My brother received this movie from one of our uncles as a gift for Christmas, but not being an awfully big fan of Charles Bronson or vigilante action movies, he gave it straight to me. I went into this film expecting something along the lines of Deathwish, but with only one villain. Instead what I got was the obvious precurser to American Psycho, and plenty of the shots used in this film were clearly in Harron's mind when she directed that film, if not in Brett Easton Ellis's when he wrote the novel.
Although a psychadelic version of this picture would probably give you a more accurate representation of what goes on in Ellis's head...
This movie came out 3 years after Ted Bundy was incarcerated for multiple homicides, and was clearly written as a reaction to that case. It also includes elements of Richard Speck's killing spree - though that will be discussed later. I have to say, however, I was incredibly impressed by this portrayal of a serial killer.
Right from the off, we see a lot of Patrick Bateman in our killer, Warren Stacy. He is played by a young Gene Davis, who looks to be about Bateman's age - 26, or possibly a little younger. Perhaps having seen American Psycho and loving it means I'm going to give this movie a little more credit than I should for showing us a similar character some 17 years beforehand, but really, the similarities are astonishing. Stacy is seen very early on walking through his apartment in his underwear, showing off a very muscular but lean physique. The character takes his time styling his hair, and applying moisturizer or aftershave to his face, before selecting the clothes he is going to wear. Every element of this scene screams "Blue Collar Patrick Bateman", and the similarities were far from over then. Not only is Stacey shown to be a film buff like Bateman (though, his music tastes are never discussed, so who knows if he has the new 'Genesis'?), but Stacy is also seen committing several murders throughout the movie, and always commits them completely naked. The shots usually focus on his back or face, with many of the shots being incredibly similar to those used in American Psycho. Hell, in the climax, when he grabs the girl he is after and she burns his face with a hair curler or some similar iron-like equipment, I was almost expecting him to shout "Not the face! You bitch! Not the fucking face, you piece of bitch trash!" - and when he then proceeds to chase her outside, running down the street completely naked and coated in blood whilst carrying a knife. Well, it was almost identical to Christie's escape attempt in American Psycho.
Lots of man-arse and blood, with some shadow-covered crotch thrown in to boot.
Stacey is also shown to be a very intelligent killer, and definitely a ladies man. We see him setting up his alibi for the first murder by going into a cinema and sitting with two girls, hitting on them blatantly, and offering them popcorn. When the more attractive of the two, who he is seated directly next to, decides he's a creep and drags her friend (who is gasping for it, naturally) away from him to another row, Stacey waits a few moments until they are settled, before sneaking out to the cinema's bathroom, where he climbs out the window, and proceeds to drive to the scene of his crime. After the murder, we see the lights come up in the theatre, and the two girls walking out - and of course Stacey is sitting there, cool as anything, and gets up to chat with them on his way out. He sets up his alibi like a rock, and then when the more interested of the two girls starts showing an interest in him when he no longer needs them, he blows her off and goes home. He is arrogant, ingeniously obnoxious, and one hell of a charmer. A real Ted Bundy (or Pat Bateman). These two factors are really important in propelling the story along, as Stacey's intelligence forces Bronson's character to move further and further outside of the law to try and pin something on him, which eventually culminates in Bronson's having to leave the force after he is found to have planted evidence. Stacey is incredibly intelligent, and leaves no trace behind - and this intelligence and planning is what helps the climax of the movie to unfold in such a dramatic fashion.
Uh, not that type of climax, Charlie.
Towards the end, Bronson's character is tailing Stacey, trying to get something he can pin on him, or else look for some excuse to take him out; whilst Stacey is out for revenge for Bronson's meddling in his murder spree, and has his sights set on killing Bronson's daughter. In order to lose Bronson, Stacey makes it appear as though he is going to kill a prostitute to satisfy his needs, then as Bronson attempts to follow him to the hotel he takes her to in order to catch him in the act, Stacey slips out the back and drives over to the nursing college where Bronson's daughter lives, and re-enacts Richard Speck's infamous killing spree, leading to that climactic running scene in the street. Everything about the character of Stacey is so unbelievably well thought out and accurate, that I wouldn't be surprised if Bundy had written the film himself. Hell, Stacey even drives a Volkswagon Beetle - the only difference is he repairs typewriters for a living, rather than being some fancy fucker with a law degree...
Unlike this tubby bastard. Who is straight out of Compton, I might add...
The moments of clear insanity Stacey seems to have are fantastic as well - the way he finds girls being turned on by him to be a massive turn-off, his Mexican alter-ego Padro, and the way he snaps and goes into a fit of rage at just the wrong word, when maintaining such a cool, calm, collected persona the rest of the time, is also classic Bateman. Ok, we can't imagine Stacey shoving a fifty in the hand of a crack dealer, then eating all five vials as he is handed them. Nor can we imagine Stacey actually hallucinating he has bile-dripping fangs and eyes that roll back in his head, but which no-one notices - but the crazy dark side underlying the cool, handsome exterior is still definitely there, and underplaying it as the film version of "American Psycho" did with Bateman leaves us with the sense that we have a killer who, whilst obviously insane, is still completely in control of his actions, and still one hell of a guy.
I fucking love this guy. He's a total bro, bro.
