Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Horrible Halloween: The Living Hell of Ulli Lommel (2023)


The plan was to cover the full run of 12 serial killer movies from Ulli Lommel and his pimp, Lionsgate. Unfortunately, these movies are even worse than we suspected. Really, I'm not kidding here. These movies suck so hard that they create a swirling vortex of darkness that swallows black holes. So, we tapped out early. "Wimps!" I hear you scream. Yeah, I know, we're getting soft in our respective old ages. We could have broken a hip or something! To be honest though, there is only so many ways that you can say "Ulli doesn't give a shit, he's just doing it for the money." Hell, if you can even make it through every review, you deserve a gold star stapled to your forehead. You've been warned.

Zodiac Killer (2005)

Green River Killer (2005)

The Black Dahlia (2006)

Killer Pickton (2006)

Curse of the Zodiac (2007)

BTK Killer (2005)

Son of Sam (2008)

Night Stalker (2009)

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: NIGHT STALKER (2009)

I woke up in a cold sweat. I had that nightmare again. The nightmare has been the same for a month. I was in a room, watching movies that had no budget, barely made any sense and were wrong in every conceivable way and then... I'd write about it. As if anyone cared. I was wracked with pain, both physical and mental. How could my mind come up with such horrible visions? Then I realized, it was not a dream. IT WAS REAL.

In absolute honesty, I am really hard pressed to think of anything I've seen in the horror genre that is more lazy, boring and void of artistic merit than this movie. Of course, Ulli Lommel (who loved to talk of his association with Any Warhol and Rainer Werner Fassbinder) would no doubt say that those features are exactly what makes it art. Art, by its definition, is something that is created by an allegedly sentient being and provokes an emotional response in the viewer.  The only creativity on display here is the wiliness Ulli uses trying to make as much cash as he can will as little effort as possible, and the emotion that it evokes is something similar to being gibbeted. Gibbeting, if you don't know, was a medieval form of execution, where a person was placed in a body-shaped cage which was hung from a high pole in a well travelled place as the victim slowly died of exposure, starvation and dehydration and rotted away over the heads of the general populace. Yeah, that pretty much describes sitting through this movie. Except after it's over, I can go have a sandwich and try to forget that this nightmare ever happened.

If you have been following our Horrible Halloween coverage of Ulli Lommel's serial killer movies, you may have noticed my complaint that each successive movie that I watched was worse than the last one. It's no different here. Once again, Ulli continues to strip down his movies, minimizing the amount of work needed to fulfil the basic requirements of a "movie". Or rather the basic requirements set forth by Lommel's enabler, Lionsgate. It's kind of fascinating in a way. It's kind of like an outlaw biker making a chopper, except that while the goal there is to strip off all the excess parts making the bike lean, minimalist and without distinguishing characteristics that would make them easily identifiable to the authorities, Lommel strips away everything that makes a movie a movie, making something that has no aesthetic appeal whatsoever. But it does help him avoid the law. I don't think Lommel ever paid for a filming permit in his life and I'm sure he thought of himself as an outlaw filmmaker, making anti-art that challenges the establishment. Of course, that is complete bullshit. Ulli was all about making money for Ulli and doing as little work as possible to get it.

Several of Lommel's serial killer movies have just slapped a serial killer's nickname on the box and then Ulli did whatever he felt like doing in the movie. Facts make work so much more difficult, so why bother with them at all? On the flip side of the coin, he actually kind of gives us a half-assed biographies, which while woefully inaccurate by normal standards, is pretty amazing by Ulli's. Sure a lot of the facts are wrong and a lot of the character is wrong and a lot of the setting is wrong, but he uses real dates! This is what progress looks like to Ulli Lommel. I wonder if his headstone is actually on the right grave?

Richard Ramirez, known ultimately by the nickname The Night Stalker, but also tagged with The Walk-In Killer and The Valley Intruder, was an abused child from Waco, Texas who under the tutelage of his older cousin, a Vietnam vet turned serial killer, learned how to stalk and kill people with military precision. A drug addict from an early age, he started committing burglaries and found that he enjoyed murdering the men and raping the women sometimes forcing the victims to praise Satan while he looted the house. He committed a string of these burglary rape-murders in Los Angeles starting in 1984 before moving on to San Francisco, where he continued until the then very green mayor, Diane Feinstein (who was thrust into the role after a shocking double murder), announced to the press what evidence the police had and just how close the police were to catching him. Ramirez then dumped the evidence and moved back to L.A. where he committed more burglary/rape/murders. In 1985 he was cornered by a few citizens who recognized him from his police sketch and his mouth full of rotten teeth. After a frenzied attempt at escape which included a failed carjacking, the citizens turned into an angry mob that grew to a couple hundred people. He was severely beaten by the mob before the police finally showed up to arrest him.

In the '80s, TV news and general public were already in a hysterical panic over alleged Satanists being "uncovered" hiding in plain sight, around every corner. Ramirez dumped gasoline on this inferno of idiocy by drawing a pentagram on his hand, which he held up during his massive, media blitz trial and shouting a bunch of stuff about how he worshipped Satan. He enjoyed the attention and the fear he inspired, infamously saying "see you at Disneyland" after being told he could be executed for his crimes. It was almost as a defining moment for California and American history as the Manson murders. It profoundly affected the psyche of the nation to the point where it changed the behavior of citizens and law enforcement. He is one of the primary reasons Californians started locking their doors and windows before going to bed at night. So, what better story with which to make some quick and easy cash on, amiright?

Opening with the half-conscious body of a shirtless, leather-jacketed prettyboy (Adolph Cortez) surrounded by a mob of ten people, we start at the end. In real life, Ramirez (the representation of whom, in standard Ulli fashion, is never named) was beaten by a mob of a couple hundred people who had caught him in their neighborhood after a newscast went out showing an artist's sketch of his face. Ulli can't afford 20 people, much less 200, so less than a dozen it is, with the sounds of a crowd on the soundtrack. This prompts a flashback to what brought him to this point.

