When the police took Dennis Rader into custody in February of 2005, the media had a field day. The man responsible for numerous brutal killings had resurfaced decades after his initial killing spree, a series of murders which had earned him the nickname of 'The BTK Killer' after his modus operandi, that being to bind, then torture, then kill his victims or as he referred to them, his 'projects.' The interesting thing about Rader was that he wasn't your typical loon, rather he was a respected member of society and worked for the city and was active in his community church just outside of Wichita. He was at one point in his life a Boy Scout leader and he was the father or two and no one suspected him. He was there, in the midst of his community, the entire time.
Shortly after his arrest and subsequent conviction (he was sentenced to ten consecutive life terms) at the age of sixty, a made-for-TV movie called The Hunt For The BTK Killer was made. With theatrical release of David Fincher's Zodiac putting serial killers back into the forefront of American pop culture, is it any surprise that Sony has opted to release The Hunt For The BTK Killer on to DVD?
The movie begins with Rader (Gregg Henry) arrested and standing trial for his actions. From here, we learn through various flashback scenes what he did, whom he did it to, and how he did it. We also learn how police detective Jason Magida (Robert Forster) eventually tracked him down and brought him to justice and how Rader more or less just gave himself away over time by corresponding with the cops. It's a fairly standard mix of serial killer movie murder set pieces and relatively mundane police procedural and court room bits blended together to kill an hour and a half.
The movie takes some liberties with the facts and as such it isn't the most accurate depiction of the real life events that inspired it, but as semi-trashy tabloid entertainment it isn't half bad even if it is quite flawed. On the plus side, we've got a very good performance from Gregg Henry who is just dull enough to be believable in the part. He's a creepy looking guy made creepier by the little mannerisms and quirks he shows during his performance. Forster is also good as the head cop in charge. He's always brought a rather gruff screen presence to his performances and this is one of those cases where it seems appropriate. The film doesn't delve too far past the surface and we don't really get to know these characters very well, but there's enough meat here to chew on that the film is at least entertaining even if there is little in the way of heavy psychological explanations given for why Rader did what he did.
Things are sensationalized a bit and the events are thrown at us fairly quickly for the sake of pacing (this is where the reliance on flashback scenes comes in handy from a narrative perspective) and so we don't get the level of detail that a proper documentary on the subject could probably provide but as entertainment it works. The kill scenes, which (like it or not) should probably be the highlight of the film seeing as Sony is marketing it towards the horror movie crowd if their cover art is anything to go on, are surprisingly timid with most of the gory detail covered by superimposed fake film grain and flares on the image. This definitely takes some of the intensity out of these moments – you don't need gore to make something scary but this is a case where it wouldn't have hurt things if it had been there. In the end this is hardly a definitive statement of any kind on the subject, instead it's a reasonably entertaining and cheaply made piece of exploitative entertainment.
The Hunt For The BTK Killer is presented in a decent 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that appears to be the proper aspect ratio for the movie. The kill scenes in the film have been intentionally made to look gritty and ugly so don't expect those set pieces to look perfect but aside from that stylistic choice, this transfer is fine. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts though some mild edge enhancement is noticeable as a bit of aliasing in some scenes. Color reproduction is fine – some scenes look flat but again, that appears to be intentional. Detail levels in both the foreground and the background of the image remain high and there are no problems with dirt or debris on the image at all.
Sony presents the movie in its original English language in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with alternate language dub tracks in Portuguese and French, also in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Optional subtitles are provided in English, French and Portuguese and an English closed captioning option is available in English for the feature only. Quality of the English track is fine. The rear channels aren't used quite as effectively as they could have been but dialogue remains clean and clear throughout and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to report. The levels are properly balanced and the score has a nice clarity to it. Bass response could have been a bit stronger in some scenes but it is there, even if it isn't quite as booming as it probably should have been. Aside from that, this disc sounds just fine.
Extras on this release are limited to previews for other Sony DVD releases, menus and chapter stops for the feature. That's it.
The Hunt For The BTK Killer is a fairly mediocre police procedural/serial killer film that is made worthwhile by Gregg Henry's interesting performance and Robert Forster's naturally grumpy screen presence. Sony's disc doesn't win any awards in the supplements department but it looks and sounds just fine. Not a classic by any stretch, but a decent time killer that makes for an alright rental title.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.