The Alphabet Killer
When it comes to a plot device for a crime thriller flick, there is nothing like a good old fashion serial killer. They go on murder sprees that can last for years and typically generate a ton of media attention. This is nothing new. In the late 1800s, Jack the Ripper became a dark celebrity written about in the newspapers and tabloids of the day, the dreadful penny novels. He has also spawned more than his share of television and movie stories. Part of this fascination is due to a law-abiding citizen’s reaction to such heinous crimes. Many are so unbelievably evil that the only way to get your mind around them is to make them into entertainment. This may sound strange, and it is, but it reduces the real monsters that commit these crimes into screen bad guys and that most people can understand. Many regular people can obtain a vicarious thrill in watching a crime thriller and image, inning what life would be like without the social restraints of the law. With a story focusing on a serial killer there is no such identification possible. All throughout history there have been myths and folklore. Almost always there is some god or deity that represents pure evil. In our modern culture, this part is very often played by the serial killer. The film ‘The Alphabet Killer’ uses such a fiend as the foundation but the concentration of the movie is on a young woman with a history of schizophrenia. It is a taut psychological thriller that succeeds as a source of entertainment. The film does not pander to the usual bloodshed and shocking moments that many films in this genre do. It makes a few missteps along the way but in general holds together. The film had a very limited theatrical release and is now on DVD through Starz / Anchor Bay. They do have a varied catalog but of late have presented a lot of these little independent flicks.
This is the sophomore opus for writer Tom Malloy. His previous script was also a thriller, ‘The Attic’ which featured a young woman who is being stalked by her double. At least this gave him a foundation for writing psychologically driven thrillers. It takes a delicate touch to write something of this nature. You have to tease the audience with little clues and subtle connections between the characters. Malloy is rapidly getting to the point of mastering this talent. I have seen his first film, and this one addresses many of the problems inherent in the earlier work. He exhibits a greater control over his subjects and situations. The story, loosely placed on the real-life serial killer called the ‘Alphabet Killer’ or the Double Initial Killer’ due to the fact that all of his victims were young girls with the same letter beginning their first and last name as well as the bodies being found in a town whose name started with that initial. He was active in the early seventies in Rochester, New York. As serial killers go, he was thankfully not as prolific as others with three confirmed murders. One of the lead suspects was Kenneth Bianchi who would later move out to California and team up with his cousin Angelo Buono and collectively become known as the ‘Hillside Strangler.’ There are three basic ways to use a serial killer in a script. You can present the story from his point of view; the vantage point of the victims or the psychological effects that the hunt takes on the police officer involved. All three are valid and can and have produced some great films. Malloy continues with the style he began in his first screenplay by using a female central character. Megan Paige (Eliza Dushku) is a seriously flawed and vulnerable young woman. She is overly committed to her job and subsequently to a particularly horrible rape and murder. The story centers more on the effect the investigation has on Megan and how her peers perceive her after a nervous breakdown.
Director Rob Schmidt had a featured episode of the lauded cable series ‘Masters of Horror’ mostly for the one horror flick he directed, ‘The Wrong Turn.’ That film also starred Eliza Dushku. His other films have been dramas and thrillers so it can be said that he is not a one-note genre director. This helped him craft something that can utilize elements from different genres. As mentioned the strongest one represented here is a thriller, but Schmidt adroitly pulls dramatic elements with just the right touch of horror film creepy. It appears that for Schmidt it is all in the pacing. He doles out the clues and other tidbits to the audience slowly allowing the story to simmer. Just about anyone can toss some fake blood around and get a visceral shock from the audience, but Schmidt is going for something deeper; getting the audience into the dark places of the characters’ minds.
The film begins with a preteen girl getting into a very suspicious looking car. As it drives away, we hear her scream for help. Next, she is running along a deserted road screaming as the car follows. They are outside Churchville, NY and we will later discover the girl was named Carla Castillo (Bailey Garno). When she is brutally raped and murdered the case falls to detective Megan Paige and her partner her partner Lt. Kenneth Shine (Cary Elwes) with whom she also has a romantic relationship. It doesn’t take long for this case to get under Megan’s skin and into her head. She becomes obsessed with it allow it to consume her life. Megan begins to have hallucinations many involving the decomposing body of the young victim. This pushes her to have a nervous breakdown and a two-year stint in a mental health facility. There she is diagnosed with schizophrenia. When Megan is deemed fit to return to work, it appears that the killer has also resurfaced using the same alphabet drive motive as before. Most of the film revolves around Megan convinced that this is the same killer while almost everyone else feels it is just a manifestation of her guilt in not closing her last big case that leads to her breakdown.
The film moves along, but there is never a sense of rushing the plot. The characters are well defined and presented finely by the cast. Dushku is best known for her television work in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Angel’ and ‘Tru Calling.’ This film demonstrates that she has the depth in acting to take her farther than the small screen. She is believable as Megan allowing the audience to sympathize with the character. The DVD is in anamorphic 2.35:1 video with Dolby 5.1 audio. Both are well done and realistic. There is a commentary track featuring producer Isen Robbins and the director. A second commentary track has actor/writer Tom Malloy. Also included are a making-of featurette and an alternate opening scene. This is a reasonably good movie that you will enjoy.
Posted 12/16/08 Posted 07/19/2018