Taking Care Of Business: Tracks Of A Killer (1996)

Before infamy arrived in the form of a mutant killer snowman, screenwriter Michael Cooney began life penning taut thrillers like this Canadian programmer.

Born in London, screenwriter Michael Cooney grew up in a distinctly creative environment. His father, Ray Cooney, penned the smash hit West End comedy Run for Your Wife [1], so it seemed like destiny for him to pick up a pen at some point and try his hand at writing.

In an interview with Justin Beahm, Cooney recalled the start of his journey to Hollywood:

“I came out to Los Angeles to go to acting school and it turns out I’m a terrible actor. I found this out in the first week of at Lee Strasburg. I loved writing though, so I started doing it more and more. I had a couple of producer friends who said I should write a screenplay, but I’d never done that. So I read a bunch of scripts and then I wrote and wrote. The first ones were awful, and they got a little better bit by bit. I must have written fifteen or twenty screenplays before they were presentable.”

TRACKS OF A KILLER was the first Cooney screenplay that made its way to the screen – and although it’s no Identity (2003), it’s clear that the Englishman possessed all the capabilities to carve out a successful career in the film business, albeit in need of a little refinement.

The story opens in the offices of an anonymous corporation, where CEO David Hawkner (James Brolin) has been offered a five-year contract extension to reward his business prowess. Irrespective of this, he’s tempted to jack it all in and retire to a life of leisure with his attractive wife, Claire (Kelly LeBrock). The glitch that’s stopping him is a nagging reluctance to appoint his right-hand man, Patrick Hausman (Wolf Larson – just back from Mexico after three seasons of Tarzan), as his successor. Buoyed by the idea of a weekend away in the mountains, where he can assess just what his prospective replacement is made of, the men and their wives head to their voluntary isolation, with Hawkner unaware of the monster that lurks within the psyche of his stand-in…

There’s a pinch of Richard Brandes’ excellent snowbound thriller Dead Cold (1995) to be found in Tracks of a Killer: the wintry setting, the solitude, and the concept of a loved-up couple fending off a loon. That’s no bad thing either. Cooney creates a taut game of cat-and-mouse, and it’s ably delivered by director – and fellow Brit – Harvey Frost, who, twelve months prior, had made the delicious thriller Midnight Heat (1995) with Tim Matheson [3]. This talented trifecta from Blighty is rounded out by cinematographer Bruce Worrall, who gives breadth to the expansive British Columbia landscape and depth to the shadowy interiors of the Hawkner’s retreat [4].

What the film lacks is a degree of substance. The core of it is nicely handled, but we never get to understand the reason for Hausman’s obsession with power so we’re left with the rather shallow tale of a guy gone crazy. Had a little less time been devoted to repetitive hide and seek scenarios, and a little more devoted to understanding Larson’s admittedly very well played psycho, then Tracks of a Killer could have been a real hidden gem.

Also known as ‘Deadly Ambition’.

Canada ● 1996 ● Thriller ● 100mins

Kelly LeBrock, Wolf Larson, James Brolin, Courtney Taylor ● Dir. Harvey Frost ● Wri. Michael Cooney

[1] Which was eventually adapted into a woeful 2012 vehicle for Danny Dyer and should be avoided at all costs.
[2] Interview with Michael Cooney, www.justinbeahm.com, 10th December 2016
[3] Midnight Heat also shares the same producer for Tracks of a Killer – the legendary James Shavick. Shavick collaborated nine times with director Frost.
[4] Worrall is also a pop music icon, having taken the role of cinematographer on Queen’s iconic promo for Bohemian Rhapsody.

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