The Killing Hour
(a.k.a. The Clairvoyant)

Director: Armand Mastroianni
Perry King, Elizabeth Kemp, Norman Parker

Way back in the late 1960s, prominent members of the American Republican party like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were involved in a law and order movement towards the American public, with one of their hopes being that the public would in some way increase their support to various law enforcers. Several decades later, the need for law enforcement to have the support of the public seems just as high as it was back then. But I am sure that if you are not involved in law enforcement, you are probably asking yourself right now something along the lines of, "Well, what can I do? I'm just an ordinary Joe." Probably the easiest thing ordinary Joes could do is that if they were witness to some sort of crime - or had information about a crime - they could contact their local police. And if they were afraid of identifying themselves, some countries like the United States and Canada have telephone tip lines where you can not only report information anonymously, but can possibly get cash rewards in the process. But what if you wanted to do more? Well, you could bone up about every subject in the sun and offer your services to the police as a private consultant like Sherlock Holmes. However, when you think about it, the police probably wouldn't stand for some upstart interfering with investigations that they have prepared for by years of study before becoming law enforcers. Then there's always the option of becoming a bounty hunter, at least if you're American. Though with all the stories I have heard about bounty hunters acting recklessly and getting away with this behavior, I am glad that bounty hunting is illegal in my country of Canada. (For that matter, so are bail bondsman businesses.)

There is another option that some ordinary Joes have used to try and support their local law enforcement, though some would not call them "ordinary". That is with people who claim to have some sort of psychic powers, powers that they say can help police do things like locate a body or identify a murderer. This has indeed happened a number of times in the past, enough times that any person with a good head on their shoulders will ask why on earth would the police resort to listening to someone who claims they have psychic powers. If you have read my review of the movie Psychic, you'll know the answer why. In that review, I illustrated that there has been absolutely no evidence to suggest that E.S.P. or any other so-called psychic power has the remote possibility of existing. To their credit, most of law enforcement knows this fact themselves and quickly dismiss kooks who claim to have psychic powers. But still on occasion, police will take so-called psychics seriously. Why? I did a little research, and uncovered a few reasons. Sometimes the police are so desperate to solve a case that they will grab onto any claims, no matter how outlandish the source might be. Much of the time, however, it's because the people claiming to have psychic powers know how to sell themselves. They will often go to the police and offer their services for no cost at all, which makes them sound legitimate and really wanting to help. The real reason they do this is to make money in the long run. If their "visions" somehow help the police to solve a case, they can put this triumph on their resume, which subsequently makes it easier to convince little old ladies and other vulnerable people to fork over their life savings to get some insight into their lives and their future.

Before I start to sound like a wet blanket, I want to confess that I really, really wish that psychic powers were a reality. So much entertainment value could come from this, as well as the fact that psychics could solve a lot of crimes that the police have not been able to do so. So when I come The Killing Houracross a television show or a movie that deals with psychics who get involved in crime solving, I don't immediately sneer at the sheer impossibility of it - I am usually entertained to some degree to what I am watching. The Killing Hour was one such example that really entertained me when I first watched it over twenty years ago, not just for the psychic angle. I decided to take another look at it for this web site to see if it held up all those years later. The events of the movie take place in and around New York City. At the beginning of the movie, the dead body of a woman is fished out of the Hudson River by the police. The police at the time have the normal concern they usually have when they find a murdered person, but it doesn't take long for them to realize that they have a serial killer on their hands. Though the next victims of the killer are not women, but are men instead. And every murder has a pair of handcuffs connected to it one way or another. The investigation to the murders is headed up by detective (and wannabe stand up comedian) Larry Weeks (Norman Parker, Bulworth), but it really starts to get going when a woman named Virna Nightbourne (Elizabeth Kemp, He Knows You're Alone) comes forward. She has psychic powers, and just before every murder she has a vision that provides some kind of clue that she draws out for the police. When local television reporter Paul McCormack (Perry King, Mandingo) gets wind of this, he is naturally very interested and wants to learn more. But when his hard-hitting reports on the murders almost get him killed by an unidentified figure, Weeks quickly realizes he has to protect both McCormack and Nightbourne from the killer, as well as track down and apprehend the killer. But can he?

