A Killer Within (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Despite its straight-to-vid provenance, A Killer Within is an interesting murder mystery because the screenwriters gave some serious thought to what they were doing.

The plot:

A straight-arrow lawyer comes home one evening to find his wife murdered and his pre-school son unconscious. Needless to say, the police consider him to be the #1 suspect, despite the fact that the murder was committed in the manner of a recently paroled criminal who had a grudge against the lawyer. It happened just five days after the baddie's parole, and the words "now we're even" were written on the walls of his house. The police lieutenant rightly figures that the murder was either committed by someone who had a grudge against the lawyer, or by someone who wanted the police to make that assumption, and he's leaning toward the latter.

The wimpy lawyer wants to clear himself and find out who killed his wife, so he undertakes his own investigation. He finds that is a lamb who simply cannot do any research by himself in the haunts of wolves, so he hires an alpha wolf to help him - an ex-cop named Vargas who originally arrested the new parolee. Only one problem - Vargas hates the lawyer (who once got him pulled from the force) about as much as he hates the parolee. Say, wait a minute - don't all the clues also point to Vargas as well as to the parolee? I could keep writing those "say, wait a minute" sentences for quite a while, because many other suspects will later enter into the circle of suspicion, either because they had a grudge against the lawyer or because they knew about somebody who did, and could therefore have rigged up a frame. In addition, there is also the possibility that the lawyer killed his own wife.


Four weaknesses come to mind in reviewing my notes:

Well, the first two are likely to be perceived as weaknesses by most people. The last two didn't bother me at all.

  1. One plot element really bothered me. The little boy was going to make a drawing of the person who hurt his mommy, and the father would not let him do so. Dad kept yammering on and on about wanting to find out who really killed his wife, and he kept following all sorts of alternative avenues to prove his own innocence, so it seems to me that it was simply illogical for him to forbid the child from making that drawing. He would have and should have wanted his son to complete the drawing. He did not allow that to happen simply because he was a movie character rather than a real person, and if the kid had made the drawing there would have been no movie. The whole idea was just a cheap trick to run a bunch of red herrings past us. The kid's drawing would have identified Colonel Mustard immediately, but the script wanted us to think it was, in turn, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlett, and Mr Green, before coming back to Colonel Mustard - maybe. You just have to call "shenanigans" on that, although I did appreciate the way the plot incorporated the child's drawing when the boy finally completed it on his own.
  2. One other complaint from me. The score. It seemed to me that every frame of the movie was accompanied by some kind of pseudo-orchestral music, and it just didn't stay in the background, but was just conspicuous and persistent enough to be irritating.
  3. Some of you may also complain about the gratuitous nudity. Sean Young does a full frontal nude scene as she dives into a pool. It is completely unnecessary to the plot. In fact, it's a flashback which is not related to the story in any way. It was there just to provide an additional lure to sell DVDs. Now that's gratuitous! Of course, I consider that a positive. The trick worked on me. I bought the DVD. In fact I would have been whining if a film like this had no nudity, so I consider that scene as having restored the natural order of the genre universe. Your mileage may vary.
  4. Finally, there may be too many red herrings for those not attuned to this type of film, but I accept that as a genre convention.

Having registered those complaints, I'd like to add that the movie maintains a reasonably high level of tension during all of the twists and turns, so that I never reached for the fast forward button while watching the film. The script is not wildly inventive, but it's thoughtful. In fact, the basic script was good enough to carry the director through some problems. In addition, the acting and character development are at least adequate. Giancarlo Esposito was especially good as the disgraced cop, and his role was meticulously constructed, right down to the details of his apartment. Finally the ending of A Killer Within is kind of cool and original, so it's a very watchable film for lovers of whodunits.

I think they did an excellent job with a modest budget.



This film lets you solve the case along with the screen characters.

Do you remember the solution in Brian de Palma's Body Double? You knew the killer had to be the husband in disguise, because he was welcomed into the house by the family dog. The identity of the killer was all right out there in front of you if you were paying attention. Of course, I missed it, and I don't know anyone who saw the dog's reaction and figured out its meaning, but everything was all right there for you mystery buffs to solve.

This film is no Body Double, but it has an element like that. It will not specifically tell you the identity of the killer, but it will show you somebody who must have been involved in some way, and that in turn will lead you in the right direction. If you don't want the clue, stop reading now.

If you do want the clue, here it is:

There will be a dispute between the husband and the cops about a message which they insist he got, and he insists he didn't get. The police will accuse the husband of framing the parolee for the wife's murder, because he was informed telephonically that the guy had just been released. He, on the other hand, insists that he did not get that message, and had no idea that the criminal had been paroled until after his wife's death. The script shows us in many ways that the lawyer is a scrupulously honest man. The script also shows us that the cop is similarly straight-laced, because he once turned in his own partner for planting some evidence. Since the script goes to great pains to establish the honesty of both men, we must assume that they are both telling the truth about the phone call.

How can that be? That answer and another clue regarding phone calls are hidden in the seemingly idle banter in the movie.

As I said, this script is quite thoughtful about those kinds of details. (The head writer is a woman in her fifties or sixties who has never written a previous screenplay! I gather that she is a lawyer by trade.)



  • There is a widescreen version of the film, but it is NOT anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 screens.
  • There is a full-length commentary from the director and head writer
  • There is a section consisting of several interviews.



Sean Young does full frontal nudity as she dives into a pool. It is completely gratuitous and unnecessary to the plot. It fact, it's a flashback which is completely unrelated to the story.

The Critics Vote ...

  • no major reviews on line

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 4.9/10. That's too low. I'd peg it about a point higher.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C. Watchable film. Not a masterpiece, or even a genre masterpiece, but actually quite good by the standards of straight-to-vids.

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