Delirium 1979 Review
aka Psycho Puppet
Directed by: Peter Marius
Starring: Turk Cekovsky, Debi Chaney, Terry Tenbroek
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
At the end of the day, movie producers are just people with an eye for business. There is very little that separates them from sales managers. Both are looking to make money and both will examine the market to see the best way of exploiting their ambitions for a profitable return. The surprising success of Halloween and Friday the 13th meant that researchers were quick to realise that cinema audiences had an urge to see psychopathic killers. There were many slashers released from 1980 to 1985 and the reason that the quality of most of them was so poor is because market trends change quickly and teams had to move rapidly, which eliminated the chance of a decent pre and post-production.
Delirium or Psycho Puppet as it’s known in Europe reminds me of the movies from Hong-Kong based martial arts hack Godfrey Ho. Ho was famous for his ‘cut and paste’ technique, which saw him take half-finished or forgotten oriental films and paste in western actors sporting hilariously outlandish ninja suits for scenes that rarely, if ever, connected with the cohesiveness of the plot. He would then release the movies worldwide with titles such as Ninja Terminator, Zombie vs. Ninja or Ninja Dragon and despite the fact that they had two plots running simultaneously that rarely interlinked, the global interest in Ninjitsu meant that they often made a considerable profit.
Although Delirium is not a combination of two different movies, it looks almost as if the director threw in a maniac killer just for the sake of having a maniac killer in his feature. This is not an out and out slasher film, but throughout the first half, it does incorporate many of the clichés that were popular following the success of Halloween. The story completely changes around the sixty-minute mark and leaves all the slasher bits behind without a second glance. It’s also worth noting that the artwork for the feature became more ‘slasherised’ for later releases as that style grew in popularity.
The opening scene sees two unidentified guys in suits throw a corpse into the Mississippi River. They get back into their car and speed off into the night. Next up we cut to a seventies disco bunny returning back to her apartment late in the evening. On entering her accommodation, she is shocked to discover her flatmate’s corpse nailed to the door. We soon learn that the girl was the first victim of Charlie, a demented Vietnam vet that has gone completely insane and is travelling across the country murdering anyone that gets in his way. The Police are baffled as to who could be behind the killings, but soon we learn that Charlie is just a cog in a complex wheel of murder, blind-justice and mayhem…
Friday the 13th is often credited as the first slasher movie to incorporate bloody special-effects into its killings and it started a trend that would see entries blowing huge portions of their budgets on gratuitous gore. Well Delirium pre-dated the camp Crystal Lake murders by at least a year and therefore was the first psycho killer movie post-Halloween to exploit the graphic nature of its murders. Due to its gratuitous nature, it became one of the first additions to the video nasty list in the United Kingdom.
As I alluded to earlier, the story just doesn’t seem to know where to hang its hat and attempts to mix parts from numerous cinematic styles. It’s something of a crossbreed between a typical slasher film and a cop flick, but never appears content to align itself to any one genre. This makes the film something of an oddity, because it references everything from Vietnam recollections to crime thrillers that were popular during the seventies. The flagrant amateurism of its production prevents the movie from being a total success, but the enigma of the jumbled narrative just about manages to keep you watching through to the finish. Admittedly, the filmmaker’s decision to kill the psycho bogeyman on the hour-mark was a poor one and it subtracted the best part of the story.
Technically, Delirium is barely mediocre and the various Vietnam flashback sequences are visibly poor and look like they were filmed in a local park as opposed to a battlefield. I was disappointed that it revealed the crux of its synopsis far too early, which was a shame, because the idea is fairly ambitious and it feels almost as if a decent puzzle could have been created. We are left with a mass of ideas that lack the shine to link together and create a decent movie experience. Unrealistic dialogue and average performances certainly didn’t help matters and the victims are so hilariously dumb that we can level the accusation that the production was rushed to cash-in on the current trend. It’s also worth noting that Delirium has a score that is remarkably similar to that from the British quiz, Mastermind. It’s fairly amusing for those that recognise the common theme from British television and it’s certainly a bizarre decision from the production team to incorporate it into their feature.
Bob Spelling’s gore effects outshine their obvious minimalistic funding and the maniac is especially brutal. The way that the female characters are conveyed does come across with a far too misogynistic sheen though, especially as it seems that women are slaughtered simply for for being women. There is a certain gruesomeness in the randomness of the killer’s attacks however and despite the lack of any credible suspense, Charlie’s antics make him quite a convincingly nasty psychopath. His lack of any genuine motive adds to his fear-factor.
Delirium is by no means a great or even good movie, but it’s a fairly strange effort that interests mainly because it’s genuinely peculiar. It can’t help but feel amateur, almost if it was a student project, but in a way that adds to its charm. I find projects like this interesting because you often find yourself questioning the motivations behind the development. If there’s absolutely nothing else left in the video-shop, then give it a go. However be warned, you need to be extra forgiving.