Tagged Zodiac Killer

Zodiac: The Dark Reality of an Uncaught Killer

Zodiac. 2007. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, based on the book of the same name by Robert Graysmith.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark, & Elias Koteas.
Phoenix Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated 14A. 157 minutes.
Crime/Drama/History

★★★★★
POSTER In terms of people who’ve been making movies since the ’90s, David Fincher is one of those whom I’d consider as an auteur. He doesn’t necessarily tackle any abstract subjects – perhaps The Game and Fight Club are closest to being abstract – but he definitely has his own style, a look and feel all his own. His hand is on every last portion of the finished film. He’s plain and simple an auteur.
So even Zodiac, which is part procedural and part dramatic thriller, has all the earmarks of his genius on it. Everywhere. Not to mention the loaded cast, right down to spectacular character actors such as John Carroll Lynch filling out the back end. There’s enough intrigue in the Zodiac Killer case from real life to fill out a dozen movies, and it certainly has over the years with actual people like SFPD Inspect Dave Toschi having served as inspiration for other films like Bullitt, as well as both he and the Zodiac inspiring Dirty Harry. What Fincher does, using a solid screenplay from James Vanderbilt and based upon the identically titled book by Robert Graysmith, is create a dark, compelling piece of crime cinema that weaves through the enigma which is the Zodiac Killer case with a slick flow.
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July 4th, 1969: an unknown man shoots two people in Vallejo, California, with only one surviving. A month later, someone calling himself The Zodiac starts writing encrypted letters in a strange code to the San Francisco. Soon, political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts to get interested in the case, as big shot crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) is set to cover the case. At first, Avery thinks Graysmith is foolish. But soon he realizes the young cartoonist may actually know a thing or two.
A couple week laters, a San Francisco taxi driver is killed in Presidio Heights. Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are assigned to the case, and it becomes Toschi’s personal mission to track the sick bastard down. But the Zodiac keeps on killing. And when he threatens school children, other citizens, even Avery directly, things get very serious.
Though we know how the story ends, or has kept going on, the darkness of the Zodiac and his story is all too engaging, as his grip on the city of San Francisco remains a still existent shadow to this day.
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The Zodiac was a scary genius. Assuming it was intentional, he killed across jurisdictional lines, which in turn landed all the various police departments scrambling trying to keep themselves coordinated. Zodiac‘s screenplay by James Vanderbilt is surprising. He hasn’t really done anything else that I’m personally into, though he has done a ton of successful stuff. This script does a great job of laying everything out and even while it is complex, intricately laying out a bunch of characters and major players in the search for the Zodiac, as well as casting doubt and questions over the identity of the killer himself. A story and plot such as this runs the risk of getting tangled up at some point, but Vanderbilt keeps it well on track. The pacing is solid, the character development is extremely solid and well fleshed out. In particular, the main two characters of Graysmith and Toschi are written to near perfection, as we start to see how they sort of became victims of the Zodiac, in that their lives were dominated and ultimately determined, in a sense, by his crimes and the pursuit. Another thing is that the ending comes at the right time. This is a long film at almost 160 minutes, and it’s never boring. But certain writers might not know how to, or when to, cap things off. Vanderbilt manages to cauterize the story at the appropriate time. As there’s a natural mystery to a case we all (should) know is unsolved to this day, the way the plot finishes is just right.
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Fincher and Vanderbilt together never glorify the violence. Yes, there’s a slow motion moment near the beginning as two people are shot, and we see much of the violence in a fairly upfront, raw manner. However, Fincher handles it so that there’s no glorification. It is most certainly stylized, just never put on show as violent erotica. I’m a horror fan, but have an appreciate for all film, especially anything that’s well executed, well composed. And Fincher manages not to make a spectacle of The Zodiac. Rather, we get deep into the psychological territory of the crimes getting drawn into long, dark takes that make us feel as if we’re right there with the victims, the near victims, and those hoping to catch the killer. For a movie that’s stylized, it also has a realism to it. Because it’s not played off like some serial killer of the week. The Zodiac is real, frightening, and the mystery of his true identity is played out impeccably via intelligent writing and, as usual, classic directorial choices on behalf of Fincher.
The soundtrack is amazing, everything from Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” to Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Vanilla Fudge, to Three Dog Night, Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher”, and a bunch more. Great period specific soundtrack that helps give authenticity to the era, alongside all the excellent costume and set design, the locations, and so on. Great stuff. In addition, there’s an eerie piano score which comes in now and then to punctuate dark moments: one of my favourites is the terrifying moment an unseen Zodiac tells a woman he’ll throw her baby out the window of his car before he murders her, then everything goes quiet except for a dreadful pounding piano note. Just everything at play comes together in a spooky tapestry to make this an unsettling film disguised as a crime procedural. Combined with the directing, the soundtrack and score, cinematographer Harris Savides (BirthThe GameLast Days) captures everything in an almost classic sense, as he and Fincher craft things in slick, rich frames to give things a gritty yet pristine look. What another filmmaker might process into mediocre fare Fincher turns into a masterpiece of crime cinema.
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This movie is built on good performances, solid directing and writing, as well as an interesting, enigmatic story of a real life serial killer. The Zodiac murders will linger on in the collective memory of Americans, particularly those in San Francisco, even the world. Because of the mystery involved, we’re often inclined to wonder exactly how he slipped away. David Fincher’s Zodiac doesn’t so much try and answer that, so much as recreate many of the events surrounding the case. Again, as I mentioned concerning the lead characters, much of this has to do with how it wasn’t only the dead left in The Zodiac’s wake. Toschi, Graysmith, all of them to an extent were sucked into the undertow of his unsolvable case. Maybe it was nobody’s fault, or maybe a big part was because of jurisdictional breakdown between departments and precincts, the stubbornness of cops, the bureaucracy of the law, so many things. Perhaps it was all due to the scary fact The Zodiac was smarter than anybody trying to stop him. Regardless, Fincher’s film is a contemporary classic in the crime genre. Many might expect further focus on the actual serial killing, as a lesser project might try (see: 2005’s The Zodiac starring Justin Chambers and Robin Tunney which actually felt all around like a lesser version of Fincher, or Ulli Lommel’s atrocious Curse of the Zodiac). Instead Fincher gives us little bits and pieces, then fills the rest of the film with a thrilling crime investigation, the odd real life characters involved in the case, and much more. This is definitely one of Fincher’s great films, as they’re all pretty impressive. But if you want a creepy serial killer flick that isn’t full-on horror and focuses more on real life, atmosphere, story, then Zodiac is always a safe bet.

