Knife for the Ladies is a sadly too bland 1974 curio that seems out of place and out of time. Considering this was the year when the likes of The Exorcist or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were in theatres it’s a reminder not every horror film was breaking new ground. Not that this is strictly a horror film. Indeed it’s actually mostly a western with some attempt at horror to hang its plot on, which explains one of its alternative titles: Jack the Ripper Goes West.
Mescal is a desert town witnessing the slow decline of its fortunes. A once prosperous mine presided over by the man who gave the town its name is now as dead as him. The people that arrived by the trainload now leave by coach, as those trains no longer call at Mescal. It gets worse for those who remain because a killer is stalking and murdering the women of the town. This has been going on for months and so Hollyfield, businessman and would-be sheriff, has gone to the big city and recruited Burns, a criminal investigator of the new style. The actual sheriff in Mescal is Jarrod, a man who finds his youth and integrity have long gone too.
When Burns arrives these two mismatched lawmen will have to decide whether they can put aside personal differences to discover the truth about who is killing the women of Mescal. To say that they do is hardly a spoiler. As with many of these films it’s about the journey as much as the final twist itself. Jarrod is played by Jack Elam, a character actor of some considerable ability and who has a number of screen credits. He plays Jarrod as an essentially good man lost in a time that’s passing him by. Jeff Cooper as Burns represents that, and he’s acceptable enough in the soap-opera style.
A Knife for the Ladies isn’t a great western nor is it a good horror movie but it has its charms. It's a minor but entertaining example of the type of thing you could just as easily believe was a pilot for a TV show that never followed. It’s ever so slightly bloody but nowhere near as gory as its poster would have you believe, though the final five minutes are agreeably trashy and make you wish it had gone for that level of hysteria the whole way through. Inoffensive when it should be exploitative, you wonder whether the alleged ‘extra scenes’ of blood and nudity shot for Europe wouldn’t make it much more interesting. An extra star for the 'Evil Ladies' theme song and the laughs every time someone called Cooper’s character Mr. Burns!
A KNIFE FOR THE LADIES (1974) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: LARRY G. SPANGLER / SCREENPLAY: SETON I. MILLER / STARRING: JACK ELAM, JEFF COOPER, RUTH ROMAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW