Son of Sam (2008)
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Son of Sam (2008)

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For those of us who live in New York City the summer of 1977 was one of the most stressful in our history. Considering the resiliency of us New Yorkers this is saying a lot. The New York Yankees were slamming through game after game in no small parts to the slugging ability of Reggie Jackson. We had a record breaking heat wave that made getting around the city more unbearable than usual. This increased demand for electricity also resulted in a major blackout. Like the rest of the country we were feeling the affects of an economic downturn that had a lot of people out of work or pinching every penny. As New Yorkers were pretty much used to all of this and was able to cope but there was one other thing in the city that faithful summer that threw us all off course. A serial killer was shooting and murdering young women in our city. Far more than another summer of heat, Yankee pride or even blackouts this was the summer of the Son of Sam. As the facts of the case would later show David Berkowitz, the man who called himself the son of Sam started his reign of terror the previously summer but 1977 was when the media splashed the news all over and he would eventually be captured. Since Berkowitz seemed to target young brunette women the hair salons in all five boroughs were over booked for hair dye jobs; many women decided that blondes may or may not have more fun but they have a better chance of staying alive. The police of the city mounted a massive manhunt looking for this monster but in the end it would be a sheer fluke of luck with a traffic ticket that would lead to the arrest of Berkowitz . Even after his arrest many questions remained. He claimed that he was part of a satanic cult and they performed some of the shootings. Even today there are some that doubt he was personally responsible for all of the shootings over that deadly year. Because of the notoriety of this case and the fact that a lot of people are fascinated by serial killers this case has been the subject of numerous novels, television series and films. Now there is a new contender aptly named ‘Son of Sam’ by the dark independent film maker Ulli Lommel. It is released to DVD by Lion’ Gate and ready to be added to your collection.

Ulli Lommel has been in the horror genre for well over three decades now. While many of his films deal with the usual made up villains that such films usually contain many of them show his enthrallment in the real life monsters, serial killers. His body of work contains treatises on such infamous men as BTK, The Zodiac Killer and the Green River Killer. He has also created films on real life crime such as the Black Dahlia and a teenaged girl tortured in a basement by a woman and the children of the neighborhood. Such a dark and disturbing set of films can only come from a man who has researched the worse in humanity. Others create unbelievable creatures purely out of their imaginations but Lommel has realized that nothing a writer can create can compare to the horrors that man himself can provide. As a script writer Lommel tends to go for the details behind the events. He concentrates on the inner turmoil that drives people to do such terrible things against innocent victims. After so many movies about serial killers he has come to some sort of understanding of the mental workings for people like this. In his work here as the director he brings the gritty particulars to light in such a way that most would consider creepy. There is no way to make a politically correct movie about a serial killer; inherently it has to revolt the audience. Let’s face it; you do not see a film by Ulli Lommel unless you have a really strong stomach.

The film begins with a confused David Berkowitz (Yogi Joshi) standing alone on the Brooklyn bridge. In his head voices push against his consciousness telling him he is the son of Satan, the son of Sam. We roll back in time to July 29, 1976 when a string of apparently unrelated murders began. We see a young woman walking alone in the streets; closely behind is Berkowitz. The girl meets a shady looking guy standing in a doorway and attempts to buy some cocaine from him. Berkowitz creeps along the side of the building towards the two. Slowly Berkowitz pulls a gun from a brown paper bag, the voices growing louder in his head as the girl argues with the dealer. Berkowitz turns and fires the gun. This is typical of a Lommel flick; playing fast and loose with the facts to heighten dramatic effect. The reality was the first known victim of Berkowitz was Donna Lauria setting with her boyfriend in a car in their Pelham Bay neighborhood. Lommel may be trying to make the point that there may be victims that were not associated with him. On problem with this potential theory is the young woman had short blonde hair and the setting did not fit Berkowitz’s usually methodology. Just remember that this is a fictional work and not intended to be a documentary of any sort.

Most films that center on the Son of Sam do so by concentrating on the efforts of the police to capture the killer. Others try to depict the fear that consumed the city for this year. Lommel goes off in a different direction; into the mind of the murderer. While Berkowitz has made statements as to his motivations for the shootings it would be impossible to actual document the inner workings of his mind at the time. Lommel shows how a regular guy next door could become one of the most infamous serial killers in history. There are a lot of shots in the film of Berkowitz standing alone on top a building or in the streets; always in a setting that is recognizable as part of New York City. Lommel attempts to show the angst and confusion of this man and the near constant voices in his head. In some ways this comes across as apologetic for Berkowitz. Sure, he was messed up, that is to say suffered from ma serious set of mental disorders. Nothing could excuse the dame he did to so many lives. Part of the way that Lummel tries to get the hidden story across is to use plot devices such as exposition through conversations with his public defender, Brenda Klein (Elissa Dowling). This permits a first person account supposedly from Berkowitz.

The film is interesting especially if serial killers are your thing. The video is often dim with colors that fade into the background. This is also something very typical of a Lommel flick. There is nothing that pops in the movie’s video giving it an almost dreamlike surreal look and feel. This is supposition and imagination not facts and you have to remember that while watching.

Posted 08/15/08

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