There aren't many people out there under thirty who don't get a slight chill up their spine at the mention of John Wayne Gacy. Everyone who has been around long enough to know will remember that he was found guilty of the murder of thirty-three young men, twenty-nine of whom were found buried on the premises of Gacy's home in Illinois. Stories of Gacy's sexual proclivities abounded, and he had a bizarre history there that tied into his killing spree. It surprised no one when he was locked up in the Menard Correctional Institute in Chester, Illinois, where he'd spend fourteen years behind bars before he was finally executed. What a lot of people might not realize is that while Gacy was behind bars, he was quite communicative with people who were keen on corresponding with him. As such, he wrote a lot of letters and one such recipient was a college student named Jason Moss.
Directed by Svetozar Ristovski, Dear Mr. Gacy explores the strange relationship that grew between Moss and Gacy. When we first meet Moss (Jesse Moss), he's the hot shot know-it-all student in college to learn about the criminal justice system. He's got a cute girlfriend named Alyssa (Emma Lahana) who he pals around with and he seems to have a fairly normal life. Like any teenager, he squabbles with his parents now and then but that's nothing to be concerned about. Moss decides, when it comes time to write his term paper, that he's going to bass it around Gacy (William Forsyth) and that he'll conduct his research by corresponding with him. Wanting to get Gacy's attention, he sets himself up as a potential victim, the kind of young man that Gacy would be attracted to if he were able to pursue such things outside his prison cell.
One letter leads to another and before you know it, Moss has sent Gacy some provocative photos of himself, showing off his cut abs and appealing to Gacy's homosexual desires. It works, a little too well maybe, and before you know it, Jesse's accepting collect phone calls late at night from Gacy himself, who encourages him to hustle on the streets to make ends meet and to share every last detail with him. As their relationship grows, the similarities between Moss and Gacy start to become more clear, though the incarcerated man's attachment to his new friend becomes increasingly more disturbing, culminating in a finale where the two parties finally meet face to face before Gacy is put to death.
Based on Jason Moss' own book, The Last Victim, which he wrote before taking his own life in 2006, Dear Mr. Gacy isn't a perfect film but it is an interesting one. The Canadian accents in some of the supporting cast members will instantly clue in those who pick up on such things that this isn't really being shot in Illinois (it was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia) but more problematic than that is the pacing. The film is quite talky and about twenty minutes too long. Some tighter editing definitely could have helped this one move at a better pace and the entire middle section of the picture is just too long. The opening is interesting enough and the ending is well played and it does redeem the picture's slower moments, but you'll need some patience if you want to appreciate this one.
What really makes this one work, however, is Forsyth's performance as Gacy. Here Forsyth is perfectly cast and quite chilling in the part. He looks enough like the real Gacy that you won't have to suspend your disbelief all that much to accept him in the role and he nails the mannerisms and speech patterns really well, even delivering a believable Midwest accent. He's quite enthralling in the part and makes the entire thing worth watching. Moss' performance isn't bad either, but it's Forsyth you'll remember here once the end credits start to roll.
Those looking for a traditional horror film won't find any blood or guts here - there are no kill scenes, there's no stalking, there are no jump scares. Dear Mr. Gacy is much more of a psychological thriller than a horror film, really. It works though, and though the aforementioned flaws do hurt it, it's a picture worth seeing for anyone with an interest in the subject matter.
Dear Mr. Gacy looks okay in this 1.78.1 AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen transfer. While medium and long distance shots don't look all that impressive, close up shots do show fairly strong detail and offer an improvement over what standard definition would be able to provide. Some shots are a bit soft but the movie seems to have been made this way intentionally. Not having a particularly bright color scheme to work off, don't expect much pop in that regard, but the blacks and grays and darker greens and blues are well handled here. Shadow detail is about average but it's certainly not bad. There aren't any problems to report with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and the image is clean throughout.
The only audio option on this disc is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, with optional subtitles available in English only. This is a fairly dialogue intensive film that doesn't have a whole lot going on in the way of sound effects but what's here sounds good. Some of the scenes in the prison have some welcome ambient noise in the background to help build a bit of atmosphere now and then. The levels are well balanced throughout and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to complain about. Bass is fairly unremarkable -it's there but it's not particularly strong - though the score in the film sounds pretty good for the most part. All in all, this is a perfectly sufficient if not particularly memorable sound mix.
The only extra of any substance is a short featurette entitled The Gacy Files: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. At just over twenty minutes, this gives some minor insight into Gacy as a person as it offers up some interviews with those who knew him and some of the cops who worked on the case. William Forsythe can be seen sort of hanging out during a few of the interviews but he doesn't really have a whole lot to say here. More information on the real life Moss would have been very welcome and really helped to round out the supplements on this disc, but that didn't happen - a missed opportunity if ever there was one. Aside from that, look for a trailer, a teaser, animated menus and chapter stops.
Dear Mr. Gacy benefits from a fascinating true life premise and a solid performance from Forsyth but suffers from some sizeable pacing issues and some periodic padding. That said, despite the flaws, it is a movie worth seeing for those with an interest in true crime or serial killers. The concept is a good one, the material is fairly thought provoking, and the emphasis on storytelling and strong acting over flash and style make for a deliberately paced and interesting thriller. It's probably not a movie you'll need to see more than once, however. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray looks and sounds fine though it's fairly light on extras. Rent it.
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.