People love serial killers - at least from a safe distance. From bookstores to the cineplex, pop culture has long been awash in bloody tales, real and imagined, of knife-wielding sociopaths. Filmmaker Michael Feifer understands the allure of true crime as well as anyone, having knocked out biopics on such infamous creeps as Ed Gein, Richard Speck, Ted Bundy and BTK. Feifer returns to the well in The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story, a straight-to-DVD cheapie that speculates on the identity of the still-unresolved case.
Not to be confused with Richard Fleischer's 1968 thriller, The Boston Strangler, this 2008 flick suggests that the man who confessed to the Strangler murders, Albert De Salvo, was not the actual assailant. De Salvo, a convicted rapist and con man, claimed in 1965 that he was the so-called "Strangler" who murdered 13 Boston-area women between 1962 and 1964. While no physical evidence linked him to the crimes, he impressed investigators by recounting details from the crime scenes. Police and a long-terrorized public were eager to accept De Salvo as the culprit. His attorney, F. Lee Bailey, tried using his client's alleged Strangler crimes as fodder for an insanity defense against unrelated charges, but to no avail. De Salvo wound up in a state prison, where he was killed under mysterious circumstances in November of 1973.
The Untold Story blends fact and fiction to posit that De Salvo was coerced by his roommate at a mental institution into giving a false confession. That real-life roomie, George Nassar, is given a new name and identity in Feifer's film - now he is a snarling, homicidal criminal named Frank Asarian (Kostas Sommer). Bailey and some other peripheral figures are given fictitious names, too, but the movie's ultimate contention mirrors that made by several criminologists who have studied the Boston Strangler case. The theory is this: De Salvo was a pathetic, easily manipulated sleazebag who said he was the Boston Strangler as part of a misguided effort to win fame and reward money for his wife and kids.
It's a tantalizing notion. Unfortunately, The Untold Story doesn't make for a particularly tantalizing drama. The storytelling is disappointingly bland, too superficially tasteful to satisfy any exploitation-flick itch and too ineptly written to generate real thrills. Feifer's script trades in wheezy stereotypes and clumsy, on-the-nose dialogue. This is the kind of movie in which a newspaper reporter grumbles to cops that "it's our duty to inform the public." This is the kind of movie in which a soon-to-be Strangler victim dreamily muses on the boyfriend who just left her home. This is the kind of movie in which vital information is conveyed in the most direct, artless way possible. In short, this is the kind of movie you've seen more times than you care to remember.
You can't fault David Faustino. A long way from the days of Bud Bundy on television's Married ... with Children, the actor's Albert De Salvo is equal parts bogeyman and loser. Not every thespian can wring vulnerability and even sympathy out of playing a rapist, but Faustino comes close to doing so -- even in one of the film's more chilling scenes, in which De Salvo talks his way into a young woman's apartment by posing as a modeling scout.
But De Salvo is supposed to provide only half the ostensible intrigue. Frank Asarian, whom the movie pegs as the actual Boston Strangler (don't worry, I'm not spoiling any plot point -- that is revealed pretty early on) -- is not developed as anything more than a plot device. Sommer has a commanding physical presence, but he isn't given much to do. Frank Asarian is the supreme bummer for a movie of this sort; He is an uninteresting serial killer.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story boasts sharp lines and a reasonably solid picture. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1. Slight grain is evident in a few dimly lit scenes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 doesn't get much opportunity to show its stuff, but the sound is generally clean and clear. There are a few exceptions, particularly a clunky scene in which De Salvo and his wife argue. Audio in the scene sounds as if it had been recorded in a YMCA shower stall. Optional subtitles are in Spanish and English for the hearing-impaired.
An entertaining commentary is provided by Feifer, Faustino, composer Andres Boulton and editor Roberto Jimenez. They have an easy, pleasant rapport, and Faustino proves to be a funny guy. A trailer is also included.
The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story will be of mild interest to true-crime buffs, but listless storytelling and stilted dialogue prevent the flick from registering actual suspense.