Murderlust is a fairly obscure shot horror film from 1985 directed by Donald M. Jones and written and produced (along with music credits!) by James C. Lane. Originally released on VHS, the film had quite a bit of cut material, but Intervision Picture Corp. has seen fit to restore this slasher film to its rightful running time on this DVD release, including the cut footage and all of the filthy video quality for which low-budget ’80s films were known. In general, these types of releases were well-received by fans even despite their questionable content (I’m looking at you, Boardinghouse), but Murderlust happens to have gotten the raw end of the deal with its distribution – it’s actually a fairly good film.
The movie stars Eli Rich as Steve Belmont, a regular joe who hangs out at a bar with his friends at night, works a crappy security guard job at a race track, and volunteers at his local church working with youths on Sundays. He seems like a normal guy in every way, except that he occasionally likes to pick up women and strangle them before dumping their bodies in the Mojave Desert. Still, working with kids and such, he’s a stand-up kind of guy you know?
Murderlust explores the complicated mentality of serial killers, of how they can seem gentle and even lovable within regular society but snap at the drop of a pin. Rich does a great job in this role, especially in scenes where he’s forced to change from overtly quiet and restrained to angry and borderline-violent. Lane’s script gives the audience a lot of different looks at Steve Belmont, notably starting the film off with a brutal murder (brutal in the sense that he’s just routinely hired a prostitute for sex before emotionlessly strangling her in his van) and then transitioning to Steve’s work at the church, where everyone seems to speak of him in high regard.
The film’s extended length – about 98 minutes with the added footage – is rather long for this kind of movie, but director Jones finds a lot of good material to mine. Murderlust is pointedly focused on Steve’s day-to-day activities, attempting an almost sociological view into the life of a serial killer, as though the audience is meant to study his interactions. That means Murderlust often switches from scenes where Steve is unnervingly innocent to those where he’s driving a body out to the desert to dump it. Jones recognizes the spooky juxtaposition of real-life serial murderers, studying people like Ted Bundy who routinely thrive in public settings while murdering people on the sly.
Murderlust even explores a love story between Steve and his girlfriend Cheryl (Rochelle Taylor) in a pre-Dexter scenario, which leads to some interesting plot lines about Steve’s inability to murder in certain situations. Part of his relationship with Cheryl comes from a job opportunity, but it also feels like he genuinely likes her in some ways. His downfall comes from his eventual decision to kill her, adding a final girl aspect to the film.
While Murderlust probably won’t be considered a factual representation of serial killer lifestyle, it is a solid film that was oddly cut during its initial release. For the most part, the film is not very violent, with most deaths occurring quickly and some of them – like the murder of an underage girl – happening off-screen. It’s good to see Jones’ restraint, and ultimately Murderlust is a lost film that has now gotten proper treatment with this release.
Click next for the DVD review.