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Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders

MGM // R // January 10, 2006
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted February 7, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

There's something shallow, callow, and ghoulishly opportunistic about making "fictionalized" movies about true-life serial killers, but it sure doesn't seem to bother filmmaker Chris Fisher all that much. Just a few years ago the director gave us Nightstalker, a flick claiming to be based on the icky exploits of Robert Ramirez, a serial killer who infiltrated L.A. during the 1980s. That movie was pretty darn bad.

But it's a damn sight more watchable than Mr. Fisher's subsequent effort, the astonishingly amateurish Rampage, which is so loosely based on the misadventures of serial killer Kenneth Bianchi that it shouldn't even be allowed to use the phrase "based on actual events." Films like The Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre work because they were constructed by talented filmmakers who used true crime as a "jumping off" point to something dark, engaging, and insightful -- whereas Chris Fisher seems more interested in simply filming any old random thing and then getting someone to slap a grimly alluring cover on the DVD package.

But since it's easier to plumb the depths of the true-crime archives and pick out only the smallest bits of what you want to be in your movie than to actually sit down and write either A) a sincere and trustworthy account, or B) a plain ol' piece of fiction, that's the approach Mr. Fisher takes.

Putting aside the filmmaker's flimsy lack of regard for actual history ... this is one truly terrible movie. The main problem, the one that sinks the flick from frame one and grinds it into the dirt for the next 80-some minutes, is Mr. Fisher's obsessive affinity for "swirly-cam." I'm not exaggerating when I say that more than 3/4ths of Rampage consists of scenes in which the camera is whirling, spinning, and rotating -- mercilessly, annoyingly, and for absolutely no reason that has anything to do with creative visual storytelling.

How Fisher got two half-decent actors (Brittany Daniel as a slutty, druggy psychologist, and Clifton Collins Jr. doing a maudlin impersonation of Edward Norton in Primal Fear) to appear in this aimless, formless dreck is a question for the ages. (Answer for the ages: Actors gotta eat!)

Bottom Line: If you're looking for the truth behind the Hillside Strangler murder cases, click right here and read through the facts. And when Chris Fisher pops up with "The Gary Heidnik Story" or "Speck!" -- but sure to turn your head and walk away as quickly as possible.

The DVD

Video: Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), but still amazingly nauseating to sit through ... and I don't mean because of the unseemly subject matter.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 in your choice of English or French, as if the flick offers on stray piece of dialogue or spoken insight that might be worth listening to.

Extras

You (not me) will find a pair of audio commentaries, one with writer/director/professional camera-spinner Chris Fisher and actors Brittany Daniel & Clifton Collins Jr., and one with Fisher and his partner in Cinematic Spirograph, cinematographer Eliot Rockett.

There's also a collection of seven deleted scenes, a photo gallery (because the movie's just so lovely to look at), and a bunch of previews for Black Dawn, Hunt for Eagle One, Memory of a Killer, Nightstalker, The Escapist, The Fog, and The Net 2.0. Good ol' Sony, always churnin' out the quality.

Final Thoughts

Bad horror movies are one thing, but bad horror movies that exploit real-life murders to make a few bucks... Ugh, that's just creepy. Rampage is one truly terrible piece of filmmaking, and I'd challenge anyone to sit down, watch the thing, and then tell me I'm being excessively unkind to Fisher's flick. And that challenge also goes out to the folks at Sony who thought they could make a few DVD dollars off something this obviously and outrageously unwatchable.

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