The Serial Killer… It Could Be Anyone!
Everyman Steve Belmont is a multilayered individual—deadbeat, pillar of the community, and misogynistic serial killer, all in one. The police aren’t yet onto him, though they surely must question the falling number of prostitutes on the street.
Grim and gritty, dark and dirty, this cheapjack production won’t be earning awards anytime soon, but it does have a certain unclean quality that can’t be manufactured, only discovered in earnestness. True crime fans may dig it, even if it isn’t true, while horror hounds may claim it as their own.
With his flannel shirt and his decade-appropriate mustache, Steve Belmont (Eli Rich) is a blue collar poster boy. His security guard gig is scarcely enough to cover rent and beers out with the boys, and the teens that he teaches in Sunday school are rambunctious and disrespectful. It’s no wonder that he has to blow off a little steam every now and then, which he does by murdering prostitutes and dumping their corpses in the desert. When his dead girl graveyard is discovered, the media is quick to dub him the Mojave Murderer, which isn’t all that original of a moniker but it does sum things up quite nicely.
We don’t spend any time with the police as they attempt to solve these crimes, nor do the victims exist when our man Steve isn’t around. The focus is purely on him, his day-to-day life, and his extracurricular activities. It’s a mostly bloodless affair, and more time is spent with Steve between the murders than during them. But that’s fine by me, as his sociopathy and his psychopathy are one and the same in the long run. But if you’re looking for answers and explanations, you won’t find them here. Pop psychology is eschewed for straightforward, matter-of-fact storytelling. He is what he is, root cause be damned.
Screenwriter James C. Lane and director Donald M. Jones each have the same five films on their resumé, spread out over the course of 33 years—and now I’m tempted to hunt them all down. What they have crafted here is not fun in any sense of the word, and likely will not be rewatched very often. It is cold and callous and frankly does not look very good. But there’s a simplistic brutality that lends itself very well, giving off the aura of a pulpy detective magazine come to life… or a feature-length reenactment from UNSOLVED MYSTERIES. The Mojave Murderer seems to have been inspired by Ted Bundy, without all that baggage of truthfulness and facts to weigh it down. It’s an ugly film, for sure, but sometimes shit looks like real life, just as sometimes real life looks like shit.
A lot of genre fans are quick to lump this cheap straight-to-VHS production in with the slasher flicks of the era, but by doing so, they are overlooking one important fact: it’s not a slasher film at all. MURDERLUST belongs to the kissing cousin genre of the slasher—the serial killer movie—alongside such stalwarts as HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), with which it has a few similarities. And if you’ve got to be shelved next to a serial killer flick, you could do a hell of a lot worse than HENRY.