4 posts categorized "Serial Killer"

December 11, 2014


Se7enThe influence of William Friedkin’s groundbreaking serial killer procedural “Cruising” is evident in David Fincher’s masterpiece of the subgenre. The director employs shocking violence that mirrors Friedkin’s provocative use of outré displays of gay sexual expression in New York’s public sex clubs in “Cruising.” Fincher detonates periodic gross-out Grand Guignol elements to sustain a morbid sense of nagging suspense.

Increasingly nasty crime scene images of dead torture victims rotting in squalid rooms as decorated by the killer compress the film’s brutality into a cinematic pressure cooker. We don’t witness the savagery being committed yet we feel its effect palpably. From a production design standpoint, the outrageous crime scenes are gorgeous examples of inspired cinematic artistry. An unspeakable act of hyper-violence promises to fulfill the story’s dramatic arc even though the audience isn’t allowed to see it.

Morgan Freeman’s veteran police detective William Somerset is seven days away from retirement. The bachelor is ready to leave the noisy (unnamed) city behind for a house he has waiting in the burbs. Complications arise. A murder victim is discovered - a morbidly obese man gruesomely forced to eat his way to death. “Gluttony.” Further murder discoveries reveal individually tailored killings dedicated to the Seven Deadly Sins (Gluttony. Greed. Sloth. Pride. Lust. Envy. Wrath.). Before the film’s end, each of the biblical transgressions will be tangibly represented in order and in blood.

SevenThe first murder coincides with Brad Pitt’s hot-to-trot new detective David Mills being teamed up with Somerset. Mills’s five years of working homicide in another city haven’t prepared him for a case like this one, and Somerset senses that his new partner is in over his head.

Over the following days, Mills gradually earns Somerset’s begrudging respect, with some assistance from Mills’s anxious Midwest wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). Tracy’s dinner invitation to Somerset results in a bonding event that sticks in the viewer’s mind.


The heart of the story is the budding friendships between Somerset, Mills, and Tracy. The attachment of the three compatible individuals creates a calming substance of extended family, of which the audience is an integral part. It is this very thing that allows Kevin Spacey’s ominous psychopath John Doe to complete his series of seven horrors at the trio’s expense, and elevates the film’s coldly ironic denouement.

Although he previously directed “Alien³,” “Se7en” is the movie that put David Fincher on the map. The film’s iconic look and lighting design led to it being copied so much that it’s possible to forget that “Se7en” was the model. Even its kinetic title sequence established a fresh template to be emulated. You walk out of the movie feeling like you’ve been sucker-punched. Few films pack such a wallop.


Rated R. 127 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

A small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


April 11, 2013


Maniac-official-posterPrimer for Serial Killers
Slasher Pic Crosses the Red Line

An irredeemable exploitation horror movie that overplays its subjective point-of-view conceit, “Maniac” will leave viewers cold. A by-committee screenplay, contributed to by Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”), updates William Lustig’s ‘80s cult horror classic by the same title — about a serial killer with a palate for the severed scalps of women. Relative newcomer Franck Khalfoun (“P2”) directs.

The disquieting horror movie hooks its audience with a shocking preliminary knife murder, and subsequent scalping, seen through the eyes of Los Angeles serial killer Frank (Elijah Woods). From a shock value standpoint, the sequence does the trick. The woman’s bloody scalp slides off so easily — too easily — under Frank’s well-sharpened hunting knife. Wood is every bit as creepy as his malevolent killer in “Sin City,” albeit more misogynistic here. Stunt casting aside, Elijah Wood makes for a believable basket case midget consumed with hunting down and killing women on a seemingly daily basis. A lack of subplots, much less any development thereof, creates a claustrophobic narrative vacuum. What we get is gore for the sake of gore. This is filmmaking gone bad.


A childhood of abuse by his prostitute mother (America Olivo) has left deep scars on Frank’s warped psyche. Cheesy flashbacks provide abstract exposition that hardly convinces regarding the lost sanity of a killer whose face we barely glimpse during the film’s first hour. Frank’s heavy breathing and knotted voice tell the camera where to look. The effect is tedious.

As an adult, Frank restores old mannequins in his poorly lit storefront. He cuddles up with his favorite models in bed after using a staple gun to attach, and reattach, the freshly severed scalps of his recent female victims. Flies are a problem; no amount of bug spray helps. Frank perseveres. The screenwriters borrow liberally from films such as “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs,” but suffer a loss of suspense because there aren’t enough layers to the story.


Franck Khalfoun uses some flashy filmic techniques — an electronic-buzzing musical score and light-pulsing camera pans — but nothing to rival Gaspar Noé’s mind-boggling subjective camera work on “Irreversible” or “Enter the Void” — two far better films that clearly informed “Maniac.”


Some audiences will likely wonder at the entertainment value of being implicated in a litany of grotesque murders of young women by an anti-hero protagonist. Meanwhile, pimply-faced fanboys will celebrate the film’s graphic depiction of grotesque violence against scantily clad women.


There’s something to be said for filmmakers bending the rules of dramaturgy, but rules are rules for a reason, and misfires like this demonstrate why. Without an empathetic character to shepherd the viewer through its stomach-turning episodes of grisly violence, the story has nowhere to go. Creepy, gory, and cold as the ocean’s floor, “Maniac” seems more like a how-to guide for would-be serial killers than a scary movie to take a date to see. If you do make the mistake of ignoring my advice, don’t be surprised if your date walks out.

Not Rated. 100 mins.

2 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 16, 2012


MichaelAustrian filmmaker Markus Schleinzer’s chilling debut bears the earmarks of the time spent with directors Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, with whom he worked as a casting director.

Every bit as dry, cold, and calculated as your typical Michael Haneke film, “Michael” is darkly disturbing examination of a pedophile and his 10-year-old captive. Schleinzer gets co-directing assistance from casting partner Katrin Resetartis. Michael Fuith plays the film’s thirtysomething human monster who happens to go by the same first name. This is one actor who clearly has no Hollywood aspirations.

Michael (2011) | bonjourtristesse.net

Inspired by a 1998 abduction case in Vienna, the story covers a five-month period, during which Michael contends with his basement captive Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) as an amalgam of sex-slave, son figure, and pet. Michael controls the electricity to Wolfgang’s windowless room, leaving the child in complete darkness for much of the time. Although Michael brings the boy upstairs to dine in a “normal” home setting, he digs a grave in a wooded area when the boy comes down with a bad cold. He makes plans for bringing in a second boy.

Markus Schleinzer Michael (2011) | Home, Home decor, Decor

A fly-on-the-wall study of the behavior of a pedophile, “Michael” is a horror movie made up small moments. Michael keeps a coded record of his sexual encounters with the boy. At work he keeps to himself, but effectively angles for a promotion. He goes on a ski trip with friends, and successfully flirts with a waitress in the lodge restaurant. The child victim acts out his anger. Although there is only one very carefully staged bit of nudity in the film, it is a shocker.

Michael (2011 Austrian film) - Alchetron, the free social encyclopedia

American audiences unfamiliar with the stalking brutality of modern Austrian cinema take note; “Michael” is one very upsetting cinematic cup of mulch and tree-bark tea. This is not a date movie, or a film to take the family to see. Handle with care.

Not Rated. 96 mins.

4 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos



Throwback Thursday

Podcast Series