John Bruni reviews Real Killers

Real Killersaka Killers
97 min., 1996
Written by Dave Larsen/Mike Mendez
Directed by Mike Mendez
Language: English
My rating: ★★★★


* * *

Odessa and Kyle James are killers and media darlings very much in the same vein as the Menendez brothers.  One day, they dressed up as clowns and shotgunned their parents, who were asleep at the time.  After a media circus involving many interviews and a lot of speculation as to whether or not their parents sexually abused them, they are convicted and manage to escape from prison.  On the run, they bust in on the Ryan family and take them hostage, hoping to evade the authorities.

The Ryan family—father Charles, mother Rea, and daughters Jami and Jenny—seem like the average American family, but as the film goes along, we find out more and more about them until they seem like complete strangers.  For example, Lorna (the officer in charge of the manhunt) discovers that Charles Ryan is a ‘Nam vet, and Rea Ryan is a former criminal who always managed to beat the charges.

And that’s not all:  before the James brothers show up, Jami and Jenny discuss which of them they like better.  Jenny likes Odessa more, but Jami is definitely a Kyle girl.  And when the James brothers show up?  Jami takes Kyle aside and fucks him right away.  And oddly enough, Rea takes Odessa aside and fucks him.

Okay, that’s pretty strange, but the rest of the story sounds kind of . . . blah, right?  Business as usual.  Another home invasion movie?  Another movie about killers dressing up as clowns?  *sigh*  All right.

But that’s not the case here, only because of one giant detail.  As you can probably guess, the Ryans have a major surprise for the James brothers, but it’s not the one you think.  You see, there’s a fifth member of the family:  Bob, an effeminate mutant monster who has romantic intentions toward Kyle.  Oh yeah, and the Ryans have a FUCKING DUNGEON under their house, where they keep all sorts of humanoid monsters.  Before you know it, the James brothers are stuck in a shoot out with the dungeon folks in an attempt to survive this clusterfuck of a home invasion.

How’s that for a fucking twist?  It’s pretty inventive for a ho-hum, paint-by-numbers movie, no?  It’s actually kind of baffling, because very little of this film actually works.  Without the monsters in the dungeon and poor, heart-broken Bob, this would have been a yawner of a flick.

REAL KILLERS is too style heavy.  There’s not enough content to merit some of the things director Mike Mendez pulls.  He’s got a good eye for imagery, but there is no point to it.  The script, which he co-wrote with Dave Larsen (who plays Odessa James), tries so hard to be NATURAL BORN KILLERS that it’s almost embarrassing.  They’re trying to make a movie about how the media feeds into serial killers and makes them celebrities, but it just comes off as a nod at trying to appear to be intellectual.  Sure, when the James brothers action figures are advertised on TV, that’s pretty damning, but it’s glossed over by just about everything else in the film.

The acting doesn’t fare too well, either.  Almost everyone is absolute shit.  Larsen seems to think he’s a cross between a young Kiefer Sutherland and a NBK-era Tom Sizemore.  When he’s trying to come off as scary, he seems silly.  However, in the action sequences, he’s actually not bad.  David Gunn, who plays Kyle, does a bit better.  He brings a lot of intensity to the role, but every time he talks, he sounds like Pauly Shore trying to seem smart.  The true stand-out is C.T. Miller, who plays Charles Ryan.  For the first half of the movie, he seems too awkward, but for the second-half, when he’s allowed to cut loose a bit, he brings a cool insanity to the surface.  His best line:  “Back in ‘Nam, boys like you, I’d cum in their asses for breakfast.”  Also, Chad Sommers brings an awesome monstrous sadness to the role of Bob.

But here’s the real problem with the story:  everyone is playing the James brothers up as crazed serial killers, but that’s just not the case.  Before they escaped from prison, they’d only killed two people, their parents.  Yet somehow, the world regards them as Mickey and Mallory.  These guys haven’t even gone on a killing spree.

And here’s another thing:  these two brothers are killing monsters left and right like experts, but remember, before they killed their parents, they were considered average American boys.  Where did they get their training?  Did a fellow prisoner teach them the fine art of the Shoot Out?

The biggest stretch Mendez pulls is having Lorna confess to Odessa that even she’s in love with her.  Really?  The cop that’s chasing these guys down is actually in love with one of them?

But for all of its flaws, REAL KILLERS pays off really well, in particular with the battle between Charles and Odessa in the end.  And the very last scene?  Perfect.  If you can find this movie, check it out.  Don’t expect too much, and you’ll have plenty of fun.

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of AND JESUS CAME BACK (Rooster Republic), DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at and
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