Chris (Jared Martin) is an aspiring filmmaker who is having financial troubles, and that has led him to the bottom of the barrel in his work, which basically leaves him casting for a nudie movie because it's easy money and he really needs the cash to get a divorce from his wife. But persuading young women out of their clothes for the sake of softcore is not as easy as he would have thought, and many either get so far then outright refuse, or start to get angry with him for his attitude. His devoted girlfriend Karen (Margo Norton) is starting to grow anxious...
As well she might considering what happens next. Murder a la Mod was director Brian De Palma's first released feature film and played a grand total of one cinema in 1968 before vanishing from screens apparently for good. Then around forty years later it showed up again, and his legions of fans were able to see their moviemaking idol's origins: on that level, this was very interesting indeed for you could perceive his nascent style was a lot more fully formed than his following efforts of the sixties might have led you to believe. There were similarities with the likes of Hi, Mom! or Greetings in its approach, but really this had more to do with his later reputation as an expert in thrillers.
For De Palma aficionados, there were rich pickings here if they wanted to trace where certain aspects of his later, more highly regarded works entered into his filmography. You could see a bit of Blow Out here, a spot of Dressed to Kill there, as it was plain his cinematic obsessions early on were something he held dear to his heart - and his art. The Alfred Hitchcock influence was even present in a shower scene, but also in the way he subverted expectations engendered by the Master of Suspense's methods: the murder does not occur in the shower itself, but further on when the audience was presumably supposed to be wondering if it was OK to stop holding their collective breath yet or not.
The John F. Kennedy assassination which interested him was also in evidence, not in the plot details but in the way Oliver Stone would recognise: the manner in which it led to investigators and conspiracy theorists to go over the same story, finding new angles and revelations which built up the bigger picture. In this case it did not lead to more obfuscation the longer the examination went on (as characters in De Palma's later works would discover to their detriment), but more clarity, with the main suspect eventually exonerated by us learning more about what he was up to. That said, he was played by early regular William Finley in one of his most manic performances (and he was The Phantom of the Paradise).
So you could be forgiven for thinking Finley's Otto was up to no good rather than being a hyperactive prankster for no other reason than to lead the audience up the garden path with his switching of an ice pick with the "Trick pick", all the time offering a stream of consciousness voiceover allowing us access to his feverish mindset. For such a low budget film, the ambition was admirable if not always completely helpful as there were times you wanted it to calm down a bit and let you work out what we were seeing; if anything, Murder a la Mod displayed a need to pack in as much inspiration as possible as if De Palma thought this was his big chance and he should really show what he was made of and how capable he could be. All that was actually to come in the next few years, rendering this a intriguing artifact, but probably of most use to those familiar with the director's later work - everyone else threatened losing patience with its affectations. Music by John Herbert McDowell (Finley sang the theme song).
He's not aversed to directing blockbusters such as Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible, but Bonfire of the Vanities was a famous flop and The Black Dahlia fared little better. Even in his poorest films, his way with the camera is undeniably impressive. Was once married to Nancy Allen.