Archive for the ‘serial killer’ Tag

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)   2 comments



Laura Mars might need a new eyeglass prescription.  Every so often, and without notice, she sees the world through the eyes of a serial killer.  Laura (Faye Dunaway) earns her living with her eyes.  She’s a high fashion photographer who specializes in photographing models wearing beautiful clothes in violent situations.


The film uses Helmut Newton’s photographs as Laura’s.

She lives in a huge, penthouse apartment, wears expensive clothes, and goes to all the best parties.  Laura’s photographs and coffee table books sell like hotcakes.  She’s on top of the world.  When someone starts killing her friends, Laura’s life changes just a bit.


Great lips.

At first, the police, led by Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) suspect that Laura is killing her associates to gain publicity for her artwork, especially when she tells them that she sees the murders…from three blocks away.  She claims to witness each crime as the murderer would.  Both authorities and her friends think she’s a loon.


“What you talkin’ ’bout, Laura?”

I should point out that all this time, Faye Dunaway sports some happening duds.  It’s autumn in New York City and Faye’s got the tweed thing going on.  She wears a lot of cool mid-calf wool skirts with double front slits and high boots.  She also has the plaid shawl thing down.  Theoni V. Aldredge designed the costumes.  Well done, Theoni!  Clad in tight, bell-bottoms, boots, and wool blazers, Tommy Lee Jones cuts a dashing figure.  Even his mullet is impressed.


The sheep are nervous.

The seventies lives through the music in the film as well.  Tunes by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Heatwave, Michael Zager Band, and Odyssey give the modeling sessions a Studio 54 vibe.


After a few more bodies pile up, Laura convinces John that she’s not crazy so they fall in love after a funeral.  Sigh.  Now that the pair are a completely committed couple destined to spend their lives together, we can all relax, right?  Wrong.  Hey guys!  There’s still a killer out there playing ice pick tag.


“I just remembered.  All my friends are dead.”

I like EYES OF LAURA MARS.  I hadn’t seen it in 432 years and seeing it again was a trip.  Did you know it was written by John Carpenter?  I didn’t.  The cool set-pieces and shots of gritty, 1970s New York give the film texture and the cast is wonderful.  Raul Julia gets to play Laura’s alcoholic gigolo of an ex-husband and he’s perfect.  Rene Auberjonois, as Laura’s handler/manager does his usual terrific job.  I like Brad Dourif in this too.  As Laura’s mumbling, semi-sketchy driver, Dourif is convincing as a guy who’s polite on the surface, but might have a head in his fridge.


“You looked in my fridge?”

Tommy Lee Jones is pretty hunky in this role.  My daughter said, “He’s so ugly, he’s cute.”


“I’m not ugly.”

He’s likable, intelligent, and deeper than he seems.  Dunaway plays her part well.  She’s a bit over the top, but it works.  What doesn’t exactly work is her character.  Laura Mars, a wealthy, powerful, career woman who takes sexually charged and violent pictures seems sort of shy and virginal.  A few times in the film, people remark that she’s not at all what they expected when they saw her photographs.  It’s like they have to say she’s not really like that  as a way of making the audience like her.  Oh well.


“The game is afoot!”

All in all, EYES OF LAURA MARS is a satisfying watch.  Carpenter’s story has a fun central idea and the performances are fun.  Oh right.  The song.  Jon Peters made his bones producing the Kristofferson/Streisand film A STAR IS BORN and this film.  A former hairdresser, Peters dated Barbra Streisand during this period and the two made a few successful films together.  Back to the song.  “Prisoner”, sung by Streisand at the beginning and end of the film is a perfect showcase for that voice.  She hits every note bang on.  I know what you’re thinking, but you have to admit, the woman can sing.


“You shoulda seen it!”

EYES OF LAURA MARS stands out because of its creative concept and solid performances.  It has no castles or bats, but it does have the main character’s friends getting stabbed in the eye, so huzzah!


More plaid.


