Stone Cold Dead (1979)

A Lady of the Night Can Sell Anything… Even Her Life.

Cover image to 1979's Stone Cold Dead

A killer, dubbed the “Sin Sniper” by the press, stalks the streets of Toronto, shooting prostitutes from afar. He photographs his victims and sends the pictures to the police, taunting them. Sgt. Boyd takes on the case, and has to protect the working girls and catch the killer before he strikes again.

There’s very little suspense and only a bit or two of actual excitement. Much of the film is just a passable procedural thriller that only merits a single viewing. There are enough interesting elements to make that viewing worthwhile, though, even if the plot is stretched paper thin.

There is scarcely enough story to carry the running time of a full-length feature, which is why the plot falls by the wayside so often, leaving the viewer to have fleeting encounters with an assortment of pimps, prostitutes, strippers, and thugs. We even get a musical performance by one of the gals, who wails out a song on stage and is then accosted in the bathroom by a “soul sister” with a switchblade for the audacity of being a “honkey” who sings the blues. It momentarily shook up the proceedings, if nothing else.

The camera gun from 1979's Stone Cold Dead

Certain moments revolving around the sniper, clad in trench coat and dapper hat, feel almost as if the filmmaker was trying to put together a Canuck giallo film—though not necessarily successfully. The killer’s weapon of choice also demands a mention, as it is not just some run of the mill rifle but one that is jury-rigged with a telescopic Canon camera, so that he can snap off photographs at the exact same time as he’s firing off shots. These scenes, and the ones that follow in the eerily-lit dark room, are actually some pretty creepy stuff.

There are some well-scored musical moments, too, and some amazing shots of seedy streets that don’t immediately spring to the American mind when it thinks of Canada. During the opening sequence, I momentarily believed this to take place in New York—a place that is admittedly just as foreign to me, aside from the myriad films I’ve seen from this same era. It’s a sleazy ocean awash with neon and refuse.

Sgt. Boyd from 1979's Stone Cold Dead

One interesting character note regarding the otherwise bland Sgt. Boyd: he “collects” tropical fish, but he’s always working and never home to feed them, so he has a dedicated and unlisted phone number attached to a device that dispenses food whenever he calls. It’s like the earliest beginnings of the Smart Home, where everything is controlled by an app.

STONE COLD DEAD was based on the 1970 novel The Sin Sniper by Hugh Garner. It was adapted and directed by George Mendeluk, a German-born filmmaker who has certainly had a varied career. He’s made goofball comedies like DOIN’ TIME (1985) and MEATBALLS 3 (1986), and thrillers like this film and KIDNAPPING THE PRESIDENT (1980), but most of his work has been in television. He’s directed episodes of MIAMI VICE (1988), LONESOME DOVE (1994), NIGHTMAN (1988-1989), and many others. He’s still working today, currently wrapping up the wartime film BITTER ROMANCE and the TV thriller THE WRONG BABYSITTER.

As far as our leads go, we’ve got talented frontman Richard Crenna doing the best with what he was given as Sgt. Boyd. Readers of this website may remember him from WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967), another sniper thriller known as NIGHTMARE (1974), THE EVIL (1978), DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND OF HELL (1978), DEATH SHIP (1980), and the first three RAMBO films. His sleazy partner here was played by Chuck Shamata, also found in THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE (1976), HYPER SAPIEN: PEOPLE FROM ANOTHER STAR (1986), DEATH WISH V: THE FACE OF DEATH (1994), and more recently the Eli Roth-produced CLOWN (2014).

Julius the pimp from 1979's Stone Cold Dead

Julius the pimp was played by none other than Paul Williams, instantly recognizable from PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) and THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979). Despite being a sleazy sex trafficker, Julius is a pretty charismatic and interesting character, easily the highlight of the cast.

Among the plentiful prostitutes, peelers, and probable victims of the cast: Linda Sorensen, Belinda Montgomery, Alberta Watson, Andrée Cousineau, Jennifer Dale, and French actress Monique Mercure, who warranted a “special appearance by” credit—not to mention a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by Michael Ironside.

In other words: don’t blink.


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