Bazaar Bizarre (2004)



Starring James Ellroy, Robert Berdella, Christopher Leo, Roger Coleman

Directed by Benjamin Meadde


Serial Killers. The wolves in sheep’s clothing. The real monsters.

A kids, my sister and I would watch "Unsolved Mysteries" together. Alone, our parents out for the evening, we would soon tumble into madness. That freaking show had more of an effect on us than any other. Something about the voice of Robert Stack, the reality of the crimes, and the fact we were about 10 miles into the middle of the woods would have my little sis and I locking all the doors, gathering the dogs, and shrieking at any little shadow, noise, or movement. Silly asses we were for sure, but the rush was so extreme.

Now days such progamming is easy to come by, but it lacks the bite of those nostalgic nightmare eves of long ago. Channels like the History Channel and TLC showcase serial killers all the time. A few of them still have the ability to send a small shiver down my spine, but most, if any, lack that throwback effect that paralyzed me with terror. I thought it may be desensitization. Having watched so many docudramas on serial murder, maybe the whole concept is overexposed. Or is it age? Maybe in my maturity I am lacking the crucial teenage adrenaline. My slowing endocrine system keeping me a bit more grounded in my elder years. Have I changed?

Apparently not.

Bazaar Bizarre is an attack on this subject matter unlike any other. Defying all logical genre definition it plays out like a aural, visual, and physical meditation on the mental capacity that is required to enact crimes such as serial rape and murder. Society is quick to judge such acts. We are fast to condemn. There are times in Bazaar Bizarre that do this as well, but just as often it seems to ask us to slip into the mind of the killer, to see something that we may not want to. Is it poking fun with these sensory assults, or unsettling the viewer even more with this skewed view of the world? I cannot say. There are no answers in this film, just questions.

The strange case of serial killer Bob Berdella began for authorities when a man was found running naked in the streets of Kansas City. Unable to talk, ass cheeks bloody, and wearing a dog collar and leash, this man spun a terrible tale. This was to begin unraveling a story that was as wondrously weird and hideous as they come. For days, the man had been being kept a prisoner in the home of a local man. Over these days he was repeatedly raped, tortured, and photographed. Drain cleaner had been injected into his vocal chords, and he was unable to speak clearly, but for slight as his voice may have become, his tale was as strong as any could be. He led officials to the house, and the peeling of the many layers of the life of Bob Berdella commenced.

Bob Berdella was the owner of a local shop that carried curios and oddball nick-knacks from all over the world. In Kansas City, if you wanted to purchase a shrunken head, Bob Berdella was the man to see. His shop was "Bob’s Bizarre Bazaar". An eclectic collection run by a man who is described by those who remembered him as a "condescending dickhead". Need bone jewelry? Or maybe ask him to try some of his home made chili that he shared with other shop owners. Well maybe not...

Director Ben Meade also hails from in Kansas City, and there's something intimate about his look into the mind of this killer. Understandable, as Meade himself had come face to face with the killer at least once at his shop. Maybe it is this backyard proximity that allows Meade to pounce with such unflinching zeal on the topic. Aided with commentary and narration by James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential, both men constantly creep into and out of the mind of Berdella...Meade lulls the viewer into a feast for the eyes with stunningly awkward visuals, documentary montages with Berdella himself, and musical interludes that fixate upon the events and give the viewer a moment to collect his or her thoughts. Ellroy crashes in, here and there, with a gut punch of verbal realism. He is the sound voice of reason in the chaos. He speaks a true grit truth. He has no love, compassion, or empathy for Berdella. He lets this be known, unmistakably.

Meade has concocted a strange brew of a film. He has interviews with the aforementioned surviving victim, one with Berdella, and with people who were involved with the case and its media coverage. Meade mixes all of this in a fashion that is not locked into any format. Unlike other forays into serial killer docudramas, there is not a chronological time line. Instead, Meade allows the mind of the viewer to connect the dots themselves. A higher form of reward is earned in this manner, as people are asked to involve themselves and potentially become immersed within the framework of the film.

There are scenes in Bazaar Bizarre that are gruesome. Some of the exploits of Bob Berdella were not the type to be readily accepted by Mr. And Mrs. Middle America. This self described Fuck-u-mentary, does not go for a missionary-style mind rape. The recreations tickle the edges of exploitation with a grainy realism. A well used attempt to blur the boundaries between the stock archival footage and staged magic of film. This forces the viewer to accept a more intimate arrangement with a very twisted mind. The exploits of Bob Berdella are not narrated over black and white stills. It is much more closer to us than that.

Bazaar Bizarre will not suit the taste of every one. It is a hybrid of experience and knowledge. We are taken to places and then given pause. The pace is one that allows for introspection, but at the same time if the viewer does not have a lot to bring to the intellectual table, they may find that this dance is a bit one sided. Berdella’s story is not shown as a parable of humanity. There is no attempt to make him anything other than what he was.

He was a monster. A real one. Placed all to close to home.

Again, I find myself locking the door and calling my sister.


3 ½ out of 5

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