A serious contemporary movie (1992) about a serial killer by flashy and talented genre director William Friedkin. Maybe that’s a contradiction in terms, and I certainly don’t want to oversell it, but the film at least has the distinction of its negative virtues: a refusal to manipulate the viewer, mythologize the subject, or deify the serial killer in the disgusting if effectively Oscar-mongering manner of The Silence of the Lambs. Held up from release for several years by Dino De Laurentiis’s bankruptcy, this film looks at some of the legal and psychiatric issues surrounding the trial of its serial-killer subject. Although the facts of the case are gory enough, Friedkin, adapting a novel of the same title by William P. Wood based on an actual case, goes to considerable lengths not to exploit the material for cheap thrills, preferring to explore the implications of certain legal issues. Without offering any definitive conclusion about whether or not we should regard this killer (well played by Alex McArthur) as insane (though arguing overall for capital punishment), the movie proceeds rather like an issue-oriented chamber drama of the 50s, with potent and naturalistically plausible performances by Michael Biehn, Nicholas Campbell, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, John Harkins, Art La Fleur, Royce D. Applegate, and Grace Zabriskie, among others. (JR)

This entry was posted in Featured Texts. Bookmark the permalink.