Thursday, October 26, 2017

THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971) Blu-ray review

The Zodiac Killer (1971) d. Hanson, Tom (USA) (1st viewing) 87 min

Creating a movie about a serial killer while said serial killer is still at large and still very much active is a strange and exploitative notion indeed, but producer/director Hanson’s backstory further wrinkles the equation. The owner of a chain of slowly-going-bankrupt Pizza Man restaurants claimed (and continues to claim on the audio commentary track for the American Genre Film Archive aka AGFA’s blu-ray release) that his reason for the film’s genesis was that he hoped to catch the murderer, suspecting that the killer would not be able to resist the urge to watch his (or her) exploits dramatized on the big screen. It was a wild scheme, but it’s somewhat charming to believe - however unlikely - that altruism could actually coincide with exploitation.

Obviously, Hanson’s big plan didn’t work out as planned, since the mystery of the Zodiac Killer has yet to be resolved, but what about the film itself? Technically flawed and clumsily performed, it falls squarely in the realm of independent schlock, redeemed only by the “good bits,” i.e. the murders themselves, and while some of these do mirror actual historical accounts, others are constructed from whole (and wholly ludicrous) cloth.

Watching a multitude of victims being done in by guns, knives, spare tires, and car hoods (!) is the film’s real attraction for modern day viewers, and there are plenty of memorable mo-mos to be found in the brisk 87 minute running time.

Padding out the proceedings are a parade of bizarre characters who cross paths with the killer, and their wackadoo quality is welcome since there’s not a lot of mystery; writers Ray Cantrell and Manny Cardoza can’t wait any longer than the first half hour before revealing the (fictitious) identity of their killer. (I’ll save the surprise.) Which begs the question: why create a movie to catch a murderer where the identity is clearly incorrect? Was Hanson hoping the killer would leap out of his seat and shout, “THAT’S NOT HOW IT HAPPENED!!! THAT’S NOT ME!!!!”

TZK is the inaugural release from AGFA, who recently teamed up with Something Weird, and while the film itself isn’t mind-blowing, there is definitely reason to be optimistic considering the generosity shown by the new label with their various supplemental materials. In addition to a (relatively) illuminating and entertaining audio commentary featuring AGFA’s Joseph A. Ziemba sharing the mike with Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick (as well as at least one of Hanson’s kids sitting in the background), there is an onscreen-interview with Hanson and Nedwick, a collection of “Tabloid Horror” trailers (Manson Family Murders, Three on a Meathook), an interview in the liner notes with Hanson conducted by Temple of Schlock’s Chris Pogialli, reversible cover art, AND an entirely different feature film included as a bonus, 1977’s Another Son of Sam.

The Zodiac Killer is available now from AGFA and can be ordered from MVD Entertainment HERE:


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