretty much regretting everything. But back in 1975, when that book was written? Yeah.
And around the same time Reems’ biography was being published in ‘75, Dimitri Sotirakis and Henry Scarpelli, for some unfathomable reason, got it into their heads this X-Rated horror porn needed to be remade as an R-rated thriller. Sotirakis, under the alias Jim Sotos, which we will refer to him as from here on out because it’s easier to spell, worked in advertising in NYC directing commercials. Scarpelli, meanwhile, was a long time comic book writer and artist, who started at Dell, where he specialized in licensed adaptations for the likes of Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes and Get Smart. He later moved to DC Comics, where he worked on their humor titles like Angel and the Ape until DC discontinued the whole line in the early 1970s. Recruited immediately by Archie Comics, Scarpelli would eventually become the main artist for Betty and Veronica throughout the 1990s.
I have no idea how Sotos and Scarpelli met back in the mid-70s -- Scarpelli’s son was a child actor back then, so maybe they met on a commercial shoot or something, but meet they did and the end result of this union was The Last Victim (1975), which was more of a soft-reboot of Forced Entry -- stress on the soft, than an actual remake. Here, Scarpelli’s script cleanses any reference to Vietnam, making Carl just your standard unmotivated degenerate. And while some film scholars call him a precursor to Joe Spinell’s character in Bill Lustig’s Maniac (1980), I felt Carl was more of a retread of the villain in Tom Hanson’s gonzo take on The Zodiac Killer (1971), who also had a thing for rabbits. I also have no doubt Ron Max was cast due to his more than passing resemblance to David Hess, whose impact as Krug in The Last House on the Left (1973) was still being felt two years later despite everyone telling themselves it was only a movie.
And while comparing anything to the original film would make it come off as wholesome entertainment, still, the remake comes off as oddly sanitized given the subject matter. Not a complaint, mind you, just an observation. Aside from the assault and murder of the stranded motorist, which was very graphic and explicit, all the other attacks are mostly implied with a lot of fade-outs before the deed and then fades back to Carl sometime later, who is overwhelmed by the memory of these deeds, where we get a few more glimpses of what happened.
But even these show no more than a little topless nudity and terrorizing before the rapist snaps out of his reverie. And in hindsight, I’m pretty much convinced the entire scene with the motorist was an insert and that wasn’t even Max playing his character but a stand-in, shot later, to punch up the sleaze quotient to get the movie sold to a distributor to give the audience for this type of picture what they paid for. Because if you take out that insert, The Last Victim barely qualifies for an R in my book. In fact, it comes off less of a grindhouse flick and more of a Lifetime Original Movie.
I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment when I realized The Last Victim wasn’t really about Carl's killing spree but about Nancy Ullman and her marital woes instead. Well, it was more of a fifty-fifty split, sure, but I found the Nancy thread to be the far more interesting of the two. And she was the title character after all as the last victim, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves and focus for now on how well Sotos and Scarpelli present this lonely woman who seemingly has everything. What little details we do get are from one-sided phone conversations Nancy has with a few fellow housewives about how distant and cold her husband has become toward her.
I like how they show her constantly moving around the huge, Escher-style house the Ullman’s live in, which is lavishly furnished, to show how empty it is and how lonely and isolated Nancy was after her husband goes to work and the kids are off at school, where the highlight of her day is ordering up some meat from the butcher over the phone. Even here she isn’t allowed to leave her domestic prison since the butcher delivers. And feeling stifled, neglected, and unappreciated, Nancy is also overcome with several flashbacks to happier times with her family, which are doubly hard because there is no doubt those times are over and gone for good just by the disconnect we feel coming from this woman.
Carl, of course, sees none of this. What he sees is an idealized perfect victim. A woman of means, and a step-up from what he sees as the trash he usually victimizes. Clean. Wholesome even. You get the sense he’s been stalking her for awhile now, with the phone calls, and very easily could’ve followed Nancy home or found out where she lived but is a little scared to actually act out on these impulses; as if waiting for the perfect opportunity to match the perfect moment in his obsessive fantasy. And even as that perfect opportunity arrives, when he drives Nancy home, it still takes a few days to finally work up the nerve to break into the Ullman home while his victim is out dropping the kids off at school again. And when Nancy does return home, Carl doesn’t act right away and instead clandestinely watches her. The audience never even sees him either. In fact, he takes so long a viewer may begin to wonder if Carl might’ve chickened out and bailed.
For Nancy, alas, he did not leave and finally ambushes her after she lets the cat out. And poor Nancy, who has already been brutalized, beaten, and physically restrained, must now listen to the nonsensical blathering of her attacker as he tries to make small talk, complimenting his victim on her looks and taste in home decor in an effort to legitimize the non-existent relationship he had with this woman inside his head. But this begins to crumble as Nancy refuses to quiet down, ruining his fantasy, as she pleads to be let go. And as things continue to escalate, there’s a moment after Carl drags his victim into the master bedroom upstairs, the reason obvious, and he tries to turn on the TV but it doesn’t work, which kinda shows this whole house of means is essentially a false facade, and you can almost hear the last vestiges of Carl’s delusion on how the other half lives pop like a detonated balloon.
