MAY 10, 2010
How’s this for irony - I recorded Kemper: The Co-Ed Killer on cable, but before I watched it, I checked to make sure Mike Feifer had nothing to do with it, as I think I’ve had my fill of his serial killer movies for a while. Not seeing his name anywhere, I breathed a sigh of relief and hit play. 30 minutes later, I began to wish he HAD indeed been involved with the film, because then at least it would be somewhat interesting. Or would have Corin Nemec somewhere.
I’m not sure why Rick Bitzelberger (director) and Jack Perez (writer) thought that THIS would be the best approach to a story about Ed Kemper, but it’s almost the polar opposite of the right way to go. First of all, it’s only sort of suggested by the Kemper case, sticking to a few basics and making everything else up, including the timeframe. Kemper killed in the 60s and 70s, but the film seems to be set in modern times since a cell phone is one of the most important plot elements. Yet a major location and some of the décor seems straight out of the 70s, so I dunno - maybe they were going to try to make it a period piece and gave up after a few days of shooting?
Well, for whatever reason, it’s still the least of the movie’s problems. The biggest blunder is that nearly the entire film finds Ed talking on the phone to Harris (the fact that the two main characters are combined to make the name Ed Harris - whom actor Robert Sisko (Ed) seems to be channeling at times to boot - is about the most interesting thing about it), with Harris trying to keep him on long enough to trace the call or simply locate him through background sounds or whatever. I’m not going to say that the killer is always more interesting than the guy going after him, but this movie would certainly provide evidence to the suggestion, since Harris (Christopher Stapleton) is a dreadfully generic character. It seems like they are going for a bit of a Silence of the Lambs thing here, as the two men were friends and have a mutual respect for each other, but it doesn’t work at all, because Harris simply isn’t interesting - I could care less about whether or not he caught his man.
Ed isn’t much better, and he will seem even more boring if you know about the real Kemper. In real life, Kemper was a necrophiliac, killed his grandparents, was locked in a basement at night growing up because his mother was afraid he would try to molest his sister, etc. Our guy makes phone calls. The only thing they really took from the real guy was that he killed co-eds and his mother (whom he decapitated, and then pinned the head to his wall with darts; in real life he also molested the head), but by stripping out the perverse stuff, it simply makes him a cheap, TV movie version of Ted Bundy (and we’ve already had a few cheap TV movie versions of Bundy, thank you very much). I’d stop short of saying “The movie fails because we don’t see a guy fuck his mother’s disembodied head”, but it’s not too far from the truth. And whether you know the story or not (in fact, I knew nothing of the story beforehand; I read up on it via Wikipedia after watching the film. I would imagine “fans” of Kemper would be even more bored/infuriated), you’d probably know that if you hit someone on the back of the head with the blunt side of a hammer, then it’s not very likely that a big blood splatter will hit the TV in FRONT of their head (and several feet away). Way to blow the film’s big centerpiece moment.
They’re also really stupid people. At one point they find a photo with the words “Ysatsce” and “Ynoga”, and the cop, who apparently had never read even the worst Hardy Boys mystery, thinks it might be Native American! I, and presumably most people, would instantly recognize what they were supposed to be, doing my friend Alucard (from the town of Nilbog) proud in the process. And Harris continually tries to keep Ed talking on the phone so he can trace him, even though he knows that Ed is a wannabe police officer and thus would likely know how long to stay on the line. Also, Harris has the single most shrill and annoying ringtone in the history of cinema, which makes the repeated phone call scenes all the more exasperating.
Did I like anything? Yeah, the opening titles, which are ripped off from Se7en, but it’s kind of charming to see someone still trying to recapture that greatness. And our boy chops off a few toes of a victim at one point, which is pretty unusual. And I was sort of tickled that, of all movies, Are You Scared? (which WAS produced by Mike Feifer! I love a good anecdote) was showing on TV at one point. It even helped me identify with the character a bit: “Hey, I’m watching a derivative bore on cable too!”
What say you?