Shot in Los Angeles (and only Los Angeles this time) and set in '84 and '85 (without any attempt to create that setting), Lommel kills as much time as possible with the clip-fest credits, flashing images in positive, negative, color and black and white of Los Angeles before focusing on a vaguely Latin guy with no shirt and a leather jacket sucking a Blow-Pop. You can almost feel Ulli drooling all over the camera. Of course, no Ulli Lommel serial killer movie is complete without a monotonous voice-over and this is no different with some of Ulli's most obvious writing from the gut: "Women. I never understood women. They think they own the world, with their pussies, their tits, their asses." Only 70 more minutes to go. Can I make it? "They keep hitting on me, telling me that I'm cute, and sexy, trying to pick me up. I hate their fucking guts." All of this rambling goes on while poor Richie is having two attractive young women corner him and take him home to their apartment. After being dragged back to their pad and having them do everything they can to get him to stop sucking his Blow-Pop and rise to the occasion, he jumps up and takes off while thinking "I prefer sucking my lollipop over sucking your pussy, bitch! Why don't you suck your own pussies and leave me the fuck alone!" Welcome to Ulli's own personal therapy session. And the motherfucker gets paid for it! Wily, I tell ya.

We also get flashbacks of Richie's uncle Mike (in reality, cousin Mike) ranting about committing war crimes and shooting his nagging wife (Nola Roeper) in the face, causing a blood-spattered 8 year old Richie to freak out. In reality, Ramirez, who was 12, was very calm and enjoyed witnessing the murder, though he was went through a depression and had epileptic fits afterwards. His drug use started at ten. This leads us to June 28th 1984, which is the date of Ramirez's second known murder, an elderly woman whom he severely cut up with a knife while she slept in her bed. Ulli really doesn't care about those details, and if this were a good movie in any way, I wouldn't either. Ramirez's first known murder was of an 9 year old girl in a San Francisco basement. He also raped her and hung her partially nude corpse from a ceiling pipe. Maybe I'm getting old and soft, but there's nothing about that that should be exploited in a cheapo movie. Here, Ulli decides to have Richie day stalk a young black woman back to her apartment where he peeks in her tiny bathroom window, then suddenly appears in the room and shoots her while she's sitting on the toilet. Not entertaining, but for once I'm glad that Ulli is showing blatant disregard for the facts.

This is essentially the pattern for the movie. In spite of the title being NIGHT STALKER, Richie does a lot of walking around in the California sun, while complaining about it in his head: "I hated the fucking sunlight. It was like Jesus was trying to straighten me out with good thoughts!" Uhhh, Ulli, your Freudian slip is showing. This rambles along for about two dozen minutes until Richie spies a "blonde and green eyed monster" (Elissa Dowling, as a brunette in sunglasses, who you may not want to remember from Ulli's insufferable THE BLACK DAHLIA [2006]). Richie, suddenly obsessed with a girl, contrary to his previous woman-hating rants, thinks to himself "the star of my nightmares... Mistress of the night. Beyond bullshit. Beyond stupidity. Beyond the beyond." Uhhh, what? Ulli is clearly having trouble using his words again. After the girl stops under a small, windy bridge to snort some white powder, Richie continues to follow her, sucking his ever present Blow-Pop and flashing his perfect, white teeth. Finally, they meet and say stuff to each other which, of course, the audience can't hear (Ulli would have to make that shit up!), and walk off together. Which means... we actually have a subplot! I'm guessing in his next movie, Ulli won't make that mistake again.

After Lommel entered a sharp decline in the late '80s, Lommel has had a penchant for major corner-cutting. These have become so extreme in these Lionsgate movies that there is almost nothing left. Anything that would take time or work is thrown out the window. Dialogue, characters, character names, subplots, plot twists, settings, set dressing, everything is stripped down to the bare minimum to even fall under the definition of "movie". In his serial killer movies, for the most part, law enforcement doesn't even exist. One thing that has been consistent is Ulli's penchant for shooting scenes of people endlessly walking around and scenes in the most random of (cheap) places. In THE BIG SWEAT (1991), he shot a meeting between FBI agents in a lumber warehouse around a Pepsi vending machine. Here, in these serial killer outings, a warehouse would be a massive spike in production values. In one scene Ulli actually shoots a tight shot of confrontation between killer and victim sitting at the top of a staircase that has been "dressed" with a lamp, a silver box and an unlit hurricane candle, placed in front of a door, with a rotary telephone on the first stair (c'mon, in '84 we had pushbutton phones). I can't even speculate on why he chose to do this (were the girl's parents home? Did they say "you kids go play on the stairs"?), but here we are and Ulli thinks this is fine. Astonishingly, Lionsgate did too. Or rather they didn't care either. Whatever brings in the filthy lucre is fine.

The two of them, Richie and his non-blonde, and some other random dude who is just there all of a sudden, snort lines of white powder and chant "hail Satan" in a public restroom (the same one from 2008's CURSE OF THE ZODIAC). There's your subplot. With this scene used as a cut-away, we get Ulli's favoritest thing ever: Couples Argument Improv Theater! Yep, making a grand return from CURSE, we get more improv arguments that are capped off by the killer (this time Richie) entering the scene and shooting them. The guy usually gets killed quick and Ulli tries to milk the anguish by lingering over a "terrified" girl being held at (firing pinless) gunpoint before finally getting shot and the killer smearing her blood around for a while. In one scene the girl recites The Lord's Prayer before Richie stabs her off-screen. Ulli's new gimmick this time around is having sexual moaning sounds on the soundtrack during the murder scenes. That, and what is obviously Ulli's voice, trying to sound sinister, softly muttering Spanish and Latin words and phrases like "en cristo la matardo," "postmortem" and "post Necronomicon". Whatever the fuck that means.