As you can see from the above plot description, The Killing Hour has additional burdens to carry besides with the portrayal of the character who has psychic powers. The movie also has the task of handling the character of the police detective and the television reporter character in manners that will be acceptable to the audience. The character of the cop Larry Weeks isn't the hardened police investigator you usually get in movies like this, showing a somewhat jovial side at times (though his imitations of celebrities like George Burns and Woody Allen are pretty awful.) Actor Norman Parker also often gives the character an everyman feeling elsewhere (he's no matinee idol), so we in the audience can always relate to the character despite the script weaknesses (more on that later.) On the other hand, actor Perry King for his reporter character McCormack goes more towards the opposite extreme, making his character a pretty sleazy guy who knows what he wants and is determined to get it. Yet at the same time, King is careful not to go all out, making his character with the aid of the script somewhat unlikable but at the same time believable. (Incidentally, when Parker and King are paired up in a scene, both actors manage to make some great chemistry with their different characters.) As for the psychic character of Virna, the screenplay depicts her as somewhat troubled and burden by her "gift", not completely understanding it or what she should do about it. She is no superwoman, and actress Elizabeth Kemp in her performance underlines that while her character clearly needs some help with what she is experiencing, at the same time she is trying to do as much as she can on her own. She's not a total wimp, and viewers will sympathize with her and hope she can overcome her limitations and dangerous situation.

When the character of Virna has her visions of the various murders, even viewers who have no belief that such powers could exist in real life will probably admit that this particular cinematic portrayal is more plausible than usual. Even though Virna sketches out on paper the visions while she's having them, they are all the same somewhat unclear and do not blatantly spell out what's happening. Director Armand Mastroianni (He Knows You're Alone) also directs these psychic visions in a very low-key manner, using soft and minimal music (or no music at all), which adds to the realism and lessens any possible feeling of us in the audience feeling manipulated. There are also several murder sequences that are filmed in the same manner, and they too have an extremely creepy feeling due to their restrained presentations (for example, there's almost no blood in the movie.) The surroundings of the psychic and murder sequences have their own strengths as well. The unvibrant cinematography makes us feel the cold weather and atmosphere of the then pre-cleaned up Big Apple, and with there being precious few "wide" shots, we in the audience often get a claustrophobic feeling that puts us in an uneasy feeling even while nothing bad is happening. Mastrioanni also well executes a couple of scenes of action that manage to feel realistic while at the same time being very exciting. There is one significant problem with Mastroianni's direction, however, and that is due to the fact that much of the movie moves at an extremely slow pace. Certainly, I was glad that the movie didn't have the breakneck pacing many modern day thrillers have, but all the same there are many moments where it is clear that the movie is almost right up to just spinning its wheels.

Actually, Mastrioanni the director may have been hampered by Mastrioanni the writer (cowriting the movie's story with another writer.) The finished screenplay apparently wasn't as finished as he might have thought. It takes more than thirty minutes into the movie before cop Weeks and his associates seem to seriously start an investigation into the serial killings, and it takes even longer for the psychic Virna to go to the police and let them know the visions she is having. Up to those two points - and many times after those two points - the movie often comes to a near halt with long scenes of characters talking much more than is necessary. There is also a lengthy subplot about Weeks and McCormack both courting the character of Virna during the investigation, which in the end doesn't really go anywhere and just drags out the story. Still, I will admit that even with all of this padding, I never got seriously bored, since the dialogue in these sequences doesn't seem especially stupid or annoying. Also, the whole mystery angle of the movie does pop up enough times to refresh the audience. This mystery angle, by the way, does have some surprises along the way that will keep you guessing what the explanation is for a long time. I remember the first time I saw the movie, the mystery kept me enthralled and guessing until a few minutes before the ultimate revelation during the climax, when I suddenly though, "Wait a minute - could the answer be...?" - and I was subsequently proven to be correct. But even though I knew the ultimate answer right from the start of my second viewing of The Killing Hour, this time around I had fun seeing the clues to the big answer that almost passed me by the first time. Although I might not have psychic powers, I have a strong feeling that those looking for a horror/mystery thriller will find enough to enjoy about this movie.

(Posted February 18, 2023)

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See also: The Bloodstained Shadow, Psychic Killer, The Sender