American Horror Story – Hotel, Episode 4: “Devil’s Night”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 4:
 “Devil’s Night”
Directed by Loni Peristere
Written by Jennifer Salt

* For a review of the previous episode, “Mommy” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Room Service” – click here
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-12-50-54-amOnce more, another night at the Hotel Cortez – “Devil’s Night”, in fact.
In strolls Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar) for a stay. Apparently this is his third year back since perishing. Looks as if we’re going to have a savage night, aren’t we? He pops into the room of some guests and bashes in the man’s skull with a lamp. He asks the woman to “swear to Satan” she’ll be quiet, but of course that doesn’t work. A bit of cat-and-mouse until ole James March (Evan Peters) appears at the end of the hallway…
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-12-52-35-amA nice slick opening sets up an obviously entertaining night ahead, especially for Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) who is still staying at the Cortez. A hotel full of dead serial killers on the move? Should get wild.
When Lowe wakes up for the day he talks with his daughter Scarlett (Shree Crooks). It seems as if there’s a bit of a divide now starting to creep between John and his family. He’s not quite right. Doesn’t help when he starts seeing a massive pool of blood forming on the ceiling, dripping down his wall.
Better yet, we get a look at the story of Miss Evers (Mare Winningham) – back in 1925, she seems quite the prissy, uptight mother. Her child is dressed up as the typical bedsheet-eye holed ghost. After taking time to blab on with some other woman, a man abducts the little ghost and speeds away. WHOA. That’s already disturbing enough, who knows what happens from there.
Zipping back to the present, Miss Evers has a bunch of bloody sheets in the bathroom trying to get the stains out, as usual. Lowe, bleary eyed and sort of ghostly looking himself, wonders what’s going on around the hotel. She’s only a blubbering mess, but he understands. They’ve both lost children.
The ghost was taken to a ranch and caged up, poor kid. Another snippet of true American Horror – the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders – plays the backdrop for Miss Evers and her personal story. A pretty horrifying story for her. Still I’m super intrigued to see how she actually ended up at the Cortez, as well as how she and Lowe will interact more given their similar loss of young children.


John’s wife, Alex (Chloë Sevigny) has brought little Holden (Lennon Henry) home from the hotel and its weird rooms, the glass coffins. She’s glad to have him. Examining him a little, finding his temperature to be very low, things are definitely in a lull before terror strikes. Holden tells mommy he’s thirsty, but is it juice he wants? Alex pours her son a big glass. I’m pretty sure he’d rather have a nice drink of blood, though. When she goes back in with the orange juice, he’s sinking teeth into the family dog and having a snack. He wants his other mommy, not Alex.
Poor John. Man, oh, man. He is being put through the ringer. His mental state keeps slipping, as he goes back to bring up the police files on Miss Evers’ story, only to discover it happened 85 years prior. I’m just waiting for something harsh to happen with him. I don’t want it to, just have the sneaking suspicion Lowe will fall further down the rabbit hole.
Alex goes back to the Cortez, where Holden giddily climbs into his coffin. The Countess (Lady Gaga) slips in unnoticed, only to invite Alex upstairs for a chat. We get a flashback to Holden’s disappearance – The Countess was standing nearby, watching them. Terrifying moment where we see her walking away with Holden and John screams out for his son. Even more terrifying is a subtle moment: Alex pulls a gun and holds it at the Countess, who only leans back in her chair, without words saying “Fuck you and your gun”. Just a real solid moment.
Love, love, love more Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare)! She serves Lowe a bit of soda, as John decides: “Ill have a double martini.

