Directed by Alexander Bulkley
Distributed by Thinkfilm
April 24, 1978. The Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle receives a bone-chilling letter from a maniac that has been at large for a decade. A heartless killer that has gotten his rocks off by taunting police and the media alike with clues pertaining to his true identity. A killer named “The Zodiac.” Since his reign of terror began in 1968, victims have been found both shot and, on occasion, stabbed to death. He kills without provocation and void of any reason. The Zodiac was proud of his handiwork and was as disturbed and cocky as they come. The last few lines of his 1978 letter simply read: “I am waiting for a good movie about me. Who will play me? I am now in control of all things.”
That movie has come.
Inspired by true events, The Zodiac follows the exploits of small town law enforcer Sgt. Matt Parish (Chambers). Matt has been assigned the daunting task of trying to catch a killer who is cold, calculating, ruthless, and intelligent. One that does not want to be caught and enjoys the terrifying mayhem his actions cause. For Parish, all clues lead to nowhere. The Zodiac kills at a methodical pace, but it’s not just lives that are being ended. That’s just the start of it. Lives are also being ruined, and everyone is a victim. People are living in a state of absolute paranoia, and families, especially those of the authorities trying to stop this madman, are being torn apart. That’s the crux of this tale of true crime, and it often hits its intended mark.
The Zodiac takes a bit of a different cue than most films about serial killers. This film is more about the repercussions of the killer’s deeds than the actual deeds themselves. That’s not to say we don’t get a deep and dark perspective on how vicious and twisted The Zodiac was. The staging of the kill sequences by first-time director Alexander Bulkley are spot on and unflinching. There’s a lot of emphasis on the looks on the victims’ faces while they’re being violently assaulted. The terror in their eyes as they realize they’re about to die, complemented by the steely composure kept by the killer, makes for some unforgettably powerful moments. These scenes may not be very bloody, but they’re as violent and unsettling as they come. As a whole this film works, but there are a few pacing issues here and there that keep it from rising to the level of greatness.
On the supplemental side of things, other than a lively director’s commentary, the behind-the-scenes video featurette takes a back seat to some text based features. Included on the disc are The Zodiac’s letters and cyphers, both coded and decoded, along with a chronological history of his rampage. There’s an old saying that truth can be much scarier than fiction, and nowhere is that more apparent than in The Zodiac’s letters. Every word is deliberately written to inspire terror, and he truly achieved that purpose.
As for the featurette, things get a bit bizarre. The standard interviews are strewn mostly among scenes from the film that did not appear in its final cut. I found myself wondering “Hey, did I see that part?” more than a couple of times. It was as if my sanity was being tested. That sure is a strange way to present a few deleted scenes. Why not just have a section? Still, at least we got to have a bit of a look.
My only other gripe is that there wasn’t any time dedicated to the actual historical events. Even if they didn’t want to film an original featurette, I’ve seen many of them on Court TV and the History Channel. At least show some authentic news footage! Something should have been made or secured to beef up this package and make it feel a bit fuller.
The Zodiac killer is one that has caused many a sleepless night. The most terrifying part of his story is that he’s never been caught. He’s still at large. Waiting. Could The Zodiac be watching this movie on DVD somewhere? Will you run across him at your local video store? Does he think that the actor who played him (Marty Lindsey) was good enough? Is The Zodiac reading this review? Maybe he’ll write in his own take on it one day to some news organization or website. We can only hope that his blood lust has been quenched.
Director and writer commentary
The Zodiac letters
Chronology of The Zodiac slayings
3 1/2 out of 5