The Zodiac Killer, the first in series of planned Blu-ray collaborations between the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and Something Weird Video, is an odd duck even by the wonky standards of the true crime film in that it was made and released in 1971, while the actual Zodiac Murders were still happening in the real world. It also opens with a note from San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery stating that the movie is intended to help catch the real killer and to "create an awareness of a present danger"!
The premise for the film isn't particularly complex. When the movie starts, the fine upstanding officers of the San Francisco Police Department are baffled by a series of seemingly random murders taking place in their fair city. They all appear to be committed by the same sick, psychopathic killer but they don't always use the same weapon. When the murderer, dubbed The Zodiac Killer, starts writing letters to the local newspaper, the pressure mounts on the cops to stop this person before they kill again.
As the investigation ramps up, they narrow the culprit down to two possible suspects. The first is a middle aged truck driver with a penchant for booze, a whole lot of domestic squabbling going on in his personal life and a taste for pretty young women. The second is a mailman who takes the nagging old ladies on his route way too seriously and seems prone to emotional breakdowns. As the cops try and figure out who is really behind all of these, we bear witness to recreations some of the real Zodiac Killer's more notorious slayings and a few reasonably less accurate murder set pieces thrown in for good measure. Lots of seriously screwy twists and turns occur in the last half of this fairly tasteless exercise in low budget movie making awesomeness, leading up to a truly bizarre conclusion.
Quick paced, sensationalist and made fast and cheap, The Zodiac Killer is fairly packed with murder and mayhem. The police procedural aspect of the picture plays second fiddle to the murder scenes, which themselves are interesting in strange ways. Those that are based on actual killings that were documented in newspapers and TV reports of the time are, if not meticulously researched and recreated with the utmost accuracy, at least valid attempts and conveying reality. A good example of this is the murder of the couple in the car. The murder scenes that were invented specifically for the film, however, are a fair bit more bonkers and blunt in their execution. Highlighted by a scene in which the killer places a woman's head under the hood of a car and then jumps up and down maniacally on said hood, the filmmakers definitely get bonus points for creativity here.
As you'd expect for a movie made about a serial killer who hadn't yet been caught, the movie takes some liberties with the facts of the story. Here the killer zips about in a spooky uniform with the Zodiac logo on it, he rants and rages a fair bit and he worships a weird idol kept in a basement that he babbles at the way crazy people tend to babble at idols they keep in their basements. An exercise in bad taste> Yeah, more or less, but a fairly awesome one.The Blu-ray:
AGFA presents The Zodiac Killer arrives on Blu-ray framed at 1.33.1 taken from a new 4k scan of the only remaining 16mm blow up elements known to exist (which was a theatrical print). Given the source material used for this transfer, it's best to keep your expectations in check. There is some color fading and print damage evident throughout and the image is pretty grainy. That said, there is detail here that we can appreciate and the image is definitely film-like. Better to have it look like this than slathered in noise reduction or riddled with edge enhancement. Those who have seen the DVD by way of the previously released Something Weird Video DVD release will appreciate the increase in clarity, color reproduction, detail, depth and texture that is very evident here.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD Mono track is on par with the video presentation in terms of quality. Given the obscurity and rarity of the film, some defects are to be expected and are, at times, hard not to notice. As such, there are a few lines here and there that sound less than pristine and a bit of hiss noticeable in spots but overall the audio here is fine. There aren't any alternate language options provided but English subtitles are available.Extras:
Extras on this disc start out with an audio commentary with director Tom Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick moderated by Joseph A. Ziemba and Sebastian del Castillo from AGFA (who provide a basic introduction explaining the importance of SWV before then launching into the commentary proper). They discuss where the cast members from the feature came from, the locations that were used, making this movie while the killings were still happening in California and weird little details like is a certain character in the movie a vegan! Hanson talks about how they actually hoped that this movie would get the killer into the theater to see it, which might help the cops ‘get this guy' and what they planned to do should it actually happen.
AGFA has also included an on-camera interview with Hanson and Nedwick. In this quick three and a half minute spot Hanson talks about how he made a movie after his pizza joint went under, Nedwick talks about how he met Hanson, who was an actor in low budget films, and then from there they talk about how they came to work together on this particularly odd picture and setting a trap to catch the titular killer!
If that weren't enough, the disc also includes a second bonus movie in the form of 1977's Another Son Of Sam. This is also presented in 1080p high definition in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer, though it's framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and taken from a new 2k scan. We get DTS-HD Mono English audio here as well, no subtitles or alternate tracks are provided. The presentation quality is a bit better here than on the feature attraction but again, it's culled from less than perfect elements so expect some wear and tear. Written and directed by Dave Adams, this one is pretty clunky as it tells the story of a man who escapes from an insane asylum to go on a killing spree and the cops that try to catch him. It's not nearly as manic as the feature attraction or as good, but it has its moments. This one wasn't made to cash in on the Son Of Sam murders when production was started but once it hit the news the producers took advantage of it. As such, it doesn't have much to do with the Son Of Sam murders at all. The movie, which was shot in North Carolina but a lot of people with very little experience, has some interesting local flavor to it.
Rounding out the extras are trailers for a few other ‘tabloid horror' themed pictures, menus and chapter selection. We also get some nice reversible cover art. Inside the keepcase is a booklet of liner notes featuring some liner notes on the film as well as a text interview with the director. As this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie with the same extra features is also includes inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase.Final Thoughts:
The Zodiac Killer exists in some gritty netherworld between hard hitting true crime film and flat out exploitation picture, but it is nothing if not entertaining. Fast paced, quirky, occasionally a little nasty this low budget oddity is a kick. AGFA has rolled out the red carpet for the film's Blu-ray debut, presenting it in about as good a condition as we're likely to get, with some great extra features and a fun bonus film too. For exploitation film aficionados and drive-in movie fans, this one comes highly recommended..