If you've been following along, you might be excited to see some other returning faces (seriously, there's not much to grab onto here) in CURSE's "piano fag" (Ulli's words, not mine) and "skinny girl" (that's mine). Guess who they play? You got it, an arguing couple! Here Ulli tries to get serious by having them argue about abortion. I would say it's an appropriate topic for the '80s, but apparently, 60 years later, we are still arguing about it as a nation, so uhhh... timeless, I guess? Piano Guy is outraged that Skinny Girl (Cassandra Church) had an abortion and Skinny Girl says it's her life and her body and... oh christ, wake me up when it's over. It's all the most basic arguments that you've heard a million times before over the decades. I don't care where you stand on this issue, this is fucking boring. Finally Skinny Girl stomps off to meet her death after Piano Guy yells "I guess I wouldn't want to marry a murderer anyways!" A crying baby can be heard on the soundtrack. Ulli Lommel, master of subtlety.

Ulli also gets as profound as he possibly can when we get to the "the last kill for me in the city". Richie gets a Southern girl in his apartment and while she tries to get her proselytization on, Richie thinks "Jesus loves you, they say. Then how come this place is what it is? There is no Jesus, there is no God." After sitting through hours of Ulli Lommel's verbal diarrhea, I'm inclined to agree. Fortunately, at the 76 minute mark, Richie is recognized in the streets by a handful of citizens who beat him up a little with baseball bats and then bizarrely stand back and just stare at him lying on the ground while sirens wail on the soundtrack. You know outlaw Ulli ain't going to try to steal footage of an actual cop car! Pony up for red and blue lights to flash around the alley? Pssssh! What is the color of the sky in your world?

Ulli caps things off with a text card stating "The Night Stalker is still waiting for his execution." This is actually true in 2009. Capitol punishment has had a long and convoluted history in California, before and after Ramirez's trial, and during it's on-again, off-again relationship with the courts and voters, prisoners have the right to appeal and make court motions. This leads to many delays of state executions and many prisoners die of natural causes or suicide. Richard Ramirez died while sitting on death row of cancer in 2013. I hate to get serious here, but if you've ever known anyone who has died from cancer, it is a truly horrible thing that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Even so, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Anyone who is pro-capitol punishment should see cancer does to a human being. The gas chamber (the State execution method of choice at the time) is, I'm sure, a much nicer way to go.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: SON OF SAM (2008)

You know how some people just have to prove their manhood? You know, some people have to run the Tough Mudder, or the Running of the Bulls, or go on to a social media platform and tell everyone how superior they are, because they own a Playstation. That kind of thing. What do you do if you are a Video Junkie? Yes, that's right, you dig out an old bottle of hydrocodone, alert your emergency contact and pop an Ulli Lommel serial killer movie in your DVD player. And if you are really macho, you watch a handful of them. All in ONE month! Fuck yeah! We are badasses! I mean, you can still be a badass while lying on the floor of your living room in a pool of your own vomit, unconscious from the video beating you just took... right?

Suddenly out of his (and my) comfort zone, though I'm not really sure there is such a thing when it comes to these movies, Ulli actually hits the Big Apple! Well, at least it seems he went there for a weekend to record some exteriors, probably in between coke-fueled raves. Still, that's a laudable effort from video conman Ulli Lommel (note that I did not call him a con artist. There is no art in his con). Being a Californian myself, my memories of the Son of Sam case were not only hazy because I was very young, but also nearly 3000 miles away. Even so, I remember it was something everyone was talking about and remember my father being incensed that Berkowitz used a dog as a defense. My young mind was blown by the fact that he said he killed people because the neighbor's dog told him to. I never looked at a dog the same way again. What is that dog trying to say to me every time I walked past his fence when coming home from school? The internet says cats are vying for world domination, but you don't know. Dogs could be playing a very clever long game.

David Berkowitz was adopted as an infant by a lower-middle class couple who reversed his first and middle name and gave him their last name. It is reported that he was a troubled youth, but that's a pretty easy thing to say about a boy that grew up to be a serial killer. If he had been a successful banker, I'm pretty sure that "troubled youth" would have been glorified as "scrappy beginnings". According to the psychology experts employed by the authorities, what seems to have turned him rabid is the discovery that he was adopted. After a stint in the army, he managed to find and contacted his birth mother. He learned that she gave him up, possibly due to threats from his biological father, who then left her for another woman. According to these psychologists, this is what turned him into a serial killer. Cranial trauma as a child was also run up the flagpole. This sort of analysis is left-over from the '50s, in which the nuclear family is the flawless ideal and any deviation from which results in violent psychosis, drug use and murder. Personally, I find this just as ludicrous as the stories Berkowitz told the police after he was arrested, which were doozies by any standard. His main excuse was that he was instructed to kill people by his neighbor's black Labrador Retriever named Sam. He also claimed that he was part of a Satanic cult who gave him his marching orders (presumably when Sam was too busy sniffing butts). Some have pointed out the inconsistencies in witness reports, timing and other details that contradict some of Berkowitz's confessions, leading to conjecture that he didn't act alone. On the other hand, he could have been taking credit for crimes that he didn't do, as he really enjoyed being at the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, we will never really know.

