Killing Obsession (1994): I Remember Mama

A tardy sequel to a cult classic, anyone? Dave dissects Paul Leder’s belated follow-up to his most infamous movie.

After the less than stellar reception for his directorial debut, Marigold Man (1970), Paul Leder’s sophomore feature, I Dismember Mama (1972), gained a cult following thanks to an effective marketing campaign. During I Dismember Mama‘s original theatrical release, those who went to see it were handed free ‘Up Chuck Cups’, and the double bill the film shared with The Blood Spattered Bride (1972) had one of the most widely seen trailers of the grindhouse era. A source of endless imitators, the sight of moviegoers being led out of the cinema in a state of bemusement, panic, and, in one case, a straitjacket was a stroke of (deceptive) genius.

Initially titled ‘Poor Albert and Little Annie’, I Dismember Mama focuses on Albert (Zooey Hall): a mum-obsessed psychopath who, in a fit of rage, escapes from the facility where he’s held and heads to his family home with murder on his mind. Housekeeper Alice (Marlene Tracy) is his victim, but when her eleven-year-old daughter Annie (Geri Reischl) returns home from school, it awakens an infantile side to his persona — albeit one that’s perilously close to madness…

Castigated in the years following its release by critics aghast at content that could be construed as paedophilic, it’s perhaps no surprise that I Dismember Mama is yet to make the leap from VHS to any sort of digital format [1]. True, infamy aside, this scuzzy and queasy offering is far from Leder’s best film — but I Dismember Mama still has plenty of impressive attributes. Hall’s performance is its backbone. A character actor with a handful of screen roles who seemed to vanish into obscurity by the ‘80s, he’s mesmerising as the chillingly schizophrenic antagonist. Props, too, to Bill Norton’s script, which I think navigates a tricky tightrope between perversion and innocence with intelligence and restraint. And even if the whole shebang is too meandering for it’s own good, I Dismember Mama is worth persevering with for a final reel that pays homage to the mannequin warehouse scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss (1955).

This lengthy preamble brings us to KILLING OBSESSION (1994): a sequel twenty-two years in the making, and a film that, in the eyes of those who’ve seen it, only serves to beg one question…


After first watching it, I was tempted to ask the same thing. But upon reflection, there’s just enough to like about Leder’s Albert and Annie reunion.

It’s an interesting idea, even if it never captures the singular mood of its predecessor.

Killing Obsession‘s narrative is back-of-a-napkin level of simplicity. When Albert is kicked out of his current nuthouse — much to the disapproval of his shrink, Dr. Sachs (John Saxon) — he grabs a phone book and starts to hunt down every Annie in the index until he finds his muse. On paper this sounds awful — but on screen it’s on opportunity to meet a wild and wonderful cornucopia of Annies. From Hyapatia Lee’s non-porn debut as ‘Hooker Annie’, to a hilarious cameo from Mitch Hara as ‘Drag Queen Annie’, Killing Obsession offers a seedy trip into downtown Los Angeles that at least attempts to match the kooky depravity of its forebearer.

The major stumbling block, irrespective of who was cast in the lead role, is the fact they have no chance of out-creeping Zooey Hall. John Savage tries his best and delivers a performance that’s compulsively watchable. Alas, he’s just not Hall, and is noticeably uncomfortable with the more oddball aspects of Leder’s vision. Saxon is fine, as too is Bernard White as investigator Lt. Jackson. Credit also to Kim Chase who adds a chameleonism to her grown-up version of Annie that begins with fear before morphing into longing: “Albert was the father I never had and was more romantic than any man I’ve met since.”

Announced in the trades as ‘Released to Kill’, Killing Obsession avoided the VHS-less fate of other Leder films of the era (The Killers Within (1995), The Wacky Adventures of Dr. Boris and Nurse Shirley (1995)) and wound up gracing video stores via Triboro Entertainment. Surprisingly, given the short shrift the film received, Killing Obsession was part of the first wave of catalogue DVD releases from Image Entertainment. It arrived in a bare-bones cardboard clip-case edition in December 1999.

[1] It was unreleased in the U.K. until 1986, when it was issued under the title ‘Crazed’ and shorn of five minutes by the BBFC.

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