The Deliberate Stranger (1986)   2 comments

harmon tv ad

Ted Bundy admitted to killing thirty women in seven states between 1974-1978.  Police believe, but cannot confirm, that he killed many more starting years earlier.  Ted Bundy fooled everyone.  No one knew the charming, handsome man who picked them up hitchhiking or asked for help putting a sailboat on his car rack was a serial rapist/killer and necrophile.  His carefully constructed front worked until it didn’t.  At some point his compulsions and arrogance and disdain for humanity showed through the facade of this golden boy with a great future.  People who had known Bundy for years were stunned that the friendly, capable legal student was really a twisted psychopath.


“Want to try my candy handcuffs?”

THE DELIBERATE STRANGER, a made-for-television movie aired, in two parts, in 1986.  Mark Harmon plays Bundy as a smart sociopath who knows the right things to say, but has none of the real feelings behind them.  The film begins right before Bundy’s move from Washington to Utah to attend law school.  Similarities in the disappearances of several young women convince police to look for one perpetrator.  Since these murders happened in the 1970s, before national criminal databases existed, police in different jurisdictions have no idea that their neighbors might be dealing with the same criminal.  This lack of communication helps Bundy and he’s able to kill women all over several western states without notice.  Detectives in Washington, played wonderfully by Frederic Forrest, John Ashton, and M. Emmet Walsh start hearing about other, similar crimes in Utah and Colorado and soon those departments are sharing information.  Well, most share.  Some think their missing women are unrelated which makes the process move more slowly.  Bundy disposed of his victims in wooded areas as well so it could take years to find them.


“She had more hair in the photos.”

I’ve always liked this film.  It’s told as a police procedural and I love those.  You get to learn what detectives were thinking at the time of the murders.  For instance, the term deliberate stranger implies a criminal who has never met his victim, but chooses her just the same.  Bundy often stalked his prey for weeks until he found an opportunity to strike.  It seemed to many victims’ friends and family that their loved one simply vanished.  One minute they saw her, then she walked out of sight and was never heard from again.


“Would you like to take a ride?  I have duct tape.”

George Grizzard plays Richard Larsen who later wrote Bundy: The Deliberate Stranger.  Larsen, a Seattle Times reporter,  knew Bundy in Washington before he was suspected in the murders.  Grizzard does a nice job showing his change of heart on Bundy.  At first, he’s a fan and supports Bundy.  After it becomes obvious that Bundy is the killer, Larsen tries to learn more about him and why he became such a sicko.  Then there are the women in Bundy’s life.  Glynnis O’Connor and Deborah Goodrich play women romantically involved with the killer.  O’Connor drops him when she realizes he’s murdered 30 women. Nice move, G!  Goodrich, not so much.  Her character might be modeled after Carole Ann Boone, who moved from Washington to Florida to be near Bundy and later married him in court.  Ahhh love.


“Not tonight, honey.  You’re not dead enough.”

Now, a word about Mark Harmon.  Yes, I know.  I remember SUMMER SCHOOL.  Trust me.  Harmon’s good.  He pulls it off. You see the wheels turning behind that handsome face.  Harmon was a sharp casting choice.  He has the looks and the chops.


“Don’t forget the profile, Ed!”

Anyway, I realize THE DELIBERATE STRANGER isn’t a typical Halloween choice, but I can’t think of anything scarier than an attractive face that smiles at you while he plans your death.  Boo.

national-museum-of-crime & pun

Ted Bundy’s VW on display at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, D.C.



Manhunter (1986)   2 comments


A serial killer strikes during the full moon and kills entire families in their beds. When local police come up empty, they call the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, Jack Crawford (the always awesome Dennis Farina) for help.

See? I told you I was awesome.

Crawford, in turn calls his best profiler, Will Graham (William Petersen). Graham has a knack for getting into murderers’ heads and seeing horrific crimes through their eyes. This ability has taken a toll on his psyche however and Crawford finds him at his beach house recovering from a nervous breakdown. Crawford talks Graham into working the case and soon he’s back in the mind of another maniac.

Manhunter starts with a well worn movie plot. The burned out cop comes back to work on a big case and conquers his own demons. In the hands of another director, Manhunter could easily resemble a made-for-TV movie doomed for the USA network between a commercial-heavy showing of Top Gun and a rerun of Psych. What elevates this film is the stylish direction of Michael Mann (Thief, Heat) and the top drawer performances by the film’s cast.