Berkowitz claimed that his first killing was of two girls in 1975 when he was 22 years old, but Ulli, now firmly hooked on introducing his seemingly random vignettes with title cards announcing dates (sometimes) proudly declares that David Berkowitz's spree of killings started on July 29th, 1976. On this night, Berkowitz opened fire on two young women in a parked car, killing one instantly and wounding the other. The survivor gave a pretty accurate description of Berkowitz to the police, but Ulli ain't havin' none of that. Here he has a clean-scrubbed, fashionably dressed young woman trying to act like a coke-fiend, presumably after researching the part by watching a few episodes of CHAPPELLE'S SHOW. She hits up a dealer who looks like a rejected NSYNC backup dancer and they improvise their lines with things like "What? You don't think I'm a nice guy?" and "I just want to get some blow and get out of here!" This back and forth goes on for seemingly years before David pulls a gun out of a paper bag and puts them out of our misery. Ulli's new twist on his minimalist formula is to have "Son of Sam, Son of Satan" chanting on the soundtrack. Oooooo! Scary!

Because time is concept that is meaningless when you are an artiste, we jump forward to David being interviewed by a court appointed defense attorney Miss Klein (Elissa Dowling again, this time opting for the pseudonym Elissa Bree, though it seems a bit late in the Ulli career for that). I don't know where Miss Klein has gotten her legal training from, as she angrily yells at Berkowitz that she doesn't want him to plead his case to her, because she doesn't give a shit if he's innocent, that's not her job! Clearly David Berkowitz is a gefilte fish short of a Passover, as instead of calling for the check and getting another lawyer, he just sits there and looks sad. I'm not sure what Ulli is trying to say here, I'm assuming that, as usual, Ulli doesn't either.

Also intercut into the random shootings is a "Satanic ritual", which would be the highlight of the movie, except this movie has no highlights, only stuff that is so inept that it makes you forget about how boring the rest of the stuff is. Albeit temporarily. Here we have Berkowitz with a handful of older, white trash folks in robes and a girl in her underwear (the prolific Jamie Bernadette, who went on to play the proselytizing final victim in Ulli's NIGHT STALKER [2009]). These are just tight shots of the group who fondle a knife and chant "son of Sam, son of Satan" and also chant (presumably to the girl) "daughter of Satan" at which point her voice chirps "my new daddy!" I admit, I laughed much harder than that bit deserves, just because it broke the monotony. David caps off the scene, every time as this is recurring through out the movie, by screaming. Just screaming. Whether this is primal scream therapy or klazomania is unclear.

Returning to the present (future?), Miss Klein, his defense lawyer, shows off her mad legal skills by berating him as being "sick" and he is here to "pay for his mistakes." She demands to know "why did it take you 13 murders to realize your mistakes?" To which David replies, "the voices in my head, the devil, you are his son, suck in his power." Can't argue with that, this guy does suck. After indicating that he is being controlled by others, we get a flashback to the paunchy, bald Satanist guy in what appears to be a garage filled with empty moving boxes, handing the clearly dimwitted Berkowitz a gun and says "Just listen to the voices, they will tell you what to do." Unable to think of anything else to say, Baldy just repeats that a few more times and tells Berkowitz to hide behind a box and wait until he leaves. This cues Baldy's girlfriend to magically appears in the garage, without opening any doors, and starts ripping Baldy a new one for standing her up the previous night. Couples Argument Improv returns! (kill me now) This drones on for a while, while Berkowitz hides and his eyes roll around in his slackjawed head waiting for Baldy to leave, which hearing Baldy's voice in his head telling him to "kill the bitch" and "killerdavid, killerdavid, killerdavid" over and over. Finally he leaves, there is the sound of a shot and the girl has some fake blood dribbled on her head. This, of course, has absolutely zero to do with any of the real life events in the case, and serves only to confirm Ulli's personal, pathological dislike of women and Lionsgate's avaricious desire to exploit that. It's almost as if they are trying to sell movies exclusively to militia and incel groups.

Just in case you were wondering if Ulli forgot to add walking scenes, rejoice, because we get those too! Clearly Lommel had less time to shoot in NY, because we only get a few extended scenes of David shuffling around in dimly lit streets and on the Brooklyn bridge. We also get scenes of David visiting with his older female neighbor in her kitchen, which is bizarrely cordoned off with an empty china cabinet. While making insufferable small-talk, her dog (a chocolate lab) thinks evil thoughts at David, such as "I'll be your family David, you can be my son." I'm actually surprised that Ulli even got the breed of the dog right. I was totally expecting a white pekingese or maybe a gold chihuahua. David, back in the police station, screams "he was the high demon! Never leave me alone! I'm the son of Sam!" and "I want to live! I want to love! They won't let me!" To which Miss Klien says that she is going to plead insanity. Presumably hers, because being in more than one of Ulli Lommel's quickies is obviously nuts.

Speaking of nuts, Cassandra Church (who appeared in five of Ulli's alleged movies) also returns in a long sequence in which David walks to a subway, walks down into the subway, walks along the subway platform, waits for a train while Church also waits, and waits, and waits. Just when you think that David is going to shoot her (Ulli isn't going to set up a scene where David pushes her onto the tracks, that would take effort), the train arrives, they both board the train and they ride the train for a while, David stares, the girl (Church) acts mildly uncomfortable, the train rattles on and on and on. Finally they get off the train and David follows her to a parked car that she gets into. Seriously, fuck Ulli Lommel. This leads to a scene another improv scene in which Church is supposed to be an underage girl on a date with a famous film or TV personality and he's totally sleazy. Pretty sure this is a scene that Ulli is very familiar with. This seems to be loosely based on the real-life shootings of security guard Carl Denaro and college student Rosemary Keenan who were both shot and wounded while sitting in a parked car. Both managed to survive (here they are killed), though Denaro had part of his skull shot away and required extensive reconstructive surgery. Why tell a harrowing and disturbing true story when you can just callously cheapen the whole thing and stuff some quick and easy cash in your pocket?

