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.

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