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.

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