Lommel loves to pick a couple of scenarios and then flip back and forth between them. This has more than most with couples doing improv conversations before being killed, David's conversations with his lawyer, David's conversations with his neighbor, and the utterly absurd Satanic rituals. How absurd, I hear you ask? Let me tell you! In one scene, the Satanists have a chant that is said with the cadence of a small group of cheerleaders. I swear, I'm not making this up, though the last line is very difficult to make out due to poor audio quality and Ulli layering loud "erotic" moaning in the sound mix:
"Six Six One - Tell you how it's done!"
"Six Six Two - The reason that it's you!"
"Six Six Three - To be or not to be!"
"Six Six Four - Killer, he needs more!"
"Six Six Five - Jesus leave our lives!"
"Six Six Six - Satan has a bag of tricks!"
"Six Six Seven - To hell and not to heaven!"
"Six Six Eight - Carry all our weight!"
"Six Six Nine - Your body shall be thine!"
"Six Six Oh - Sudden death, yes we're owed!" (?)

We also get scenes of David asking for a priest (this part is true) and getting a visit from... you guessed it, Ulli Lommel! Ulli, performs an exorcism on him (this part is not true) in the tiny interrogation room while flanked by cops with shotguns. One cop has a shaved head and a soul patch. I'm sure that is completely in line with departmental regulations in 1977. After the exorcism, David says, "one more thing father... her name was Rhonda Pierce." I have to be honest here. I have no idea what this is about. It isn't the name of any of Berkowitz's known victims and Ulli sure as hell doesn't have any unreleased information. I have no idea. If you do, leave a message in the comments.

A title card with "June 12 1978" appears after a scene where David spies on a girl at the Statue of Liberty while an acoustic guitar plays "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the background. David follows the girl around for a while, spies on her through some stair railings and then... Nothing else happens. Thanks Ulli! Didn't need that chunk of my life. The title card is accurate however and Ulli shows David being arrested near a car, as in real life. He didn't put up a fight because this is what he wanted. The fame, the attention, the notoriety. Berkowitz had started sending letters to the police, taunting them with juvenile writing and throwing in obscure "clues" that may have been nothing more than feeble attempts to make himself seem more interesting than he really was. One of his letters listed several strange names. Some have concluded that these were members of his supposed Satanic cult, in spite of the fact that there are no records of these people existing. He has never explained any of these apocryphal statements and he has spent his time in prison becoming a born-again Christian and likes to refer to himself as The Son of Hope. So, yeah. Still a meshuggeneh yutz.

This is my fifth Ulli Lommel serial killer film (thank you for your condolences) and when I went to start this DVD up, I clicked the "Play Movie" selection in the main menu, as you do. This forced me to sit through seven (SEVEN!) trailers for Ulli's serial killer films and then dumped me right back at the main menu. I tried again, thinking maybe I misclicked, and it happened all over again. WTF? Did Lionsgate let Ulli Lommel author the DVD? After getting the movie to start via the chapters menu, my pen promptly ran out of ink. There are greater forces at work in the cosmos and they are trying to tell me something. To be fair this is slightly better than some of Ulli's others as he can't be bothered to record his usual, idiotic, stream of consciousness babble over every inch of the goddamn soundtrack. I think that is the nicest thing I can possibly find to say about this outing. If someone breaks into your house and forces you at gunpoint to watch an Ulli Lommel serial killer movie, pick this one. It may break you, but, with enough time and professional care, you might be able to recover and return to a normal life.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: B.T.K. KILLER (2005)

Dennis Rader is hands down one of the creepiest serial killers. Active in Kansas from 1974 until his capture in 2005, Rader ticked all of the serial killer boxes from selecting victims at random to sending taunting Zodiac-like communications. What rockets him to the top of the creepy list are the photos that he took of himself in various stages of self bondage. Seriously, Google “Dennis Rader” + “bondage photos” just to see them. Rob Zombie wishes he could capture something as horrifying as this church-going, Boy Scout-leading pillar of the community. It also reinforces what I consider the most terrifying thing ever in that we can never truly know what is going on in someone’s head. Dennis Rader is also hands down one of the dumbest serial killers. Why? Outside of asking police “can you trace a floppy disk” leading to his capture, this dumbass decided to get arrested right when Ulli Lommel was starting his serial killer biopics. You just know Lommel was giddy when he heard of Rader’s arrest. "One more scheck von Lionsgate!” Nice job, Dennis! Thanks for making this worse for all of us. 

The film opens with a topless woman chained to a dirty mattress. A naked man places real dead animal parts over her body before allowing a dog to eat the pieces and presumably chow down on the victim. You know, just like Rader did, right? But wait! This is all just a dream of news anchor Laci Peterson (Danielle Petty, who wisely uses the pseudonym “Ivy Elfstrom”). Yes, I just knew Lommel wouldn’t screw up the details of Rader’s murders. Haha, just kidding. We’ll get plenty of true story screw ups down the line. Laci arrives at her job and, much to my shock, Lommel shoots in an actual newsroom soundstage. She is told that B.T.K. has sent in a new letter that arrived at 6:21am. “The same time as my dream,” she says. Don’t worry, none of that will matter (get used to that). Laci is hesitant to cover the serial killer, but her slimy producer says the public craves the B.T.K. killer “just like the Christians need the Devil.” As Laci delivers the latest news, we see Dennis Rader (Eric Gerleman) and his wife (the ubiquitous Nola Roeper) watching the news. She can’t believe this is happening again and he bemoans the cops and says “they didn’t want me to help.” Shockingly, the guy playing Rader looks a bit like him. Well, he’s bald, wearing glasses and has a mustache. If you are floored that Lommel and his team got a fact right, just wait a few seconds. 

