GORE IN THE STORE
THE ZODIAC KILLER **
Directed by Tom Hanson.
Starring Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch, Tom Pittman, Bertha Dahl. Horror/Thriller,
USA, 1971, 85 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via 101 Films on 14th March 2022.
The case of the Zodiac Killer has been the subject of many movies over the years, the most definitive being David Fincher’s 2007 procedural drama ZODIAC. However, in 1971 there was a movie that was made with the sole intention of drawing the real killer out into the open when all other avenues seemed to draw a blank.
In fact, the movie begins with an on-screen message about the killer that seems to take it all very seriously, which it should as this was a real case. However, what we are presented here with bears as much resemblance to the real-life investigation as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE does to the crimes of Ed Gein, but no matter as long as they make it entertaining, right? Oh...
What THE ZODIAC KILLER does is present you with a name and a face to the killer and then shows you how he pretty much hides in plain sight as others around him take the blame which, as far as we know, may have been the case (but probably wasn’t). Seeing as the real case was ongoing at the time this movie plays fast and loose with a lot of details, basically making up its own narrative (barely) and making the killer a postal worker named Jerry (Hal Reed), although it does try to throw in a red herring in the shape of Jerry’s friend Grover (Bob Jones), a heavy drinking and violent man going through a difficult relationship breakup and having something of a mental breakdown – you should see his reaction when a potential date goes to touch his toupee – but this is just to fool the investigating detectives. After Grover is eliminated from the investigation and the killings continue, the movie delves into Jerry’s psyche a little as the seemingly normal working-class guy seems to have a bit of a problem with other people and turns to more devilish ways to guide his life choices.
The best moments of the movie involve Grover and his angry Brian Glover-ish persona and appearance, despite the fact that the character is abhorrent but he does at least have a bit of spark about him; Jerry, on the other hand, is dull, whether he is playing the mild-mannered postal worker side of his personality or going full-on Anton LaVey with his Satan worship, and so after it is discovered that Grover isn’t the killer the rest of the movie is spent with an uninteresting shell of a character played by an actor (allegedly) with less charisma and screen presence than Grover’s hair piece.
Released as part of 101 Films’ AGFA series, THE ZODIAC KILLER comes accompanied by an audio commentary by director Tom Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick, an interview with Tom Hanson and Manny Nedwick, a selection of tabloid horror-related trailers and ANOTHER SON OF SAM, a 1977 serial killer movie that does make a fitting companion piece to THE ZODIAC KILLER as it is just as shoddy and mind-numbingly dull as that movie but, thankfully, is about 20 minutes shorter, although it doesn’t feature Bob Jones and his wig, so swings and roundabouts, really.
Featuring very little in the way of gore, violence, nudity or even profanity, THE ZODIAC KILLER is unlikely to lure an audience out to watch it these days, let alone the real killer, which is what director Tom Hanson was expecting back in 1971, even going so far as to get audience members to fill out suggestion cards so patrons’ handwriting could be matched to that of the killer, just in case he fancied a trip to the cinema to see how his exploits had been captured on film. It was a bold move on the part of the filmmakers and no doubt courted a bit of publicity but given how tedious the final movie is the resulting examinations of handwriting in the foyer afterwards were probably more exciting.