Control is an illusion
Tonight I surrender to the illusion

But glory glory hallelujah, Lily Rabe is back at the bar – literally – as Aileen Wuornos. She’s on her thirteenth year at the Cortez, dead since 2002. MY GOD, Rabe is a constantly amazing piece of work! Here, Wuornos sits down with Lowe for a drink. They have a bit of casual chit chat. Rabe is fucking incredible, she doesn’t copy Charlize Theron’s performance, but absolutely embodies Wuornos. For anyone who has ever seen the two documentaries about Eileen by filmmaker Nick Broomfield, you just can’t deny Lily Rabe rocks this role out of the park. The body movements, the look, the inflections in her speech and tiny idiosyncrasies about the way she performs… it’s perfect for this episode! Ruivivar did well with Ramirez, I dug that too. But Rabe is worth the price of admission this week. So great she’s back on American Horror Story. Weird, though, how Lowe ends up heading back to a room with her.
What follows is a bit of intensity that I won’t ruin with any more. See it, dig it.
Loved seeing the Zodiac Killer, dressed in the supposed getup the living victim saw him wearing all those years ago, stroll past Lowe through the lobby. Amazing episode, cramming all these infamous serial killers into the hotel. Perfect addition for the week in which Halloween falls! I’ve got a great t-shirt with this version of the Zodiac on it, very creepy. Such a nice brief shot of him going past Dt. Lowe, the costume design worked so well.
Naturally, John is weirded out by it all. Downstairs he gets an invitation from Liz Taylor for the big Devil’s Night Ball. Should be a grand time, no?


Oh my, the hits just keep on coming! John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch) talks about doing good sub-flooring with Ramirez – such an incredibly subtle way to introduce the story of Gacy, instead of having him immediately dressed as a clown or something. At the dinner table, March introduces the night with a bit of absinthe. Everyone drinks it back excitedly. Although Lowe is certainly confused. Then there’s Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel), too. Zodiac strolls in late, silent, being heckled by the other killers. JUST AN OUTRAGEOUSLY AWESOME FUCKING SCENE! Yes, there’s exposition to give us a bit of the newly introduced serial killers, but I think it comes in proper doses. Plus, Lowe eventually breaks in and starts ragging on everyone, still believing it’s all a Halloween costume party of some sort. I couldn’t get enough of this whole sequence, such a well written episode.

Hes a genius— like Galileo, or Peter Frampton.”

I won’t ruin more of the big dinner scene. There’s an excellently disturbing, grotesque sequence within it after “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies starts to play, and all the murderers get their toys out, start really enjoying themselves. So terrifying! Detective Lowe has to sit there, handcuffed due to Gacy’s saucy tricks, and watch it all go down right in front of them. Love how March gives short little explanations about how all the serial killers came to him at various periods in their lives; it gives us great context, however, it also shows us how wonderful Evan Peters is as March, he gets time to show off a bit and be “the master.” Loved this sequence with every macabre and morbid bone in my body.

John Wayne Gacy: “Johnny Depp likes my paintings!”

With a little under 10 minutes left to the episode, we see Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) having a smoke outside the hotel. Some Wall Street-looking guy wanders up to her and talks shit for a little. Turns out, he wants “whatever you’re selling“, so he says to Sally. Will this poor fella end up in one of those mattresses like the creepy skin and bones dude from “Checking In” and Gabriel (Max Greenfield), too? We’ll see how things go for this one.
Oh my, we didn’t need to wait long. Sally buys off being left alone at the hotel by bringing up a fresh carcass for the killers’ dessert. Everyone selects a knife, Gacy even gets his makeup on (nice to see Lynch as another clown; this time an arguably more sickening one), and then the fresh bloodletting begins!
Then out of nowhere, Sally seems to wake John up. He’s alone. No killers, nobody else except him in a dusty old room. What is real? What is not? He’ll never know, though, we’ve got a great idea ourselves: scary enough, it’s all too real. Once Sally has the detective out of the room, March and the others go back to business.


“Devil’s Night” finishes off with Countess bringing Alex into the fold – she’ll now be one of those carrying this “ancient virus.” With a sweet kiss, the Countess tells her to allow herself “to be ripped apart” before letting Alex feed on some of her blood. All in the name of being reunited with Holden “for all of eternity.” Or at least that’s the bullshit this particular vampire is selling. Notice how Countess weeps sort of, as we cut out on Alex’s newly opened eyes, the virus no doubt taking hold; interesting to see where this heads.
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-1-01-42-amStay tuned for next week’s “Room Service.” Cannot wait to watch it, this episode was incredible! See you then, fellow horror fans.