Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: GREEN RIVER KILLER (2005)

It all started with a simple email from Tom titled “Seen this one?” In the message was a link to Ulli Lommel’s NIGHTSTALKER (2007). I replied that - shockingly - I had not seen this film but I was aware of it and Lommel’s serial killer movie spree that took place from 2005-2010. Sadly, the next day I sealed my fate when I wrote Tom again and said we should totally use Lommel’s late career resurgence as the theme for some October reviews. Your honor, I plead insanity. Even though I knew how far Lommel had fallen as I was still recovering from being burned by RETURN OF THE BOOGEYMAN (1994) and THE TOMB (2007), I honestly didn’t know it was going to be this bad. Yes, just like hell, there are levels to this shit and we’re hanging out at the final one. Don’t believe me? Well, allow me to explain.  

The story of the Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway is pretty damn abhorrent. Beginning in the early 1980s, Ridgway began killing prostitutes indiscriminately in the Seattle and Tacoma, Washington area. A majority disappeared from the sleazy “SeaTac strip” near the airport where prostitution was rampant. His killing was so out of control that sometimes he abducted and killed women on back-to-back nights. Equally horrifying to Ridgway’s crimes was some rather egregious police work involving the killings. Ridgway was known to the cops very early due to getting aggressive with prostitutes. Hell, one time he drove away with a victim and she never returned. The victim’s friends and family located his truck and notified the police. Guess what? They let him go. Even more outrageous is that he was semi-cleared because he passed a polygraph test. Yes, you know the lie detector thing that is so unreliable it isn’t admissible in court. And then you find out stuff like the lone cop handling it as a “cold case” in the early 90s wanted to test Ridgway’s hair and basically being told, “Eh, that was so long ago, why bother?” while Ridgway was still killing. While he eventually pleaded guilty to murdering 49 victims, the number of victims is estimated to be over 70 and, if you believe him (and the cops certainly do), the majority of his killing took place between 1982 and 1984. That is preposterous and only helps the police timeline for when they cared. The only thing that could make this horrible situation worse would be a filmmaker who plays fast and loose with the truth making a film purporting to tell the true story. Enter Ulli Lommel. 

The film opens with shots of a green river next to a sign that says “Green River” on it. To be honest, I’m shocked Lommel and his team got this part right. As if a cheap direct-to-video flick about a serial killer wasn’t exploitative enough, Lommel crafts his opening with his Gary Leon Ridgway (George Kiseleff) laying around while audio from a real Ridgway interrogation is interspersed with random footage from real autopsies. Jeez, I’m only five minutes in and already feeling nauseous. We then cut to 1981 and Ridgway enters a bar. To accurately establish the very specific time period we just saw seconds earlier, Lommel manages to catch two anachronistic products (a Rollercoaster Tycoon pinball game and House of the Dead arcade game) in various shots. And to establish this is truly set in the Pacific Northwest, the place is plastered with Philadelphia Eagles memorabilia. This is gonna be rough. Anyway, Ridgway brings the prostitute home while his son Kevin is there. Shockingly, this is a true fact although the filmmakers stumble since Ridgway’s son was named Matthew. Ridgway takes her into the bedroom and demands she take a shower. When she questions his intentions, he whips out a gun and points it at her face. Her completely natural reaction is to say she needs another hundred dollars for her time. Lommel’s completely natural reaction is to show a close up of a modern $100 bill. After she takes her shower in front of the leering Ridgway, she sets the romantic mood before the deed by saying, “I have to take a shit first.” Honestly, the scariest bit in this scene is the toilet paper roll is upside down. Truly terrifying stuff. Once on the bed, he makes her suck the gun barrel, the two have sex and Ridgway strangles her. He then proceeds to dispose of her body.

Okay, so far so routine, but this is a Ulli Lommel serial killer biopic, so we can assume some “alternative facts” will be coming our way. Sure enough, as Ridgway disposes of his victim we get a voice over where he talks about his buddy named Boris, who was killed on Thanksgiving in 1979. WHAT?! Where the hell does this come from and what does it mean? We’ll find out…I think. We then meet Detective Dawson (Ron Robbins) and Lieutenant Cole (Christian Behm, a frequent Lommel collaborator who also edits these films), two cops who are on the case in an office that looks like the backroom at a car garage. They talk about the missing girls and mention bar owner Mona might know something. Meanwhile, Ridgway is being harassed by his co-workers at a warehouse. His two dimwitted co-workers joke about how everyone is calling him “Green River Gary” because of how much time he spends down by the river. Ridgway just stands there immobile, much like this movie. We then get a scene of Ridgway in bed with his second wife acting frigid toward him. In the first of two chuckles I got from this film, his wife complains that Gary doesn’t make enough money and he crosses his arms like a toddler and grumpily turns over to his side to avoid her. Trust me, it isn’t worth the pain for that one genuine laugh. 

Ridgway returns to the out of time bar to pick up another prostitute. They go to her RV in order to do the deed and Lommel once again shows his eye for 1980s period detail by leaving a big ass CD player in the shot. After Ridgway sucks her toes (gah!) with a terrible ballad blasting on the soundtrack, he strangles her and then drives her body out to his favorite dumping ground. Meanwhile, our intrepid police are interviewing Mona (Nola Roeper, another Lommel ensemble member/collaborator/victim) and she mentions how odd Ridgway is. No, nothing about him leaving with a girl who ended up missing, just that he was odd. In the next scene, Ridgway is visited by the two cops at his job and they show him photos of a victim who is named Gina Bellweather. Dawson actually says the name twice to make the audience know. That is not the name of a real Green River victim, but important as I will explain later. After the cops leave, Ridgway beats up his two co-workers while screaming “what’s my name?” because…well, because. He then has another dream about Boris.