Cut to March 1974 and we see a younger Rader (Gerard Griesbaum) working as a dog catcher (a job he never had until the 1990s) and scribbling in his notebook. The patented voiceover tells of his desire to kill for sexual thrills and that he will “bind them, torture them, kill them” regarding his victims. The fact that Lommel didn’t screw up what B.T.K. stood for is actually blowing my mind. Of course, this is all for naught since his 1970s Rader sports long hair pulled back in a ponytail, which is certainly a look that the conservative Rader never, ever sported. To make matters worse, he later talks to his two sons, when in reality Rader has a son and daughter. We then get Rader’s first murder. B.T.K.’s first crime involved killing a family of four, so, naturally, Lommel has Rader attacking a lone woman named Nancy. The scene involves him torturing her by shoving rats in her face while crying he isn’t getting any national publicity. Wait…why would he have any attention when he hasn’t even committed his first murder yet!? Lord help the lazy college student who did a paper on B.T.K. and rented this for reference. It should be noted that this section shows Lommel adding two new filmmaking techniques to his serial killer oeuvre. First, he dazzles with an editing bit where he will show the same line FOUR times: once normal, once upside down, once reversed, and once sideways. Fuck my life. Second, he does something so goddamn disgusting, infuriating, and morally bankrupt that I’m not going to discuss it until the second murder in the film (where it is highlighted the best/worst). Cut back to 2004 where we see Rader and his wife in church. I have to admit the threadbare church set did give me a slight laugh as it is just a couch with some crosses thrown on the wall. 

Rader reads a psalm before the priest mentions that B.T.K. has returned as reported by congregation member Laci Peterson. Ah, so there is the connection! Don’t worry, none of that will matter. Lommel uses this moment to transition back to June 1974 with the younger Rader and family in church. Amazingly, the decor hasn’t changed in 30 years and Ulli does a cowboy hatless cameo as a priest. We then see Rader stalking his next victim, a psychiatrist named Dolores (emelle; yes, just emelle and lowercase as her IMDb bio demands). Rader leers through her office door as she is shown taking notes and cracking peanuts. You know, like psychiatrists often do. Because normal stuff like scene transitions or character interactions are verboten to Lommel, the scene cuts from Rader outside to inside her office. Oh, did I forget to mention there is now a REAL skinned cow’s head on her desk that she completely is nonchalant about? Seriously! Rader tells her that her name Dolores comes from “dolor” in Latin which means pain and then begins to torture her while asking, “Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse?” This leads me to the vile directorial decision I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Yes, Herr Lommel has embraced his inner Nazi and decided to show REAL footage of animals being killed in a slaughterhouse during all of his murders. Given his use of real autopsy footage and pics of dead fetuses in the previous features, this horrid decision should hardly surprise, but goddamn I don’t need this shit. Seriously, if I had a time machine, I would go back to stop Ulli Lommel. Or, at the very least, stop myself from suggesting this terrible video mission. I don’t want to dwell on the negative (which is a lot), so let me just present this screenshot of the exterior of the psychiatrist’s office, which offers so many “WTF is going on here?” objects in one frame: 

We're then back to 2004 to one of the most baffling things I’ve seen in a Lommel serial killer flick so far. Laci has received a new letter from B.T.K. asking, “What’s my name, Laci?” We then cut to her in her bedroom with Eric. Who is Eric? No idea as he is never mentioned before or seen again after this. We can only assume he is Laci’s boyfriend. Anyway, she woos him by saying about her bedroom, “I know it’s modest compared to your mansion.” Now is as good a time to mention this but all of the sets in this look like they were filmed in a furniture store. In fact, if you look closely behind Laci in some of these shots, you can make out what appears to be another bed display. WTF? Cut back January 1975 and the Rader family is having dinner with a family friend. Rader revels in hearing one of his sons tell the story of Boy Scouts of America founder William Dickson Boyce while also fantasizing about strangling their guest. We then trudge along to our next murder as Rader attacks Miss Hedge. After restraining her, he torments her with his basket full of scorpions, a tarantula, a snake and worms. A news report then says her husband was arrested as a B.T.K. suspect and that there are nine confirmed victims. NINE!?! A quick search shows Rader had only killed five people by this time. As I say in every Lommel review, if only the filmmakers had access to some type of machine that could spit out the correct info for them. 

Mercifully, the film wraps up by jumping back to 2005 and the news producer is hassling Laci for not wanting to give in to B.T.K.'s demand to read his poetry on air. This is my favorite bit because a) the producer recoils in fear when Laci utters the work “fuck” to him and b) he later says, “You have a show to do at 6, which starts in 12 minutes.” Above his head is a clock that looks like it reads 10:45 clock. Laci does her report and Rader is watching. I about died when she says they won’t give into his demands and Lommel cranks up a soft rock piano-heavy love ballad, suggesting Rader’s heart is broken. Sample lyrics: 

Put aside these sad, unhappy endings 
Tear me from the world that’s gone and turned its back on you 
Who knows what tomorrow is beginning 
All I really know is that I want to be with you 

We get one more flashback to 1979 as Rader attacks a lady in a warehouse. Rader pulls out raw meat, tells her it is “the smell of death” and covers her face with the raw meat. This scene really bothered me, but probably not as Lommel intended. The idea of this poor actress having raw meat shoved in her mouth made me fear her getting E. coli. There is a lot of raw meat utilized in this scene and I’m sure safety precautions weren’t even a consideration. Our last onscreen text says it is now March 2005 and “One Fatal Mistake.” This is doubly hilarious because the filmmakers are referring to Rader sending the police a disc that helped identify him, but also because, as expected, Lommel gets the arrest date wrong since the real Rader was apprehended on February 25, 2005. Hell, at this point I guess I should be happy they got the right year. One Rebecca Schwarz is usually credited with doing research in these films, so let’s toss some virtual tomatoes her way. Unless, of course, that name is just another Ulli pseudonym. 