Petersen, who made To Live and Die in LA with William Friedkin the year before, is at the top of his game as the world weary Graham. His stillness and intensity are perfect for this film, especially when he’s walking the crime scenes, reliving the murders. He describes in detail the actions and thoughts of the killer. It’s his empathy which allows Graham to discover the first solid lead in the search for the killer dubbed the Tooth Fairy by police. After making discoveries he can’t explain, Graham looks to serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), the man who nearly killed him a few months before, for information on the Tooth Fairy. The doctor toys with Graham and they share the best dialogue in the film.


Graham:”I thought you might enjoy the challenge. Find out if you’re smarter than the person I’m looking for.”
Lecktor: “Then, by implication, you think you’re smarter than I am, since it was you who caught me.”
Graham: “No. I know I’m not smarter than you.”
Lecktor: “Then how did you catch me?”
Graham: “You had…disadvantages.”
Lecktor: “What disadvantages?”
Graham: “You’re insane.”

Point taken.

I have to talk a bit about Brian Cox here. His Lecktor has all the menace of the Hopkins version without the theatrics. Don’t get me wrong. I like Silence of the Lambs a lot and Hopkins does a terrific job in his role. Brian Cox took a different, subtler approach though and it seems a lot more likely that he could hide in plain sight than Hopkins could.

After the conversation with Graham piques Lecktor’s interest, he uses his technical acumen and charm to hotwire a telephone and cajole Graham’s home address out of an unwitting receptionist. After a terrific forensic investigation sequence featuring talented character actor Bill Smitrovich, Crawford and Graham discover that the Tooth Fairy has reached out to Dr. Lecktor, putting Graham’s family at risk. Graham and Crawford make a move designed to bring the Tooth Fairy out into the open. The shocking scenes that follow give us our first glimpse of the killer. When his plot backfires, Graham must reexamine the crime scenes and walk with the killer again.

While Graham crawls inside the head of the Tooth Fairy, we see our madman at his job. Withdrawn and desperately lonely, the killer (Tom Noonan) presents us with a problem. We know about his brutal crimes and yet we pity his awkwardness and even cheer for him when he makes a connection with his blind co-worker, Reba (Joan Allen).

I wish I were a tiger.

We care about him. We care because Tom Noonan delivers a nuanced and frightening performance. We care because Thomas Harris and Michael Mann wrote a compelling screenplay. We care because director Michael Mann combines the straightforwardness of a police procedural with the artiness of a 1980s music video and the drama of grand opera. A haunting soundtrack by Michel Rubini, The Reds, and The Prime Movers, along with stellar use of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida provides the setting for a fascinating cerebral thriller. Kim Greist, as Graham’s loving, yet fearful wife, and Stephen Lang, as a ruthless tabloid reporter, show great range, but it’s Petersen who really shines. After watching Manhunter and To Live and Die in LA, I wonder why he didn’t get more leads or at least a few juicy character roles. Manhunter depicts the analysis and pursuit of a serial killer. If it stopped there it would be a satisfying watch. It doesn’t.


Le Boucher (1970)   Leave a comment

le boucher

Set in a small French village, Le Boucher (The Butcher) revolves around Hélène (Stéphane Audran), a schoolteacher and Popaul (Jean Yanne), the town’s butcher. They meet at a wedding and become friends. Soon after, police arrive to investigate the violent murder of a local woman. As Hélène and Popaul’s friendship deepens, the body count increases and both Hélène and the viewer wonder whether the ever helpful Popaul is butchering more than lambs.

Claude Chabrol wrote and directed this quiet story of murder and tries to bring us into this storybook village and show us the ugliness beneath. Though less effective than Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Chabrol’s Le Boucher does get your heart racing in a couple scenes and the performances by both Audran and Yanne are natural and believable. Pierre Jansen’s score also had an an eeriness which contributed well to the overall mood. I enjoyed watching the characters relate and was really sucked into the story, until the end. That’s when I felt, as Sissy Spacek’s character says in Badlands, “…just kind of blah, like when you’re sitting there and all the water’s run out of the bathtub.” I’m glad I watched Le Boucher and I’ll give Chabrol another go, but the ending to this film left me wanting more.


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