Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Zodiac Killer (1971)

          Thrown together quickly as a means of exploiting public interest in the gruesome exploits of a real-life serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco area during the late ’60s and early ’70s, this low-budget flick puts forth a wholly fabricated theory of the murderer’s identity, even telling much of the story from his perspective. According to this movie, the man known as “Zodiac” is actually Jerry, a postman with psychological problems. He feels greater connections to his pets than he does to people; he worships at a shrine where he communicates with his “followers,” who are really just voices in his head; and he treats murder like a hobby. Some of this material works, but the acting, production values, and storytelling are all lackluster. (Leading man Hal Reed has some okay moments blending boy-next-door charm with sadistic menace, but his characterization is cartoonish overall.) Notwithstanding the circumstances of certain crimes, the main thing the filmmakers took from the M.O. of the real Zodiac is vanity, since the real Zodiac loved taking credit for his crimes. The movie Zodiac gets off on dropping clues about his identity, exults in stumping cops, and rages whenever someone else gets publicity for his murders.
          In the picture’s best scene, Jerry chats with a bartender who obnoxiously proclaims that he’d know a killer if he saw one, even as Jerry draws the famous Zodiac symbol in salt on the bar. After Jerry leaves, the bartender wipes away the symbol without noticing. Alas, more typical of The Zodiac Killer are long scenes concerning Jerry’s neighbor, a horny trucker who pretends to be an executive so he can score with chicks. Had the makers of The Zodiac Killer taken a docudrama approach and simply put known events onscreen, this picture might have been an interesting curio. Instead, they opted for ridiculous scenes like the finale, during which Jerry pushes an aging invalid’s hospital bed down a steep hill, cackling as the fellow tumbles to his death. In some ways, this is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill gorefest—but the glimmers of reality that permeate the movie by dint of the subject matter make The Zodiac Killer moderately interesting.

The Zodiac Killer: FUNKY

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting side note on this film: according to Robert Greysmith's book, a publicity gimmick used in its promotion was to have a big receptacle in the lobby, and patrons were given a card to fill out to say who they thought the real Zodiac killer might be. When it showed in San Francisco, the SFPD had a detective hidden in the receptacle with a flashlight to read each card as it was dropped to see if the real Zodiac killer might be drawn to the movie and identify himself (in which case a surveillance unit would be radioed by the detective in the box to jump him.) It didn't work, though.

Mike C.