APRIL 1, 2011
I’m sort of bummed a couple of regular readers actually fell for the April Fool’s joke below – not only did I think it was kind of obvious (“Tony from Torrance” arguing with me about The Shining? Yeesh), but it sort of made me wish I HAD just hired a ghost writer or two to help out - someone that could have watched/reviewed today’s selection, for example. Not that Freeway Killer is a terrible movie, but it’s just yet another low budget biopic about a serial killer that glosses over many elements of the case, frequently botches its attempts at depicting the proper period, and features an actor trying way too hard to be intense. I’ve had my fill of these, but maybe someone like Frank O’Hare (read: Frank the Bunny) could find something new to say about it.
Luckily I knew nothing about William Bonin before watching the movie, so I wasn’t hip to what was made up or even what they were skipping over. So I won’t hold that sort of stuff against the movie too much (I do think they completely pussed out by omitting the fact that he would rape his (male) victims before killing them), but one thing bugged me throughout the film and it only sort of made sense later when I did some research – how goddamn dumb was the average male walking around LA in the late 70s/early 80s? He “captures” every victim by just pulling up alongside them and offering them beer or marijuana or simply just driving around, which just seemed silly to me, because the guys were seemingly all in their 20s, even the one who was walking to Disneyland by himself. But in reality, most of his victims were teens, which would have made more sense – they were naïve and lured by things they couldn’t just go buy themselves (in the case of the beer anyway). So I can hold that against the movie, even if I didn’t realize it at the time – they not only shot themselves in the foot on a narrative level by making it seem totally implausible that this guy could convince so many young men into his van, but they also botched the chance to make it disturbing. I don’t want 90 minutes of a guy killing kids, but even just one would have sufficed, not to mention helped the film come closer to achieving the level of realism that they were going for.
Because honestly, based on what I read, they didn’t embellish too much. The real Bonin did have a few accomplices, had a messed up childhood, etc. Names change of course, but the filmmakers didn’t take too many extraneous liberties, which is always a good thing. And while I wasn’t a fan of Scott Leet’s performance (which is primarily a lot of nostril flaring and a seeming attempt to raise his eyebrows up until they actually become part of his hairline), he at least looks like the real guy, so that’s good. Things like this help when, for example, the characters walk into a convenience store and you see Starbucks chilled drinks and all 47 flavors of Doritos in the background instead of what SHOULD be on the shelves in 1980. Or when there’s any sort of driving scene, in which you can see modern SUVs and even a Prius (!), at least when they’re not awkwardly framing shots at the ground to avoid seeing the other cars. They got the clothing right at least.
Oddly, they cast Michael Rooker in a small role. I’m always happy to see Rooker pop up in anything, but in a “drifter serial killer” movie, it’s a bit distracting when Henry shows up 20 minutes before the movie ends. It’s sort of like casting Harrison Ford for a small role in your cheesy adventure film – you don’t want Indiana Jones around, reminding folks of the superior film they could be watching. I’m sure it was an intentional tip of the hat, but it’s not a very successful one, in my opinion.
One thing I learned later that I wish the movie had worked in was the fact that there were two other killers with the same MO and operating in the same area. Since Bonin meets a new friend to help him every 15 minutes or so, it would have been kind of interesting to have him cross paths with one of the others. The other two are still alive to this day (Bonin was executed in 1996 – the first by lethal injection in California. Grats!), and apparently Bonin met one of the others on Death Row, so that could have been interesting, especially since, as is often the case, there are murders that he confessed to that he didn’t do, and probably vice versa. Thus its very possible that Bonin admitted to one of the others’ kills, or that they took the blame for one of his - there’s a really disturbing Tango & Cash like feature length pissing contest movie in there...
The DVD features a rather boring commentary with director John Murlowski (Black Cadillac) and writer David Birke (who wrote Gacy and Dahmer as well), who spend most of the track just sort of narrating the film while adding in the insight that the movie itself fails to convey, or adding in tidbits about the real case (“in real life, by now the cops were starting to track this guy”). Plus they love all the actors, though they do admit a few of the anachronisms, so, respect. You’re better off sticking with the “behind the scenes”, which is just a collection of interviews with the above as well as a few of the actors, including Leet, who sounds like he’s reciting nonsense out of a third rate acting class and begins nearly bit of conversation with “As AC-tors...”, which is amusing if you check his filmography, littered with one-episode stints on a handful of soaps and canceled TV shows (Women’s Murder Club! The Guardian!). And, oddly enough, a couple of Mike Feifer movies, which I point out because this seems to be the only serial killer movie shot in Los Angeles in the past 5 years that Feifer WASN’T involved in, though it feels very much like one of his productions. The piece is also sort of sloppy – the clips from the film seem to be raw dailies (the sound is atrocious), and Leet keeps addressing the interviewer as if he was part of a conversation, but it’s only 12 minutes with some actor insight, instead of 90 minutes without it. Both tell the story about how the opening credits sequence was created, and since it’s the only really part of the movie that felt unique, it’s worth listening to.
Now, someone make a movie about all three Freeway Killers! Maybe cast Ken Foree or someone as a cop who investigated them all.
What say you?