Kino Lorber continues to produce special edition Blu-rays of obscure titles that are under most movie fans' radar screens. Case in point: "Nightkill", a little-remembered thriller made in 1980 for theatrical release but which ultimately "premiered" on television, much to the consternation of all involved. Ironically, the movie has the look and feel of a TV production with the notable difference of some disturbing images that were probably edited down for broadcast standards. Thus, the Kino Lorber edition is probably the first opportunity to see the original cut of the film, as it apparently was not released to theaters. The plot is "Diabolique" by way of Alfred Hitchcock. Jaclyn Smith, then riding high from her long-running role as one of Charlie's Angels, is cast as Katherine Atwell, a socialite living in Phoenix and living what appears to be a charmed life. She resides in a hilltop mansion and is the toast of the town because of a charitable foundation she has founded. There is one major caveat: her husband Wendell (Mike Connors) is a boorish rich snob with a violent temper who enjoys demeaning everyone in his circle of influence. He is particularly tough on his long-suffering corporate major domo Steve Fulton (James Franciscus), who must endure Wendell's cynical comments and outbursts. Katherine has come to hate her husband. Their marriage is a loveless one based on mutual convenience: he gets a trophy wife he can parade around as arm candy and she gets a lavish lifestyle and funding for her charity. However, she is frustrated by her loveless, sexless marriage and has taken up a secret torrid affair with Steve Fulton. One sunny afternoon, Katherine, Steve and Wendell are gathered in the Atwell's living room. Steve makes a drink for his boss, who promptly keels over and dies a painful death. Without having given Katherine any advance warning, Steve had poisoned Wendell. He tells the understandably panicky Katherine of his game plan: they will secrete Wendell's body in a large freezer inside the house, then collect a briefcase containing a million dollars that is being stored at an airport locker and fly off to another country so they can live the high life together. Katherine is tempted to alert the authorities, but ultimately decides to go along with Steve's plan. She soon regrets it. When Steve doesn't show up for their planned getaway, Katherine begins to worry. She goes through the arduous task of disposing of her husband's body in an abandoned mine shaft but later believes she sees him alive in various places. In the film's only absurd scene, a car that appears to be driven by her dead husband pursues her in a dangerous chase that she narrowly escapes from. It gets worse. When she opens the freezer that once held her husband's body, she gets another shocking surprise that I won't reveal here. Adding to the pressure is a bothersome detective (Robert Mitchum) who shows up at awkward times and asks increasingly awkward questions about her husband's whereabouts.
"Nightkill" was directed by Ted Post, a seasoned pro when it came to helming undistinguished-but-entertaining fare both on television and in feature films. (His best theatrical films were "Hang 'Em High", "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "Magnum Force".) Post was primarily at home in the television medium and perhaps that's why the movie has the look and feel of a TV production. Post didn't believe in artsy camera shots or other gimmicks. He shot in a basic style that didn't allow for distractions from the action on screen. He milks some suspense out of a sometimes cliched script that borrows too much from other sources. "Nightkill" may be middling in some aspects but it does take some unexpected turns concerning the motivations of the main characters. Jaclyn Smith gives an outstanding performance as the harried and distressed protagonist. The film is sprinkled with other interesting actors and performances. Mike Connors excels at playing against his good guy image as a rotten lout, Fritz Weaver has an unusually flamboyant character to play as a snobby lawyer who has the hots for Katherine, even though he is married to her best friend (Sybil Danning in a role that refreshingly doesn't require her to doff her clothes). Mitchum is his usual cool-as-a-cucumber self as the detective who may or may not be who he claims to be. The Arizona locations are a refreshing change of pace and the film keeps a zesty pace under Post's direction, right up until the rather surprising ending which some viewers may find unsatisfying. The most memorable scene involves yet another "woman in the shower in jeopardy" scene but with a disturbing twist that doesn't involve anyone attacking her.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains a commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, who both have a passion for this modest production. They add a breezy and fact-filled runthrough of the film's somewhat tortured history. Jaclyn Smith had hoped it would launch a successful big screen career but when the film was sold directly to television, her hopes were dashed. According to Thompson and Berger, everyone involved in the movie was angered by the fact that it wasn't released theatrically except outside the USA. Berger and Thompson also discuss Ted Post's career in detail and accord him justifiable praise that mainstream critics never did. Their commentary track adds immeasurably to the fun of watching "Nightkill". There is also a recent extended interview with Jaclyn Smith who also gives her candid opinions of the movie. She somehow looks like she hasn't aged a day since 1980. A teaser trailer and trailers for other Kino Lorber releases round out the package. Recommended.