Kemper (2008)
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Kemper (2008)

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The public has always had a certain fascination with serial killers. Some may make a case that such a concern on the part of people unrelated to the actual murders is little more than morbid curiosity. Whatever the underlying reason might be, serial killers are a popular theme in crime thrillers. One of the most successful fictional villains in all of the long history of film is ‘Hannibal Lecture’ from the ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ The thing that bothers some people who enjoy a good crime thriller is why make a murderer like this up when the real ones are far more heinous than anything that could come out of the imagination of a screenwriter. Still, time and time again they feel obligated to fictionalize these criminals. The serial killer is one of the worse examples of our species. No matter what scientific or medical reasons you can come up with these men can kill help, fewer victims over and over under they die or finally are apprehended. This infatuation with killers li, like this, has been a part of popular culture for well over a century now. When Jack the Ripper was on his killing spree it made sensational headlines in all the newspapers and spawned countless penny novels. Others like Bundy, Manson, and Gein had become elevated to dark, popular culture icons. One of the latest serial killers to make it into a fictionalized account is Ed Kemper in the aptly named flick ‘Kemper.’ This film is also the latest in direct to video releases albeit there is less of a stigma to this method than a while ago. Now it is a reason way to get a small film out. The distributor is Lion’s Gate which does specialize in little, less known independent movies. The film is entertaining if your expectations are not too high and worth a watch.

Jack Perez wrote the story. He doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name in this field. Mostly he has worked in made for television flicks like ‘Monster Island’ and ‘America's Deadliest Home Video’ as well as an episode of ‘Xena: Warrior Princess.’ There is a feeling of a made for cable flick in this story. The way it comes off is more like something that will be used by one of the many current crime dramas than a feature-length movie. There is a certain cadence to a theatrical movie that is missing here. That is not necessarily a negative it just is something that the writer needs to hone should he wish to move away from television scripts. As far as serial killers go, Kemper was one of the more interesting in a certain morbid fashion that is. He killed both of his grandparents and did some time in jail for that. Later he murdered and dismembered six young women. After that, he killed his mother with a pickax, removed her head, had oral sex with it then used it as a dart board. I don’t know why Hollywood makes up creatures like Freddy Kruger or Michael Myers when real life has monsters like Kemper. His actual exploits would put the ‘Saw’ franchise to shame. One of the things that seem to attract writers to the likes of Kemper is the stark reality of their actions. The darkest acts in human history make the inventions of Hollywood pale by comparison. In this story, Perez invents a relationship of sorts between Kemper (Robert Sisko) and a police detective Tom Harris (Christopher Stapleton). Harris comes to depend on the insight provided by Kemper to track down other murderers in the town. Now, this has a tangential grain of truth to it. In the seventies when Kemper was active in his evil craft, he was in the small town of Santa Cruz, California. At the same time another serial killer, Herbert Mullin was also out killing people. This gave the town the du, dubious title of ‘Murder Capital of the world.’ Other than that little bit of trivia the rest of the story is pure imagination. It is not even reasonable conjecture from the facts. This added to the inherent tameness of the TV flick format makes this story too slow to make the impact that was intended. Some of the clues left at the crime scenes are far too easy, yet they bewilder the police experts. Let’s say that this town will never host a ‘CSI’ series. Overall the screenplay doesn’t quite fit the horror genre and never quite hits all the required elements of a psychological thriller.

Directing this flick was Rick Bitzelberger. This is his first time helming a feature film. His previous experience in this field consists of a short and little thing called ‘Penthouse: Pet Rocks.’ This is consistent with his other work as producer and writer for a bunch of made for late night cable usually flick with ‘Erotic Confessions’ in the title. It is not as if anyone watching one of those movies is being critical of directorial style, plot or acting abilities. Bitzelberger has potential, but this is not the vehicle to show it off. The film has its visually interesting moments, but more often than not it is routine in its approach to storytelling. There are some flashbacks to offer a possible explanation of Kemper’s twisted behavior which comes across as overly apologetic. Considering the type of film he is used to working on there is little surprise that he relies on the visual impact to make his point. There is a certain level of blood and severed heads to keep the mainstream horror fans interested, but this would have worked out better if Bitzelberger took the more psychological tack to this film. As it is here, there is little momentum to move the story forward. The pacing is fairly well done; better than most films of this ilk. There are even a few twists to how it is presented that will help hold the audience’s attention. What is absent is the ‘get the audience on the edge of their seats’ moments. Bitzelberger has a lot of potentials and should develop into a direct to watch once he has a little more time in the big chair under his belt. The film does rise above the pack, but it pales in comparison to the true heights of the genre. Then again the bar for films such as this is set very high.

Kemper is shown as a huge man, quite, keeping to himself. He lives with his overbearing mother, always popular with serial killers, but finds his contact with the detective to be amusing. At one point he commits a crime to blackmail the police department into reinstating a suspended Harris. There is a sense that Kemper is playing with Harris, but ultimately it is part of his own twisted game. Sisko’s performance is one of the highlights of the movie. He underplays Kemper making him more dreadful by his understated actions. That is until he decides to kill someone; that gets him going.

Lion’s Gate is a great place to go for a quirky Indy flick. This one has its moments even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark all the time. It is a movie that will provide some entertainment.

Posted 11/13/08            Posted   10/08/2018

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