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.

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