DEADLY OBSESSION is not the hidden gem I’m always looking for in a Slasher Search, but I suppose it deserves credit for seemingly trying copy other works in the stalker/slasher subgenre while also not really fitting the mold at all. So at least it’s different. Kind of.
The obsessed individual of the title is just credited as John Doe (Joe Paradise) and he’s an openly crazy maintenance man who gets yelled at for not doing his job. Instead of, you know, maintaining stuff he spends his shifts doing experiments on rats, then collecting their corpses neatly lined up in his refrigerator. He has a plot to poison ice cream as a way of extorting money from Gotham College president Brickley (or Brinkley according to IMDb, which informs me that actor William Klan also played “Interviewer” in THE TOXIC AVENGER). John Doe is extremely bitter about “rich brats” and always assumes that college students think they’re smarter than him. I mean just because he’s working class and because he plays with dead rats doesn’t mean he’s a dummy.
Also in my opinion John Doe from SEVEN is the same character. This is MANHUNTER to its SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
Denise (Darnell Martin) is a freshman who gets the poisoned ice cream, but doesn’t eat enough of it to die. Shoulda chose a more delicious flavor, asshole. The police are worried that the poisoner will become deadly obsessed with Denise and stalk her and what not, so they put her under the protection of young police officer Dino Andretti (Jeffrey R. Iorio, AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2). He goes undercover as a college student, which means he spends half of the movie laying on Denise’s couch making sexually suggestive comments to her and her roommate Pamela (Monica Breckenridge, DIRTY WAR).
Halfway through the movie the mad poisoner meets law enforcement expectations by switching to a completely different m.o. where he personally stalks and attacks the poor woman. He finds Denise and Pamela alone in a closed gym with the lights out. It does seem like it would be kind of a fun place to sneak into at that age, though not as much when you know a guy is trying to kill you. The suggestive way Pamela talks to Denise and cuddles her when begging her to get into the swimming pool seems to imply that this may be the rare horror movie featuring a black lesbian character. But unsurprisingly that means she (spoiler) won’t (I guess you already knew this) last much longer.
There’s an unusual way he scares her that’s very simple but effective. She’s swimming alone in this dark pool and suddenly he starts throwing basketballs at her, nailing her in the head at least once. She can’t see who’s doing it and thought only Pamela (who just bumped her with a ball to scare her) was in the building with her, but why would she be this aggressive?
Well, Pamela is actually dead, and now the killer resorts to the goofball technique of puppeting her hand to be gesturing “come here” from around a corner. Then he jumps Denise in the bathroom stall and tries to strangle her with a chain.
For a moment it seems like this Final Girl knows what she’s doing, because she runs straight for the fire ax. Sadly, she just went there to stop and pose in front of it for the camera, catch her breath for a moment, then run away without the ax, so that the killer can take it instead. In my opinion this is poor strategic thinking. I know sometimes you make poor decisions in a high stress situation like this, but still, I’m disappointed in her. I mean, what was she thinking? “If I draw attention to this ax then he will stop to break it open and that will slow him down”?
Fortunately she wises up and starts shooting baseballs at him with a pitching machine. If I were him (which I would NEVER be because I’m against murdering – just my two cents) I would use the ax handle as a baseball bat to ward off the balls. Instead he gets nailed in the balls. She then climbs up a rope, which is a poor move on her part but a good use of gym equipment on the filmatists’ part, so it’s a win.
In fact I will give this one high marks for use of location. She hides in a locker, a head gets dunked in a mop bucket, these are all things using available gym items.
Paradise gives a very self conscious “scary crazy guy” performance, with lines that are maybe supposed to be funny in that way that Freddy was supposed to be funny? I don’t know. This guy at one point quotes Hall and Oates (“One on one,” he says, bouncing a basketball and smiling. “I wanna play that game tonight.”) He threatens to make Denise into “abstract art” or to stab a guy’s head with a needle “so many times you can read a book through it.” He’s better when he shuts up and, I’m afraid, is covered in shadow, because his evil smile is also too forced. But when you can’t see him and he just drags his ax on the floor as a way of taunting Denise while she hides in a dark gym, that’s kinda scary I guess.
One thing that’s nice about being in a city instead of a rural community, a summer camp, a wooded area, a mountain cabin, a swamp, a remote island or an ancient castle is that there are people around to help you when a crazy fucker is trying to sport you to death. In this case it’s the cops who show up and then it turns into a cop movie complete with protective custody, card playing, a cop dressing up as a janitor, a sting operation involving ransom money, but most of all angry cops yelling “Damn it Andretti!” and shit to each other like dialogue in the kid from RUSHMORE’s stage version of SERPICO. It’s somewhat Sabotage-esque as they run around with their holsters, pointing their guns around corners and kicking doors without trying the doorknob.
Unfortunately after the chase in the gym Denise turns back into a wimp. She goes crying into the arms of Dino and starts kissing him as a reward for rescuing her. Then she waits around as bait for a long time until she gets captured, does alot of crying and screaming, has her mouth taped shut, almost gets raped and other unpleasantness. I will say this for her, she is good at climbing. First the rope at the gym, now she uses a ladder to climb into a vent into a boiler room, once she gets some fight in her again.
Musically this goes almost the full range: HALLOWEEN-copying synth, cheesy love music, action movie keyboard jams, hair metal end credits. I guess one of the songs in the movie is by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin. No rap though. That would’ve been part 2 or 3 I guess.
I’m pretty sure a poster in her dorm room had the Monopoly logo on it. I’m hoping it’s a McDonalds Monopoly poster.
There’s a doorman character who has a good five or six scenes that are supposed to be comic relief, but of course are not at all comic or relieving. The one funny part is that this useless character absconds with the ransom money at the end. That never happened to the bumbling cops in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.
DEADLY OBSESSION is the directivational debut of Jenö Hodi, who went on to make several non-horror b-pictures including AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2 with Dale Apollo Cook, GUNS AND LIPSTICK with Sally Kirkland, Evan Lurie, Wings Hauser, Robert Forster and James Hong, TRIPLECROSS with Michael Pare, Billy Dee Williams and Ashley Laurence, BLACK SEA RAID with Daniel Bernhardt, and METAMORPHOSIS with Christopher Lambert as Constantine Thurzo.
The most surprising twist of the movie is that Final Girl Darnell Martin went on to become a filmmaker. She only acted in one other movie (Cinque Lee’s NOWHERE FAST in 1997), but the same year as this movie she was second assistant camera on DO THE RIGHT THING and DEF BY TEMPTATION, two years later was directing a Samantha Fox video and by ’94 had her feature directing debut I LIKE IT LIKE THAT. Today she is best known as writer-director of CADILLAC RECORDS (the one where Beyonce plays Etta James and Jeffrey Wright plays Muddy Waters). Like many directors she’s worked more in television, with episodes of Homicide, Oz, ER, various Law & Orders, etc. She has not returned to genre other than directing one episode of Masters of Science Fiction, one of The Vampire Diaries, and four of Grimm. But she did put her stalker Joe Paradise in her movie PRISON SONG, which she co-wrote with Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest.
She might be happy that DEADLY OBSESSION is only on VHS. Or maybe she thinks it’s funny and she’d show it off to her friends and collaborators. They’d probly get more out of it than we would, to be honest.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.