Around the 50 minute mark we finally get some kind of explanation about this Boris bullshit. After saying he would “maybe suffocate a cat once and a while” and that he stabbed a toddler when he was 16-years-old (an actual legit fact), Ridgway gives us another voiceover where he explains that Boris taught him how to kill. Uh, okay. We then get lots of footage of Boris leaving a bar with two women and voyeuristic shots of them engaging in sex games that are shot through a window. Uh, okay again. We then get another bar victim pickup that Ridgway takes back to his house. She expresses that she is uncomfortable doing the deed in the bedroom because she finds a picture of his wife. In the film's second big laugh, she says, “Do you want to do it in the kitchen? We could do the dishes.” Alas, no dishes are to be done as Ridgway’s wife and son come home. Proving to be as deft on her feet as in the sheets, the prostitute quickly improvises and says, “I’m Gary’s cousin Louise.” What is this unicorn? A prostitute with a conscience, desire to do household chores, and quick on her feet? Ridgway takes her to an empty warehouse and kills her. Oh damn, I actually recognize this place as the main location from THE TOMB (2007). Sadly, we get another Boris dream/flashback. In this one it reveals that Ridgway was concerned about Boris so he decided to kill him. It was during Boris’ long, drawn out death as he craaaaaaaaawls over the floor that I realized the purpose of this subplot. It was just Lommel reverting back to his BOOGEYMAN II (1983) habits and using footage to pad out the running time of the film. I’d wager it is another Lommel production, but I’m not the slightest bit interested in digging to find out. 

Smash cut to the date March 12, 2001 being typed up on the screen. Must be a pretty significant date in the Green River Killer investigation in order to put that specific day up on screen, right? Nah. Lommel doesn't play by the rules, so heaven forbid he learn that Ridgway was arrested on November 30, 2001. By the way, around this time I actually started to marvel that Lommel hadn’t cast himself in a role in this one. Just as it entered my mind, guess who shows up to read Ridgway his rights? ULLI! Of course it was our German cinema cowboy who took him down. The film wraps up with footage of an older Ridgway (for some reason they make him look like Robert Shaw) in cuffs leading Lommel to crime scenes mixed with stock footage of DNA machines as on screen text mentions Ridgway’s DNA being matched. Oh yeah, remember Gina Bellweather from earlier? The onscreen text refers to her as Regina Bellwith in this finale. Nothing better to prove the pointlessness of this film than the filmmakers mangling a name of a character they created. If they can’t bother enough to care, why would the audience? 

Screw Lionsgate. No, seriously, screw Lionsgate. Things didn’t have to be like this. The company was flush with cash thanks to the buzzsaw box office success of SAW (2004) and SAW II (2005). And, hell, they were even experiencing award success around this time with HOTEL RWANDA (2004) and “Best Picture” winner CRASH (2004). The last thing they needed to be doing was hanging out with the reprobates in the alley. However, they just couldn’t escape the overwhelming desire to fleece the rubes via the tubes. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised they hooked up with Ulli Lommel. After all, they were releasing the early exploitation efforts of fellow German trash auteur Uwe Boll around the same time with HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003) (via their Artisan arm) and ALONE IN THE DARK (2004). As Tom outlined in his ZODIAC KILLER (2005) review, serial killer cinema was flying off the Blockbuster shelves and Ulli’s attempts to convey some kind of story with his Zodiac interpretation hooked enough viewers that the company jumped on the idea faster than Guillermo del Toro abandons film projects. Look I’m not trying to “slut shame” this company as exploitation is the name of the game, but at least show some standards.

Reading Tom’s review, I was blown away that he actually got Ulli attempting something that might be construed as a plot. With his next feature, Lommel abandoned all pretense and opted for just a series of scenes of random killings linked together by terrible voice overs. As Ulli’s producer/partner-in-crime Jeff Frentzen said in an interview, “Lionsgate was happy with the episodic ‘kill scene after kill scene’ approach and wanted more of that.” Well, they definitely got that. This is pretty much the same scene repeated over 80 minutes as Ulli’s Ridgway goes to a bar, dances, picks up a prostitute, kills her, and then dreams about Boris. Rinse-and-repeat. As the incongruity outlined above shows, Lommel didn’t give a damn about anything like facts. Hell, he starts the film in 1981 even though Ridgway said his first murder didn’t happen until July 1982. If only Lommel had access to some kind of machine that could tell him that. That ineptitude coupled with some ugly video cinematography, some truly horrendous editing (they loooooove to overlay shots; see example below), and real autopsy footage results in a truly uncomfortable experience. I’d love to meet the Lionsgate exec who greenlit all of these and force them to watch these films because you know they never did. I’d also punch them in the gut. Hard.

1 Reactions:

  1. It disappoints me that Jeff Frentzen was involved with this. He seemed like a good guy (and a champion of my earlier writing). I hope he made some serious coin.


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