28 December 2008

YET ANOTHER "BASED ON TRUE EVENTS" THRILLER: THE ALPHABET KILLER

I was vaguely familiar with the story of the Alphabet Killer when I picked up this DVD. Someone during the time between 1971 and 1973 raped and killed three young girls in the area in and around Rochester NY. The girls initials had matching letters and they were each dumped off in a nearby towns that had the same letter as the victim. I knew that the killer , like the Zodiac Killer, was never caught and while there were viable suspects none were ever anything more than possibilities. This serial killer film is loosely based on those events despite some closing credit information that tries to give the film more of a link to the real events than it deserves. The film takes place in Rochester and three young girls with matching initials are killed and dumped of in a town with the same letter as the victim’s name. That is about the only connection to the facts the film has. Now that in of itself does not mean the film should be embraced or dismissed.

To be honest I liked the film initially but was so let down by the outlandish ending that I give it a marginal recommendation at best. It is directed with some decent B-movie skill by Rob Schmidt (Wrong Turn) and script writer Tom Malloy also stars in the film as Detective Harper. Turning in a good performance as the schizophrenic workaholic detective Megan Paige is Eliza Dushku. Megan is suspicious from the very start that the murder of Carla Costillo, found in nearby Churchville, is more than meets the eye. The fact that she has the double initials C and is found in a town beginning with the letter C seems all but mathematically impossible. She soon begins to collapse under the strain of her monomaniacal investigative technique and when a form of adult schizophrenia sets in, causing hallucinations of the victim, and she attempts suicide she is soon off the case and under medical supervision for a couple years. While in a support group she meets Richard Ledge (Timothy Hutton), a sympathetic and supportive wheelchair bound man who is encouraging of Megan but concerned about her desire to get back into police work.

Megan returns to work in a low stress clerical capacity but that ends as soon as a second victim, Wendy Walsh, is found in nearby Webster NY. Despite her history of schizophrenia Megan is allowed back onthe case by her ex-fiancée police Capt. Kenneth Shine (Cary Elwese). She is teamed up with a none too happy Detective Harper, but naturally he soon comes to respect her and her methods. There is eventually a third victim and much of the film at this point is Megan dealing with her obsession, a part of her disorder perhaps, to catch the killer and her gradual remission into the disease, causing her more auditory and visual hallucinations. The movie almost could work here even though much liberty is given with the real facts. Michael Ironside appears as the arrogant police chief of Webster who does not like Megan and has no intention of aiding the Rochester police department in their investigation. The freaky “flickering” appearances of the dead girls can be explained as hallucinations brought on by Megan’s disease, avoiding having the film become a supernatural thriller, and we are left wondering how the movie will tie itself up at the end. Even David Fincher’s capable direction of Zodiac left us somewhat wanting since the Zodiac, like the real Alphabet Killer, was never caught and we just wanted more closure. We assume the film will end on some such similar note, or a killer will be created and an ideal ending to an open police case will be created. The filmmakers take the second option… and totally blow it.


In a completely unnecessary plot twist they make the crippled (though not really crippled of course) Timothy Hutton character the killer and the film descends into utter low B corniness. It is more like a non-surprise twist I expect from some of the low budget Japanese stuff I watch here sometimes. He escapes capture with a gunshot wound to his foot into the freezing Genesee River while Megan has a break down on the river bank. The films ends with Megan strapped up in the mental ward of the hospital surrounded by the ghosts of more and more dead girls while pedophile Richard Ledge sits smiling at a young girl in the pews of St. Michael’s church, where all the victims had gone earlier and knew Ledge. This is the type of ending you do when you cannot think of a really good ending. It was so absurd and rises so many unanswerable questions I will not waste anymore time dealing with it. I would have given this at least 2 1/2 skulls until that hokey ending was dropped on my lap. I will still go 2 skulls, which makes it watchable for the most part. There is little real violence or gore, and the one brief topless shot of Dushku was unnecessary. The film has an R rating but it barely deserves it. Disappointing really since it could have gone somewhere at the end.




1 comment:

  1. Definitely sounds like it has its share of faults, but I'll probably still check it out. Plus I always liked her. I'll pretty much see anything she's in.

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