The other characters in the piece are fairly dull, with Bronson being the typical old-school cop who will do anything to get his conviction, who is lumbered with a partner who wants to play by the rules. There are a few touches added to make things more interesting, such as the new partner becoming involved with Bronson's daughter, and the fact that the first girl murdered was a friend of the daughter, so Bronson knows the family, but it's all pretty standard stuff. The only really different moment comes right at the end of the film, and you know I'm about to spoil it, so watch out if you really want this to be a surprise. After the scene where Stacey chases Bronson's daughter from the nursing college down the road whilst naked, Bronson catches up in time, and grabs a hold of his daughter, gun pointed at Stacey. The police back-up he called for arrives, and Bronson hands his daughter off to his ex-partner, still keeping the gun trained on Stacey. At this point, Stacey starts to tell Bronson that the most recent murders were all his fault, for putting the pressure on him that he did, and tells him that he hears voices telling him to kill, and is sick. Bronson sees that he will clearly get off with the insanity plea he is trying to establish, and earlier in the film we hear Bronson's story of another man he arrested who was found insane and let out of hospital after six months, only to kill his parole officer the next day, so Bronson just does what Charlie does best, and shoots Stacey through the head in full view of a dozen police officers whilst he is posing no immediate danger to anyone. And this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how the film ends. Bronson takes his shot, and his daughter screams "Dad! Noooo!", we then show a wide-shot of the scene, and crane upwards as the credits start to roll. Charlie will be blamed for all three of the murders committed since he planted the evidence, and will no doubt receive life for killing Stacey himself, but goes away knowing that he managed to stop a psychopath, and that his daughter will be in safe hands with his ex-partner.
And I mean, come on, Bronson's not gonna go through an entire movie without using his gun once He knows what the people paid to see...
This movie, then, completely exceeded my expectations in every way. The violence is very disappointing, with no actual gore being shown - every time Stacey kills someone it is with a quick stab to the stomach, and they drop down dead instantly. However, this can be chalked up to the fact that it's a movie about a serial killer from 1983 and already includes plenty of nudity, and there is still a lot of blood, even if there isn't any actual gore. Whilst this overly-tame level of violence detracts from the film in a way by making it less realistic, it at least means it doesn't feel like a slasher flick, with none of the violence being overly gratuitous, or seemingly being the point of the movie, which is great. Hell, it's nice to see a movie where a guy can chase a naked girl and stab her to death which isn't designed for twisted loners to jack off to, and the way the killing are handled, although far less graphic in their nature, again are the obvious precursor to American Psycho (let us not forget that Harron decided to let Al die from a couple of stabs to the stomach, rather than have his eyes cut out, his lower abdomen stabbed countless tines, and the brige of his nose cut to pieces, because you don't need a film to be overly violent to appreciate it, even when violence is one of the main themes). Or hell, they could even be seen as an homage to the original Psycho, in which we never actually see a blade stick in anyone, but know exactly what has happened.
Her daughter made a living in the exact same way. Weird that...
The way the movie is told both from Stacey and Bronson's perspective is also pretty cool, and although nothing new, is certainly new with two characters of these types. The story is incredibly well written, and for the most part is very well acted (Stacey's boss was particularly awful, and Bronson just played himself, but what do you expect?). Some of the dialogue is absolutely brilliant, such as the following conversation as Stacey and his legal team exit the court after the pre-trial hearing for his murder charge:
Defence Attorney: And furthermore, we intend to show that the police evidence is false, and fabricated.
Journalist: What do you mean, "fabricated"?
Defence Attorney: You want a Dictionary?
The music is also pretty good, just sitting in the background for the most part, apart from in the opening title scene, where the intro music is heart-pumping, and really gets you ready for the film. As for the direction and cinematography, were you not here when I said the ending scene looks just like the Chainsaw scene from American Psycho?
I was gonna post it here, but all American Psycho videos on YouTube have embedding disabled.
I'm probably being overly biased here, seeing a lot of American Psycho in this film is making me rate it higher because I love seeing where Harron took her influences from. However, it is a solid serial killer movie, one of the best, and is certainly worth a watch. This far outstips the low-budget horror adaptations of real killers, from 'Gacy' to "Edmund Kemper: The Coed Killer" (which, incidentally, had almost nothing to do with Ed Kemper and was set in 2000-something rather than the 70s, revolving around the manhunt for this killer by his best friend, a cop, when in real life Kemper was caught when he called the police and confessed), and is even better than the movie "Bundy", based on the life of Al Green. Wait. Ted Bundy. Of course, these were all low budget pieces, and can't be expected to live up to a proper studio movie. However, with a budget of 4 and a half million dollars and made in 1983, you'll notice that this film was cheaper than Escape From New York, which is often credited as being an "ultra-low piece" (and fucking awesome) and came out 2 years later, so wasn't exactly well-funded either. Hell, I imagine this film was the precursor to all those straight-to-DVD action films where they pay the star $5 Million and only spend $2 million on the film itself, with Bronson probably being paid the majority of the $4.5 Million just because they knew his name would sell the film. And hell, it worked, because I watched it, which I wouldn't have had it not had Bronson in (since that's almost certainly the ground on which my uncle bought it). So, great film, very enjoyable, and probably the 3rd best Serial killer film out there (After American Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. Both also based on Bundy, interestingly enough). Of course, I'm not including the fantastic Television series "MillenniuM" in that statement, but nevertheless it's still one hell of an accolade - and I'm going to be sure to recommend this movie to everyone I know who enjoyed American Psycho, even if the antagonist of the piece doesn't have a penchant for Valentino Couture Suits and Oliver People's Glasses (non-prescription).
P.S. - Shit, was I really THAT fat? God damn!