Jeez, what can I say about this film that I haven’t said above? It is trash. Total trash. Even if we didn’t have the horrible animal scenes, I’d still rank it in my top 3 worst films. I mean Lommel shoots in his “studio” (aka furniture warehouse) and routinely captures the tops of his “sets” or the random stuff piled up in the background. I did get one laugh where Rader restrained a victim and his mumbling is rendered hard to hear by the music soundtrack. I watched it again with the subtitles on and I see the subtitler just gave up (see pic). I feel you, bro. Anyway, we haven’t mentioned it yet, but several of these films feature audio commentaries by Lommel on them. I decided to check this one for two reasons. One to see how quickly Lommel namedrops Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Two to see how quickly something utterly pretentious is spewed forth. That thump you hear around the 5 minute mark is Fassbinder getting his name dropped. Naturally, Lommel does it in a way that makes himself look better, stating he made ten movies in fourteen months while the best his old director Fassbinder could do was four in a year. The pretension arrives just a few minutes after that as Lommel mentions this film was shot in a way to mimic reality TV shows. Producer Jeff Frentzen then hits a head-stuck-up-his-own-ass home run by saying their pioneering style on these films was “moving beyond what is already known.” Annnnnnnnnnnnnd eject! Nope, sorry, can’t do it. I’m out.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: CURSE OF THE ZODIAC (2007)

Did I declare Lommel's THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006) to be the worst film ever? I'm beginning to think it was his life's ambition is to prove me wrong with every successive movie. "Oh, you think that was bad, motherfucker? Check this out!" You can hear his voice rising from his grave, too, right? It's not just me. Because of the rampant suck-sess of Ulli Lommel's ZODIAC KILLER (2005) and the box office flop of the solid David Fincher film ZODIAC (2007), what could make Lionsgate happier than a sequel(ish)? Yes, contrary to the normal definitions of sanity and reason, a very small segment of the human population actually wanted Ulli Lommel to make another Zodiac movie. It boggles the mind, but apparently not the off-shore bank account.

If you've had the misfortune to see BOOGEYMAN II (1983), you'd be forgiven to think that in 2007 Ulli Lommel would add even a hint of the first film into his sequel, even if it means inserting footage from the original to pad out the running time. Ha! Continuity is for suckers, man! Yep, this sequel has literally nothing to do with the original, except for the fact that the killer says his name is "Zodiac," as in like "Smith, Zodiac Smith". And for the record, nobody in the movie wears a hoodie, nobody has a glowing eye and San Francisco is not upside-down. Well, not in the movie anyway.

Astonishingly, this outing is set and shot (on what appears to be a cell phone) in San Francisco instead of L.A. as the previous one was! Amazing! Of course, that's where the innovations end and we have another meandering, repetitive, adlibfest. That's actually not true. Now we have a bald guy (Jack Quinn) with zodiac tattoos on the back of his neck, wearing big puffy black gloves, wandering around the streets of SF while a non-stop stream of consciousness internal monologue drones over the audio track with heavy reverb. While he wanders around, thinking stuff unfit for a family newspaper, a waifish young woman (Cassandra Church, who could easily be cast in a Shelly Duval biopic) has nightmare visions of the Zodiac killing his victims. She does this between arguments with her narcissistic boyfriend (Lee Mercer). The arguments... So. Many. Arguments. To be clear, these "visions" are typically in no way differentiated at all from the "style" of rest of the movie. These things just start happening with absolutely no context whatsoever, except sometimes they cut to shots of this Skinny Girl asleep in bed or on the sofa. Just sort of whatever Ulli felt like doing at the time. Don't disrespect his art!

Since the real life Zodiac Killer attacked three couples (five of the six were murdered) during his short run in the late '60s, Ulli decides to have his usual non-actors adlib scenes of couples arguing while the killer wanders the streets, thinking his thoughts and making phone calls to an alleged police detective who he only refers to as "Fat Fuck" or "Fat Ass" because Ulli doesn't have the patience to script dialogue, so why even bother with character names? This is practically the entire movie. I'm sure Ulli considered himself an experimental artist, but this is so incredibly lazy, sloppy and bereft of talent that is pretty much unwatchable and at one point, I'm not making this up, it prompted my fight or flight response and took all of my willpower not to eject the DVD and hurl it like a frisbee out of my front door.

While wandering the streets of San Francisco, Zodiac calls up Fat Fuck, Zodiac (voiced by Ulli, under the pseudonym Rick Van Cleef) taunts Fat Fuck (Jon E. Nimetz) telling him that he is going to kill a prostitute in the "North Eastern part of the city," which, if you actually lived in SF, would be referred to by it's district nickname, like "North Beach" or "The FiDi" (Financial District). Fat says nothing and just listens and smokes. Zod then walks around some more and we hear his stream of consciousness thoughts via VO that just never end. While scoping out his first victim, we hear him ramble "Hey, little bitch, it's me, the Z-man. Can you feel me? Can you touch me? Do you know my name? It's Zodiac. Z. O. D. I. A. C." Words fail me to describe how monotonous (literally) and dull this is. I could go out on the street and hear this kind of ranting, why am I watching this in a movie?

A presumed pimp and hooker are ad-lib arguing while our Skinny Girl watches them in something that I guess is supposed to be horror, but looks more like total disbelief. Much like the audience, I assume. Maybe she's reacting to the improved dialogue as the hooker yells "You're at ten o'clock! I'm at 2am, baby! I am four hours beyond... your ass!" This extended scene of arguing ends, possibly because the non-actors couldn't think of anything else to say and Zodiac shoots the prostitute in a public toilet, even though the argument was taking place in a garishly decorated home and the girl is never shown entering a public restroom! It appears that Ulli dressed up a public restroom to look like a kitchen, with a rack of dishes on the sink! Why? I don't know! It's just bizarre. To be honest, the dishes in a public toilet is easily the most disturbing thing in a movie about a magically teleporting serial killer.