None to happy about this, Carl drops all pretensions and attacks Nancy on the bed. Salvation almost comes with the timely arrival of a persistent delivery boy from the butchers, but Carl works quickly, restraining and gagging Nancy before dealing with the interruption. And once that’s done, he returns to the bedroom. Like with all the other attacks, we don’t see the rape here either, just the devastation of the aftermath. And as a spent Carl grotesquely snoozes next to her, Nancy manages to crawl out of bed without waking him. Pressing silently on, she makes it downstairs to the main floor and tries to exit through the kitchen, where she stumbles upon the body of the delivery boy and screams.
An alerted Carl catches Nancy before she can escape, and once more drags her down into the basement where he slaps her around while she begs for her life. Once she’s sufficiently stunned and subdued, Carl heads back to the kitchen and raids the refrigerator, coming back down with a beer, a block of cheese, and a very large butcher knife. And while he sits, drinks and eats slices of cheddar, Nancy rallies herself one last time, looking at the photos of her children on the mantle before she silently moves and gets down on her knees in front of Carl. And while she seemingly acquiesces, Carl excitedly thinks he’s about to be on the receiving end of some oral sex.
But when he lets his guard down, Nancy grabs the discarded knife and starts violently stabbing her rapist. And as the blood flies and we chase her animal-like screams up the steps, through the hallway, and out of the house, we see Nancy’s two children return home and close the front door behind them. What happens next, we can’t say as the camera suddenly freezes on a house that still looks very serene from the outside but is a complete horror show inside before we fade to black.
Sticks with you that final shot kinda does, and it only reinforces the notion that Nancy’s marriage -- and her existence, as her whole existence was in service to her marriage and the resulting children, was already unraveling and ready to break apart before Carl came along; and it was Nancy, not Carl, who finally put it out of its misery with her last desperate act, breaking out of her cycle of servitude. How does this all bode for the future for the Ullmans? Again, who can say for sure.
Anchoring the movie is a pretty arresting performance by Tanya Roberts as the last victim. Long before her stint on Charlie's Angels, or roles in Tourist Trap (1979), The Beastmaster (1982), Sheena (1984) and A View to a Kill (1985), where she played one of the worst Bond girls of ever, Roberts made her big screen debut in The Last Victim. Bronx born, Roberts also starred in The Yum Yum Girls (1976) before she got married and moved to Hollywood, where she quickly became typecast as the voluptuous ditzy dumb blonde with the childish voice. None of that is present in this film as Roberts, who had studied with Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen, gives an earnest and genuine performance as Nancy Ullman. You feel the years and the mileage of this woman as the film plays out in this suburban malaise; and we definitely sympathize, which brings a real sense of urgency to the climax because we honestly don’t want to see this woman get hurt or killed by this piece of shit. And it’s also why we kinda root for her when she turns the tables.
And if it wasn’t for Roberts being in the cast, I have no doubt The Last Victim would’ve been long ago forgotten and nothing more than an odd footnote on the legacy of Forced Entry ‘73. And not just Roberts either as one more familiar face haunts this film -- two more familiar faces if you want to count Grease (1978) alum, Michael Tucci, but he’s barely in it. So, that makes the two biggest draws Roberts and fellow victim, Nancy Allen, who played a hitchhiker Carl picks up and kills because she wasn’t “appreciative” enough. Allen had previously appeared in The Last Detail (1973), and would soon break out in a couple of Brian De Palma films, Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981), but a lot of folks might recognize her as Officer Anne Lewis in Robocop (1989).
And looking to cash in on the notoriety of these two actresses once they hit big, The Last Victim was unscrupulous repackaged and was re-released in a limited theatrical run by Century International and on home video as Forced Entry in 1984. This version of the film was extensively re-cut, removing all of Nancy’s family drama, making her more of a prize and less of a person, and added a Travis Bickle stream of consciousness narration to give us insight into the inner-mind of Carl, letting us know right away whose side these hacks were on. The fairly effective soundtrack by Tommy Vig was also flushed, and a bizarre epilogue was added where we get a vox populi report from several folks who knew both Carl and Nancy, and a voiceover that’s supposed to be Nancy but is quite obviously not Tanya Roberts.
Thus, this re-cut version bares little resemblance to The Last Victim and completely destroys what few merits the original film had. And that’s why this review focuses on the former rather than what came later. Apparently, at one point, Code Red had announced a special edition release that would include both cuts of the film; but like with a lot of promised Code Red DVDs what they announce is rarely what we get. (Still waiting on that long promised release of The Farmer (1977), dammit.) And while either cut is still better than the original film that inspired them, I’m still not sure if The Last Victim or Forced Entry ‘84 or whatever were ever really all that necessary to begin with.
What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow the collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's six reviews down with 20 to go! Up Next: Hey!? Wasn't there supposed to be a ghost in your haunted hot-rod movie?!
Forced Entry (1975) Kodiak Films :: Productions Two :: Howard Mahler Films :: Century International / P: Henry Scarpelli, Jim Sotos / AP: Sandy Charles / D: Jim Sotos / W: Henry Scarpelli / C: Aaron Kleinman / E: Felix Dileone, Jim Markovic, Drake Silliman / M: Tommy Vig / S: Tanya Roberts, Ron Max, Brian Freilino, Billy Longo, Michael Tucci, Nancy Allen,