Serial Disappointment: Murder Blues (1991)

Dave checks out a Canadian serial killer movie whose style far outweighs its substance.

When he dropped dead after a suspected heart attack at the age of forty-eight a little over ten years ago, Francesco (son of Anthony) Quinn left behind a twenty-five year legacy that began with Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) and ran up to Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011). A mixed bag fell in-between, with small screen work providing regular employment for the Italian-born actor – though the ‘90s did find him cast in a handful of lead roles. MURDER BLUES is the most interesting of the bunch.

Quinn is Detective John Reed: a scruffy bugger partial to everything he shouldn’t be, namely booze, hookers, and heroin. He’s obsessed with alleged serial killer John Barnes (Brad Dourif), who, a decade or so earlier, was acquitted of the murder of his own fiancée, Debbie Jones (Terri Heacock). When a series of grisly murders begin to seep through the gnarly Toronto underbelly once more, Reed is determined to pin them on Barnes, even though the real perpetrator is hiding in plain sight.

Swedish writer-director Anders Palm had begun life with the Brit-based twosome of gore-soaked horror-comedy Unmasked Part 25 (1988), and Murder on Line One (1989) – a serial killer thriller where the police go after the wrong man. The latter unquestionably shares a number of similarities with Murder Blues, both thematically and also in terms of it being tedious and prone to moments of pretention.

Shot by acclaimed (and BAFTA nominated) cinematographer John de Borman, Palm’s film displays a fetish for shadows, seductive lighting and religious imagery, to an extent that it’s impossible not to be enamoured by some of its beauty. Having said that, its heavy-handed use of monochrome flashbacks, high shots, and Dutch angles invokes the old adage of style over substance. The screenplay is patchy, and the fact it’s drawn out to one-hundred and eight minutes only serves to expose a wide variety flaws – not least the matter that Quinn wasn’t particularly suited to a role like this. Thankfully, for the second time in the space of a year, Dourif does the best that he can from the confines of a shadowy prison cell, and Murder Blues limps along to an ill-fitting conclusion.

Toronto does an excellent job of gifting the film with a rain-soaked, strip club laden backdrop, and irrespective of its shortcomings, the movie does harbour an occasional blast of originality within its leaden and cliched script. That doesn’t rescue it from the bowels of mediocrity, but it does ensure that this Canadian oddity isn’t entirely devoid of worth.

Also known as ‘Dead Certain’.

Canada ● 1991 ● Thriller ● 108mins

Francesco Quinn, Brad Dourif, Karen Russell, Joel Kaiser ● Dir./Wri. Anders Palm

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