Nevertheless, someone was impressed enough by Transamerica, yet sufficiently unsatisfied with its gore quotient, to want to remake it horror-style. In its heart-warming tale of a transgendered father seeking his son’s acceptance, they saw bloody revenge and lots of naked pole-dancing. In short, they had a vision... A vision called Transamerican Killer! (Later retitled to Switch Killer, presumably because the buzz surrounding Transamerica had died down.)
That someone was writer-director Mack Hail, whom you might recognize as the man who played the killer in Nutbag, Nick Palumbo’s heavily-censored (in Britain) film about a serial murderer stalking Las Vegas. The adage “write what you know” proves true here because Hail’s script for Switch Killer again concerns a killer in Vegas, only this time the twist (and I think it’s actually meant to be a twist in the plot, though I’m not sure) is that this killer is a man in a dress. Look, you can see him/her hovering ominously in the background here:
Let’s back up a bit. Why is he in a dress? Simple. Obviously, he’s been rejected by his girlfriend, who left him for another woman, so naturally he sticks on a wig (because wigs can do anything, remember?), twins it with an evening gown, and sets off on a stripper-murdering frenzy on the streets of Sin City. And to think: Felicity Huffman got an Oscar nomination just for wearing a plastic cock.
All of this may make it sound as if Switch Killer spends most of its time in the company of gender-bending Bobby (for that is his name – the Bobby part, at least). This isn’t really true, however, as the main character is actually his former girlfriend, Jamie, played by Cara Jo Basso. As well as lesbian tendencies, Jamie also sports extensive eye shadow:
Focusing on a female victim thus nudges Switch Killer away from being another Nutbag-like piece of pure nastiness and further into slasher movie territory, as Jamie goes about her life unaware that her friends and colleagues are being stabbed to pieces all around her (and, in one instance, stabbed then hit by a train – unlucky!). Of course, Jamie and Bobby eventually cross paths again in time for the climax, when the bodycount triples in the space of a few minutes thanks to a clutch of unfortunate partygoers getting in the way, and Jamie discovers she’s quite handy with a chainsaw. (Now, if only there’d been one of those in Mamma Mia!)
You’re probably starting to sense that subtlety isn’t one of Switch Killer’s strong points. In fact, I suspect the makers would’ve called it Sex-Change Killer if they thought they could get away with it. But is the movie as offensive as it sounds? And, more importantly, is it any good?
Surprisingly... yes! This one’s single-handedly restored my faith in the modern low-budget slasher. Sure it’s cheap (some of the sets are terrible) but director Hail manages not to take it too seriously whilst also, crucially, not letting it descend into a complete joke. As a result, it’s sometimes damn funny. (I particularly liked the Casablanca remake that plays on TV and includes the line: “Get your ass on that plane!”) The gore is simple but reasonable, and made more effective by the fact that the kills themselves are well staged, again including some amusing dialogue. But, best of all, Switch Killer doesn’t feel like most of the despicably drossy shot-on-video efforts that have been kicking around since 1999. Instead, something about its bad fashions, largely adult cast, and lack of modern technology actually makes it seem a little more timeless, in the way of an 80s slasher.
The movie’s main flaw – albeit one that doesn’t spoil enjoyment – is that it’s not clear how obvious it’s supposed to be that Jamie’s stalker is actually her ex-boyfriend. Towards the end, it’s treated almost like a plot twist, despite having already been evident throughout, even to the extent that it was referenced in the title. But this is just one bum-note in an otherwise confident – and competent – black comedy/horror.