I think we can all agree that the existence of serial killers is, pretty definitely, a bad thing. But for film-makers, they’re a goldmine. Whether it’s Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter or Leatherface, none of them would have been able to captivate the public if the likes of Ed Gein hadn’t performed any number of unspeakable acts. As silver linings go, it’s not much of one, is it?
Tie that to an inexplicable thirst for true crime on the part of the public and it’s clear that films like this are always going to be made.
The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story claims to tell the true story behind the infamous spate of murders in the 60s, which due to doubts cast over the conviction, make it a subject for debate, similar to our Ripperology.
After a spate of stranglings in the Boston area, the authorities unsurprisingly are keen to apprehend the perpetrator, with the man leading the case convinced that it’s the work of more than one person - a theory that displeases a local politician, who doesn’t want the bad publicity that multiple murderers could cause.
Meanwhile, a smart-arse wiseguy with little going on for him, Albert De Salvo (David Faustino) is racking up a few lesser felonies of sexual assault. Banged up with the forcefully charming Frank Asarian, the pair work up a deal, along with their lawyer, that sees Albert confess to being the Boston Strangler - on the grounds that he’s already facing a long sentence - and all three splitting the reward money, while De Salvo cops an insanity plea and skips to a more cushy secure unit.
The police run with it, despite there being logistical chasms in his claims. With Asarian himself knowing more than a touch about the killings, this is a case that appears to have more to it than the police are prepared to deal with.
Having come to terms with the fact that the supposed killer is played by the smart-arse kid from the legendary white-trash sitcom Married With Children, there’s little to sustain any interest in this torrid little affair. Even on a basic level, it’s flawed. It claims to tell the long-buried truth, yet bases far too much on conjecture - and changes the name of the alleged real murder: 2 minutes surfing will turn up the name of George Nasser - why change it unless your accusations aren’t on a sound legal footing?
We could forgive that if it worked instead as fiction. Which makes the woeful acting, script and direction all the more painful. Low budget schlock like this can work if it adheres to the grindhouse ethic that made Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer stand out - poor production values inadvertently provide a sense of everyday realism through their painful blandness, which in turn makes the shocking moments become bigger gut-shots.
This lacks the key moments that could jolt you from the slumber, while the murders have a weirdly soft-focus Cadbury’s Flake ad sexualised tone, which is downright unsavoury. Although I will cut it some slack for being the only film I can think of that punctuates a tender, romantic moment between a mature, loving couple with references to a kick in the nads and a bite to the jugular. Well, it made me laugh.
There’s also so little in the way of forensic or psychological exploration, you wonder what the makers are achieving, save for inflating mere theories that are readily available on the net.
It also makes you question the entire mechanics of the film industry - how can a film go through so many months and stages of production and still come out so poorly? Is it a tax-loss thing? Maybe that’s it.
Flat, unengaging and little more than a TV movie, this is not one that can be recommended on any level. Put simply, leave well alone.
Starring: David Faustino.
Directed by: Michael Feifer.