UnSubs Central

Your stop for killer book and film reviews about the world's most notorious serial murderers

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September 5, 2018

 

The Zodiac Killer
1971
Director: Tom Hanson
Screenplay: Ray Cantrell and Manny Cardoza

 

“The motion picture you are about to see was conceived in June 1970. Its goal is not to win commercial awards but to create an “awareness of a present danger”. Zodiac is based on known facts. If some of the scenes, dialogue, and letters seem strange and unreal, remember – they happened. My life was threatened on Oct. 28, 1970 by Zodiac. His victims have received no warnings. They were. People like you—”
Paul Avery, Reporter
San Francisco Chronicle

So says the opening screen for The Zodiac Killer. In a twist as unexpected as one of the Zodiac crimes, one of the truths about this film is that it was developed, shot, and released in the hope of catching the real Zodiac killer. Director Tom Hanson, former fast-food restaurant owner turned budding actor/director conceived of the idea that capturing the elusive Zodiac would be something that would benefit both society and himself.[1]

The Zodiac story and his subsequent killings presented in The Zodiac Killer only faintly resemble the true facts of the story, an offense that can understandably be overlooked. Coverage by newspapers and television was considerable at the time for a character who’s crimes gripped the San Francisco area, but nowhere near as exhaustive as one envisions them being today. Twenty-four news channels, a never ending Internet, and a public fascination with serial murderers would ensure it. Artistic license aside though, the diversion from the facts do little to bolster the story.

In Hanson’s version, we have Jerry, a mailman, and Grover with the bad toupee, a resident on Jerry’s route. Grover both likes and hates women and is quite the party animal. Misogynist at his core, he possesses a bad temper and urinates in customer’s drinks while blackout drunk. Jerry is Ted Bundy-like handsome. He talks to his beloved rabbits, but is tortured by the lack of emotion from his callous father.

Just in case I’ve enticed you thus far and you now have a compelling need to see The Zodiac Killer – caution, spoilers ahead!

Forty minutes into the movie, Grover has taken his daughter hostage and after spectacularly professing to be the Zodiac, is killed by police in a shootout. This is troublesome because one, I see my chances for laugh out loud moments gone, which is one of the only redeeming qualities of this film and two, any suspense over who the killer is, is now gone (hint, it’s not Grover with the bad toupee). Left over, is Hanson’s attempt at understanding the Zodiac.

While criminal behavior analysis had been around decades before, it was the dawn of our understanding about serial killer’s motivations and before the FBI Behavior Analysis Unit took criminal profiling to another level. Hanson’s effort to portray Zodiac’s complex provocations to kill is rudimentary (no Criminal Minds here!). He tries to create a multifaceted character by presenting a man who helps wayward children stuck in trees, helps old ladies cross the street, dutifully visits his father in prison, and who of course is a magnet to every woman in San Francisco, all while he sadistically murders innocent victims. In the end, Zodiac’s psychological motivations are confusing at best and it’s difficult to discern Hanson’s conclusions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for campy horror films. I count Evil Dead as an all time favorite, Suspira as most obviously a classic, and Trilogy of Terror: Amelia still terrifies me to this day. So while credit is due for Hanson’s honorable intentions, does this make his effort any more palatable? Sadly, director Tom Hanson’s attempt to recount the Zodiac killer’s terrifying string of murders falls so short I shudder to say this movie is an assault on the senses. The Zodiac Killer might just be one of the most extreme and early examples of amateur sleuthing, but cinematically speaking, it’s painful to watch. As a result of its lack of developed plot, its poor acting, and confusing thematic elements, I have to conclude that the Zodiac didn’t miss all that much.

 

Watch the movie here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZ84emK3zoI

 

Footnotes:
1. Collis, Clark. “The Zodiac Killer,” Entertainment Weekly, 2016. Can be found at: zodiactruecrime.ew.com

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