Arnold Masters (Jim Hutton) awakes in a high security mental hospital, sits bolt upright and yells in horror. He then launches himself out of bed and rushes down the nearest corridor in an attempt to escape, but he is subdued by the guards who bundle him into a padded cell. Masters has been an inmate since he was wrongly accused of murdering the doctor who refused to treat his ailing mother, who is now deceased. The next day, having calmed down, he is on the rooftop yard of the hospital when he strikes up a conversation with Emilio (Stack Pierce), who is incarcerated for killing his daughter when she became a prostitute, but after hearing Masters' story, he offers him a way to get back at those who have wronged him...
If it weren't for the spots of violence and nudity, you could be forgiven for thinking Psychic Killer was a television movie because that's what it closely resembles. Written by Greydon Clark (who also appears as a victim in a supporting role), Mike Angel and the director, former actor Ray Danton, it starts with examples of the then-fashionable Kirlian photography under the credits, which claimed to be pictures of energy auras around living things. What connection this has with the story is not explained until well into the film, as indeed the film is happy to let a lot of things go unexplained, not least who feeds Masters' cat when he's inside?
As he predicted, Emilio dies the day after the pimp of his daughter dies in mysterious circumstances (see if you notice a pattern emerging here), and he leaves Masters a small package containing a book and a medallion. When Masters concentrates on the medallion, he lapses into a trance, and the staff believe he has died, or they do until the autopsy is attempted and he awakes with a jolt. Then there comes good news for him: as Emilio also predicted Masters has been found not guilty and is free to go. And so it is that he returns to his cobweb-covered home to mourn his mother and plan his next move, i.e. revenge.
Along with the trendy paranormal trappings, the structure of Psychic Killer is not unlike one of the soon-to-arrive slasher cycle, but looking backward a handful of years and it could also be mistaken for a low budget variation on The Abominable Doctor Phibes with a Psycho mother fixation replacing the loss of a wife. What Masters' modus operandi entails is sitting back and relaxing in his favourite easy chair with the medallion around his neck and using his now super-powered mind to do the murders for him. First we see a mistrust of the medical profession as he imagines the doctor who diagnosed him insane (Whit Bissell) killing his dear old mother, and then proceeds to torment him until his neck breaks.
And on it goes. None of the people Masters despatches is particularly sympathetic, but seeing as how he was apparently set up as the hero, we wonder who we should be cheering for when he starts his killing spree. A couple of the deaths are played for laughs (a stone block dropped from a crane on an opera-singing victim) and there's a hint of a tongue in the cheek, but mostly this turns into a police procedural with a supernatural gimmick. The investigating officer is Lt. Morgan (Paul Burke) who teams up with Masters' psychiatrist Dr Scott (Julie Adams) as they connect him to the deaths, and even enjoy a fast-moving romance. More entertaining for its bursts of mayhem (Neville Brand killed by his own butcher's shop) than as a satisfying whole, Psychic Killer passes the time with nasty flair. Music by William Kraft.