Monday, September 02, 2013

When Is He Going To Strike Again?

Zodiac is perhaps the most infamous serial killer in American history. He terrorized the San Francisco area in the late 1960s and early 1970s, taunting police with a series of strange messages and ciphers and leaving citizens in a state of constant fear. Zodiac was never caught, and his identity remains unknown.

Amazingly, producer/director Tom Hanson (A TON OF GRASS GOES TO POT) made a low-budget exploitation movie in an effort to smoke out the real killer. He booked THE ZODIAC KILLER (or ZODIAC, as it was titled in 1971) into a San Francisco theater and set up stakeouts to identify the killer using handwriting samples of paying customers.

It’s unlikely Zodiac was anything like the sweaty, overacting suspects in Hanson’s film: Satan-worshipping mailman Jerry (Hal Reed) and bald misogynist Grover (Bob Jones). While Grover gets his kicks by donning an ill-fitting toupee and swinging all night with a bevy of delicious chicks (nothing in this film is less credible than Grover’s success with women), Jerry is content to stay at home with his pet rabbits (“Why are evil people allowed to live, when poor, innocent rabbits must die for no reason at all?”). One of the suspects is eliminated early, leaving the other to roam the city murdering complete strangers on a whim. He stabs a pair of lovers next to a lake, shoots a cabbie in the head, bops an old lady with a spare tire…

The dialogue by Ray Cantrell and Manny Cardoza is atrocious (“Nobody calls me a bald-headed bastard!”) and the acting even worse, though Hanson’s one-take direction does the performers no favors (Jones repeatedly blows his lines, and you can hear Hanson shout “Cut!” to end one scene). ZODIAC is funnier than it is frightening or thought-provoking. After the film’s San Francisco run, Hanson sold it to Audubon Films, which released it across the United States. Paul Avery, the San Francisco Chronicle reporter played by Robert Downey Jr. in David Fincher’s 2007 film ZODIAC, lent his name and endorsement to Hanson’s production.

For the ultimate in ZODIAC KILLER awesomeness, see Chris Poggiali's outta-sight interview with Tom Hanson at Temple of Schlock, and learn how Hanson and his fellow filmmakers set a trap to capture the real-life Zodiac Killer in a San Francisco movie theater!

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