Richard Speck: Chicago Massacre (2007)

APRIL 11, 2010


A while back, businessman Mike Feifer took the time to write a comment on one of my reviews for his films, defending his work while pretty much admitting to the very thing I don’t like about it - that they are made on the cheap in order to sell them to Lionsgate (he also mentions having a degree in architecture, which is nice. I often wonder what a Frank Gehry horror movie would look like). In that comment, he singled out his film Richard Speck: Chicago Massacre as being a “biographical history”, so I was hoping it would be his masterpiece. Unfortunately, its typical Feifer - it has a good lead performance (by Bundy’s Corin Nemec - is he the first actor to play two notorious serial killers?), but it’s wasted on a muddled script and a complete lack of attention to detail on Feifer’s part.

Sure, not everyone can be as anal as David Fincher was for Zodiac (where he would even make sure that the goddamn ceiling tile matched the real location’s), but would it kill Feifer to at least TRY to sell his period setting beyond the wardrobe? It’s supposed to be the 1960s, but I see computers and fax machines, and a key scene in a hotel has modern day electronic pass key devices on the doors. And Los Angeles doesn’t QUITE sub for Chicago when you see palm trees in the background (not to mention modern day lights on the very distinguished LA high-rises). I know, I know (because he bitched about it in the comments for the Bundy review), he shoots his films fast and cheap, they all sell for a profit, blah blah blah. Well if they’re making him so much money why can’t he put that money toward making a better next film? I’ve seen four of his serial killer films, out of the order that they were produced, but they all suffer from the same problems and never look better (or worse, to be fair) than the ones before or after. You’d think as a filmmaker he would learn how to be more creative with his shooting/editing to hide the obvious setting errors, or learn to hire better actors for key supporting roles (the girl playing the one survivor is hands down the worst actress he’s hired yet), or at least learn how to tell a goddamn story, but nope. I liked Bundy OK enough, but with each other film I see (BTK and Henry Lee Lucas), I become more convinced that it’s only because unlike these other killers, I knew a lot about the Bundy story and was able to fill in the narrative gaps that Feifer’s style always manages to leave behind.

And that is particularly problematic here, as I know NOTHING about Speck. My only real exposure to him is from watching Naked Massacre (loosely based on the titular event, albeit set in Ireland). There is one positive thing about this - I don’t know what Feifer is making up (and, from what I can gleam from Speck’s Wiki page, it seems Feifer stuck to the facts much more closely than usual), and thus I wasn’t distracted by “creative diversions” the way I was in Bundy. Instead, I was just distracted by a complete lack of understanding how any scene in the film related to another. As usual, the narrative is all out of order, but there are no title cards to explain where we are in time. Scenes of the nurse massacre (which are very repetitive and largely exploitative) are sprinkled throughout the film, along with scenes of two cops (Andrew Divoff and Tony Todd, though Todd checks out after about 20 minutes or so) investigating the murders, and flashback scenes of Speck being his “lovable” self (including a scene with Debbie Rochon that seems to be one of the film’s complete inventions). It’s never immediately clear if such scenes take place before or after the nurse murders, and even if it was, it would still make for a pretty obscure narrative. As always, Feifer doesn’t seem too interested in showing things from the victims’ point of view, nor is there any attempt to decipher why Speck did the things he did (we settle for a quick scene of his stepdad slapping him around). It’s just a bunch of scenes, many of them poorly acted and few of them suspenseful or intriguing in any way. Maybe a Speck expert would be able to put them into context, or at least in order, but he shouldn’t be assuming the audience knows as much as he (presumably) does.

And that is a shame, because the film briefly touches upon something that IS interesting, which is that Speck did not make a model prisoner, due to his sentence of 400-1200 years (on prison, Speck said: “If they knew how much fun I was having, they’d throw me out”). He also began taking female growth hormones in prison and willingly provided oral pleasure for other inmates. Not that I want to watch 90 minutes of Parker Lewis going down on dudes, but there is something interesting about a guy whose prison sentence seemed to actually improve his way of life and his demeanor (there is nothing to suggest he ever harmed another prisoner during his term, which ended prematurely in 1991 when he died of a heart attack). Had the film been set largely in prison, which flashbacks showing what got him there, I think it could have been a really good movie. And it would probably help sell the period better - it’s not like most prisons keep up with the latest technologies. But all of this stuff is confined to the final few minutes, most of which comes after the obligatory text crawl explaining what happened to Speck after the events of the film conclude, so it just feels tacked on from a different (and again, better) movie. Oh well.

The real DVD has a commentary, but my screener does not. But from what I recall about his other tracks, I doubt I'm missing much beyond pointing out relatives in the cast and explaining that he didn't have a lot of money. But the thing is I wouldn’t even care about the "low budget" flaws if his films ever truly delivered on a story-telling level. He’s certainly better at the serial killer film than his generic folks-in-peril ones like Dead Calling and The Graveyard - these are at least watchable - but it’s a shame to see these potentially intriguing stories (and good lead performances) wasted over and over again by a guy who is seemingly working from a template instead of putting some effort into telling a story. The time and resources he used for this and his other serial killer films probably could have been spent making one really great one. Luckily (for me), he seems to have moved away from the horror genre, as his next five (FIVE!) films (2 finished, 1 filming, 2 in pre-production according to IMDB) are not horror related (though one seems to be a thriller of some sort) - he’s got a comedy, two dramas, and an action movie on the way! I, on the other hand, still have the Boston Strangler and Ed Gein movies to see - should I bother?

What say you?

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  1. " he the first actor to play two notorious serial killers?"
    I know you were asking that rhetorically, but Steve Railsback played both Manson and Ed Gein (in 1976 and 2000 respectively). Credit where credit is due... ;)

  2. Hahah nope not rhetoric, I forgot about Railsback. Thanks!

  3. I used to work with a guy who worked at Stateville when Speck was there. He said Speck was a very strange guy and gave him the creeps. He used to say he hoped Speck was enjoying his time in Hell as much as he did his time at Stateville.

  4. boston strangler-- thats with bud bundy? that ones good.


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