After more Zodiac wandering and ranting, we finally discover that the Skinny Girl is having dreams about the Zodiac killing people. We find this out because she's having an improv argument with her unsupportive boyfriend which makes Skinny Girl wander around the streets of SF while Zodiac follows her thinking "hey bitch, I love ya face, I love your ass, I love your legs, bitch!" Deciding to get even more "artistic", Ulli has a couple adlib arguing (about going to a family reunion) and intercuts it with Zodiac taunting Fat Fuck on the phone while Skinny Girl has a vision of Zodiac shooting the previously arguing girl. This abruptly leads to Skinny Girl suddenly being in Fat Fuck's tiny room and telling him about her visions, and in response, Fat huffs and puffs on a cigarette, sighs heavily, sucks air through his teeth and manages to mutter things like "I'm confused". Honestly, I have no idea where Ulli finds these people, but this guy (who went on to appear in Lommel's BASELINE KILLER in 2008) can't do improv to save his life. Watching him struggle like a fish on a hook, desperately trying to come up with something to say for several minutes, is pure torture in and of itself.

We eventually get to a scene in which the other worst actor ever is playing a piano, talking in falsetto to an Asian girl about his problematic childhood, while Zodiac muses "I love a steak, medium-rare, but this fuckin' fag piano fag (sic) is gonna have his ass fried. Once I'm done with him, he'll be praying that he never played the piano in the first place." As a break from this grueling lack of talent, we get to see the Skinny Girl taking a street car ride while her internal monologue drones over the soundtrack, followed by yet another arguing couple, more montages of the city, faces, corpses and bridges, all in black-white-green and color.

One of the funniest bits occurs when Ulli tries to do a jump-scare and utterly fails. Ulli attempts a nightmare sequence, which is mostly just nightvision shots of Skinny Girl looking into the camera, and caps it off with a shot of Skinny Girl sitting on the edge of her bed and a pair of hands grabbing her shoulders from behind while, off-camera, Ulli yells "raaaah!" like a little kid. This was easily the most entertaining moment in the film, which admittedly isn't much. And then we are right back to Couples Improv Argument Theater. To his credit, Ulli does decide to make one of the couples sequences non-argumentative. This blessed relief is broken by yet another incredibly long internal monologue from Zodiac, which, in order for you to understand how bad this is, I will transcribe in part here: "You little hippy girl, fag lovin' hippy chick. What am I going to do with you? What do you want me to do with you? Do you want me to slice you up into pieces? You want me to carve out your heart? Your liver? Your kidneys? You want me to slice up your ass, hippy girl? Is that what you want? Do you like my place?" (note that this is shot on the street) "I don't have guests over here usually. I don't get people high, I hate drugs, I hate sex, and I hate that goddamned rock and roll, especially that British Invasion that made our kids sick to the stomach (sic), has influenced them all in a terrible way. Eh, hippy girl? Do you like The Beatles? Do you like The Stones? Do you like David Bowie? All these British fags? Hey hippy girl, are you a fag? You got a penis? Show me you got a penis, you got a penis, don't you? You're a fag with a penis, hippy girl." And so on. Clearly, at the ripe old age of 73, Ulli is still working out some deeply personal issues. 

I've been going on about how horrible the improv is, but one of the best bits comes when, after yet another couples argument, in a public restroom, a girl breaks up with her boyfriend because he won't move to L.A. with her (smart guy) and is adjusting her lipstick in the mirror and says "Left in the fucking men's room again. Same old story." What? Really? Damn, and I thought my social life sucked. Hey, I'll take whatever tiny moments of joy that this movie can provide. Another "great" moment is when Fat Fuck goes to a party where everyone is doing "drugs" (that's a candy bracelet!) and gets picked up by a hooker. Fat brings her to his pad and when she says "what do you want?" he says "a cigarette". Yes, he actually breaks off his tryst to go get a cigarette, which will take "10 minutes" (!?), leaving her on the sofa. The Zodiac has been following them with his usual internal monologue and somehow this prompts the hooker to climb up to a small window near the celling (accidentally tearing down the curtains), stick her face right in it and somehow Zodiac reaches in the now missing window, holds the gun in her mouth for ages and then shoots her, causing her head to lay facing the opposite direction in a completely different window! Fat returns and is bizarrely disappointed, softly sighing "fuuuuuck," as if he just accidentally dropped a nickel in a storm drain.

After more wandering around the streets, Zodiac calls up Fat and yells at him to "read the book", which *bampf* appears on his desk.  It's the magic of movie convenience; *bampf* people just suddenly appear places and stuff happens. Like I said, continuity is for suckers. Zodiac's book is a photo album with sheets of paper covered in cyphers inserted in the cardboard pages. As Fat flips through the pages, Zodiac appears behind him and shoots him in the back of the head. We get a few epilogue cards saying that the killer was never caught and then *bampf* Skinny Girl appears in Fat's room, sees the bloody book and closes it. What a stunning visual metaphor. It means that I can stop watching this crap. Just a few of Ulli Lommel's serial killer fantasies is enough to kill more brain cells than a life-time of Whippet hits.

Opening with Ulli's now patented rapid montage of B&W and color close-ups of faces, corpses, city landmarks, etc, in a desperate grab for artistic pretention, we get a few prologue cards giving a brief, vague rundown of the Zodiac case. Previously I have accused Lommel of not giving even a single shit about any sort of historical accuracy. I could have made the argument that he's just an idiot who couldn't be bothered to open a book (or a wiki page). If this had been made by a younger person, ignorance would have been a safe bet, but this guy has been around long enough, he knows the history, he knows how to make a film, he just does not care. Which, if there was any justice in the world, it would say on his tombstone.