Serial killer videos
According to forensic psychologist Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver) in Copycat, there are approximately 35 serial killers running loose in this country. If you watch a lot of movies, you know that’s bunk: There are hundreds of spree killers haunting video stores. And all of them seem to have gone to Harvard. Because the movie industry is fixated on Uberheroes these days, your average crime-of-passion slaying has no place in a modern screenplay. Who wants to watch a hero go up against a bad guy who’s normal 99 percent of the time when an intellectually superior psychotic mastermind makes a more worthy opponent? Who cares that a genuine mass murderer probably looks more like the tormented wretch of 1990’s cult classic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer?
I suppose we have The Silence of the Lambs to thank for this. Actually, Psycho was the real groundbreaker, but these days Norman Bates looks pretty dorky next to that suave Chianti sipper, Hannibal Lecter. Since last year’s Seven has proved to be a grosser in more than one sense of the word, we’ll surely see even more flamboyant on-screen bloodletting. Until then, serial killers are all over video this month with the release of Copycat, the straight-to-tape Serial Killer, and — a stretch but well worth a rental — the eerily poetic French horror classic The Eyes Without a Face. Interestingly, all three movies (unlike Seven, out on video March 26) put women in positions of power and chuck drab realism in the interests of building a better bogeyman.
The irony is that the screenplay of Copycat goes out of its way to point out that serial killers are bland, invisible misfits — and then portrays its own killer (William McNamara) as a computer genius with unexplained access to police crime-scene photos and a knack for breaking into any building. Sad thing is, a lot of talented people are involved with this picture: Weaver plays the tightly wound crime expert who has become a housebound recluse since her own run-in with a killer (if I had that apartment, I’d stay home too); Holly Hunter is the San Francisco cop who works with Hudson to help solve a series of murders that look like the work of other famous serial killers; smooth crooner Harry Connick Jr. practically paints his neck red to play Daryll Lee Cullum, a grinning trailer-park horror who attacks Hudson in the opening scene, then spends the rest of the movie scheming away in the jug; Jon Amiel (the BBC’s The Singing Detective) directed. And all of them are stuck trying to make another Silence of the Lambs out of ground chuck. Connick is grottily convincing, but his character is an obvious Lecter wannabe, and despite the lead actresses’ gifts, they’re divvying up the Jodie Foster role to diminishing returns. When Hudson faces the bad guy at the climax and you realize that this film’s moral is that we glamorize serial killers too much — well, the only possible response is a horselaugh.
At one point, Hudson calls the villain ”a sad, second-rate, boring, impotent little copycat,” words that nicely apply to Serial Killer, a dully literal thriller that could put a speed freak to sleep. It’s another Silence of the Lambs/Manhunter xerox, with NYPD Blue‘s Kim Delaney as Clarice Starling — excuse me, Selby Younger, an FBI agent trained to think like a killer. Icy Tobin Bell (The Firm) plays effete psycho Hanni— I mean, William Lucian Morrano. Even if you’re willing to accept Killer as a last-ditch rental clone, the plodding pace snuffs out any possible suspense.
Better you should seek out the remastered rerelease of The Eyes Without a Face, a film that offers genuine chills and has nothing whatsoever to do with Billy Idol. I guess twisted plastic surgeon Prof. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) doesn’t really qualify as a serial killer; he just induces his devoted assistant (Alida Valli) to kill young women so he can graft their faces onto the ruined head of his daughter (Edith Scob), who has been disfigured in a car accident. Originally released in America as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, Eyes remains deeply unnerving for the way in which director Georges Franju balances scenes of appalling grue (especially for 1959) with images of startling poetry — especially the delicate, blank-masked Scob, a vision of victimized innocence more moving than anything in Copycat or Serial Killer. Watching Eyes, you begin to understand how all those other movies only want to slay you. Copycat: C+ Serial Killer: D- The Eyes Without a Face: A-