Massage Parlor Murders! aka Massage Parlor Hookers is a 1973 American psycho thriller directed by Chester Fox and Alex Stevens.
Though receiving a decent cinema run at the time, it was never released on home video and has only very recently been made available for armchair viewing by Vinegar Syndrome, a splendid company that specialises in releasing films often formerly considered to be ‘lost’.
On the case are ‘beyond the law’ detectives; the permanently angry Rosetti (George Spencer) and the laid back ‘David Soul’ of the pair, O’Mara (John Moser). O’Mara becomes pally and then romantically involved with Gwen (played by The Last House on the Left alum, Sandra Peaboy), the roommate of the first victim, whom Rosetti was, unbeknownst to all, conducting an affair with.
Despite their best efforts, which mostly rely on Rosetti beating up completely innocent guys in the vicinity of massage parlors, the murders continue, leading to a remarkable car-chase which sees O’Mara clad only in a towel (having been staking out a budget Plato’s retreat style haunt), wrecking a fish stall and causing havoc, only for the eventual cad to be a minor-league sex-pest rather than a vicious murderer.
The cops consult a local psychic (played with typical verve by genuine fruit-loop, Brother Theodore, seen in The ‘Burbs and sex-laden Jaws spoof, Gums) whom the girls all seem to have been visiting but there are no further leads, though our Brotherly friend gives an eye-popping performance anyway; it’s difficult to say whether he had any idea he was appearing in a film.
The murders continue and often end with a Herschell Gordon Lewis level of blood and ‘matter’, the garish red hues sparkling on the Blu-ray upgrade it has been afforded.
Beyond Brother Theodore’s appearance, other recognisable faces include Chris Jordan as one of the hookers (seen in several Joe Sarno films and the classic sexploitation film Teenage Hitchhikers, also the ex-wife of legendary adult movie actor Eric Edwards), the first screen appearance of George Dzundza (later seen in Salem’s Lot, as well as dozens of TV roles) and Beverly Bonner, the sassy Casey from Basket Case and Anne Gaybis, glimpsed in everything from Black Shampoo to Friday 13th Part III.
Though the film’s ending rather smacks of the directors suddenly realising they’ve nearly run out of film (quite likely) it doesn’t detract from an absolutely magnificent spectacle.
As a slice of 70’s New York sleaze, you could barely wish for better and the care Vinegar Syndrome have taken with their restoration is to be commended.
The scenes of Times Square sleaze pits and grindhouses will have aficionados frothing at the mouth whilst fans of the ear-searingly kitsch will revel in some of the most remarkable wallpaper ever conceived.
Far better than its obscurity would suggest, Massage Parlor Murders is essential viewing, the acting being never less than engaging, the script peppered with enjoyable of-the-era jive talk (and a brief discussion about the merits of Shaft’s Big Score), a cracking score and a resolution that is suitably ridiculous.
Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA
“This is through and through a 70s exploitation flick. That means it’s not always fast-paced. There are long stretches of irritating monologues and sometimes frustrating tangents. The editing is mostly frantic with split-second cuts, other times shots drag on seemingly forever. This is all part of the joy of this kind of movie.” Dave Jackson, Mondo Exploito
“There’s plenty of female skin on display thanks to the lovely ladies of the cast and the murder scenes don’t shy away from stage blood, even if observant viewers may notice a dead body breathing or blinking here and there. All of this is set to a ridiculously eclectic score that alternates between fuzzed out guitar-heavy rock and soft, tinkling elevator music – very strange. At eighty minutes in length, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome or ever feel padded.” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!
“The amazing thing about Massage Parlor Murders is that there’s maybe 20 minutes worth of actual narrative during the entire 80 minute run time. The rest of the work is devoted to the fine art of padding, where we watch O’Mara and Gwen take a tour of the town on their various date nights, strolling past street posters and glowing marquees, bumping into pedestrians clearly unaware they’ve stumbled into a movie shoot.” Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com