As a fly-on-the-wall peek into the sleazy side of late 1970s Hollywood, The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher is captivating. As a narrative film, it’s utterly pointless. But that’s the beauty of Ray Dennis Steckler’s cinema.
With the backdrop of Santa Monica Boulevard, a nameless photographer calls escort girls, shoots a few topless lingerie photos, then strangles the women in long, drawn-out sequences. He’s the Hollywood Strangler! And he likes to whisper “Die garbage!” while he’s doing the deed! Afterwards, he fondles pet pigeons. The girls are compared to someone “pure” named Marsha, but we never learn why. Consequently, drunken hobos are being picked off in artsy fashion by a woman (Caroline Brandt). She’s the Skid Row Slasher! And she likes to take jogs on the beach after putting away her switchblade! The Strangler visits a bizarre S&M roller rink sex club. Several scenes of everyday happenings repeat endlessly (drinking in the basement, opening up the bookstore). Our two leads cross paths in the Slasher’s bookstore a couple of times, finally meet up, and face off to the death.
Regardless of the subject matter, you can usually bank on two successes in a Ray Dennis Steckler film: excellent cinematography and effective editing. Everything from Wild Guitar to Rat Pfink A Boo Boo looks unique. That’s quite a feat, given his nonexistent budgets. While Hollywood is no different in that respect, the allure of style can only go so far without a stitch of substance. This is a 62 minute day-to-day diary of De Palma-lite voyerism, ultra-slimy in its locales and pointless in its motivations. The film was billed as some kind of demented love story. There’s absolutely nothing on screen that can lead us to believe that, save for the Strangler’s cryptic mumblings. Instead, we get a series of events stuck on repeat and lots of documentary footage of XXX theaters and shops. Since the film was shot silent, there’s a heavy reliance on narration, which only weakens the build up of gritty momentum.
At the end of an hour that felt like three, I was left bored and bummed out. This is a bleak entry into the slasher/serial killer field, filmed with flare, but lacking in just about everything else. Without the caffeinated fun of Ray Dennis Steckler’s 1960s style, Hollywood is bitter and bleak. But not in a good way.