The Fool Killer (1965)
Joe Dante is mostly known for directing the mega hit Gremlins, but he
has also directed many other films of note. Recently BAM (The Brooklyn
Academy Of Music) did a retrospective of his films :
Joe Dante at the Movies
TV work, plus offered to show some films that Joe Dante was a fan of,
or that influenced him. There were multiple double features, and some
pretty great stuff was shown. He even showed up for some screenings,
did a Q&A after a showing of his work print of Gremlins, and
introduced a couple of screenings as well. I got to meet him and chat
with him, and he is not only a great guy, but very down to earth,
personable, and very aware. Talking with him felt like talking with any
of my other movie obsessed friends, except that he has been amazingly
successful, unlike the rest of us!
This double feature shown did not include a film that Dante directed, but instead starred a couple of famous actors, Vincent Price and Anthony Perkins in lesser known roles. This entry, The Fool Killer, was the highlight of the non Joe Dante films.
Personally I knew nothing about this film, the director, the story, the child actor, nor anything about the production at all. I must say that I am shocked how little known his film is, and even more shocked hot little has been written about it! I searched online to see if I could find articles on it, and so far there is little of any note. Granted, I did not scour the web, but most movies you can find info almost immediately. Even on IMDb, the message boards have only 3 entries.
I found one review online that mentioned this movie is like Huck Finn meets Norman Bates, and that is not really such a bad description. The plot isn't very intricate, but it is very realistic in its characters and the way it is handled. The basic story revolves around the child, George, who is 12. He has lost his parents, and was taken in by another couple, who basically use him as a farmhand. Since the movie is set in 1903, this would be the norm during this time period. He keeps making mistakes, like leaving something in the road which gets run over by the carriage, or kicking over a pail of milk, so he decides to run away. He hops a freight car and gets away, and when the train stops to take on some water, he goes to pee. Foolishly, he leaves his bag on the train, and it takes off without him. He wanders for miles, until he comes across a dirty little shack. Here he meets his first new friend, Dirty Jim. Dirty Jim explains he is dirty because his wife died and she drove him crazy keeping the place clean, so now he doesn't clean. The boy decides to stay a while, since he has nowhere to go, no shoes, and no way to get food. At some point he decides to do some cleaning, and this does not sit right with Dirty Jim. One night, Dirty Jim tells George all about the Fool Killer, a very large man who wanders around looking for fools to cut in half with his chopper. This obviously scares the boy, who worries he's a fool for all the things he has done wrong.
At some point George gets sick, ends up being taken in by another family, gets his first kiss, and runs away again. He next meets Milo, played by Anthony Perkins. Milo seems to be a bit unstable, and has amnesia from the civil war. That's about all the plot I am willing to give you, the rest if very worth spending your time on.
This movie is not just great due to the story, which is actually really good, and comes from a Helen Eustis novel from 1954. From the start the first thing I noticed that was different was the soundtrack. It doesn't sound like all the other soundtracks from that day, nor does it stick to one sound throughout. There are orchestral spots, guitar spots that sound very modern, and other music scattered throughout. I need to listen to this movie again, at the very least just to hear the soundtrack.
Another thing that was wonderful about the movie was the innovative editing and camera work. One scene in particular of someone rolling around on the ground is filmed like they were holding the camera themselves, which reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkins video for their song 1979. I really wonder if something like that had ever been filmed in a Hollywood style movie before. There are also odd edits and dissolves used that definitely were not the norm in most movies. There are also some very nice well done shots from far away, taking in the landscape in scenes where most directors would have focused on close ups. All in all the style of this film was pretty amazing, and I need to watch it again soon.
The director of this movie, Servando González, has only directed 13 things, and most look like they were in Spanish, as he is Mexican. At least one thing did play in the US, according to the 1969 NY Times review, a movie called Yanco. I am of course wondering if anything else he directed was amazing as well.
Oddly enough, the 1969 NY Times review by Vincent Canby, panned the movie pointing out everything I loved about it and saying it made the movie suck. Even more odd is the fact that Vincent Canby, a very famous movie critic, had just started being the chief critic at the NY Times in 1969, when he wrote his review. You can read it here :
Vincent Canby's 1969 review of The Fool Killer
As a critic he was known for hating a lot of critically acclaimed movies, so it is not a huge surprise he did not like this, but I cannot imagine a serious critic who would hate this movie, but not everyone agrees! I must say though that this film was a complete surprise to me, due to my lack of even hearing about it before this.
The actors in this were pretty damned good too. Anthony Perkins plays a slightly off character, which seemed to be the role he was haunted with for many movies after Psycho. This movie came 5 years after Psycho, and he was still playing these kind of roles, and did until the end of his career. But he did it so well! The child in the movie was the child of actor Eddie Albert, best known to me for the TV show Green Acres, but he was actually in tons of stuff. The smaller roles were filled by people I have never heard of, but they all did a fine job.
One last point I want to make about certain scenes, shots and underlying themes in The Fool Killer. I will wholeheartedly admit that knowing that Anthony Perkins was gay could somehow alter my view of the movie, BUT, there seemed to be some serious homosexual undertones floating around throughout the movie. Even if we discount the naked swimming scene between the boy and Anthony Perkins, since most people did swim nude back then, there are numerous other scenes that point to the possibility that there were some veiled references. One scene that particularly stood out was when the boy was on his knees in front of a preacher, screaming mercy while at crotch level.
Anyways, all in all this film was great, I have no real negative points to discuss, other than the lack of info online about this movie, and the production of it. I NEED to see some of this director's other work, to see if this one was a fluke or if he is an unknown genius. I thank Joe Dante for bringing this special film to my attention, otherwise I would probably never heard about it.
8 out of 10 stars (may be upped to a 9 upon future viewings).
Location : BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) , theater 2, Brooklyn, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday, August 22nd, 2016 at 10:15 PM
Format : 16mm
Audience : about 50 people, I know a few of my friends there enjoyed it