The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story
For eighteen months starting in June of 1962 the city of Boston was in a panic. Women were being targeted by a murder that would become known in the news reports as the ‘Boston Strangler’. What made this killer particularly difficult to apprehend was the variations in the age and social status of his victims. Most serial killers had a very specific type to target but the one operating in the Boston area ranged widely in age. Initially he seemed to target older women but soon the age range varied from 19 to 85. They were all strangled and most sexually assaulted. There were never signs of the murder breaking in; the victims apparently opened their doors to their murderer. At the time and for many years later the police thought they finally captured the serial killer. Albert DeSalvo was in custody for another crime and confessed to the string of murders. Although there was no physical evidence and certain variations in his confession DeSalvo was convicted and served the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately he was himself murdered in a maximum security prison. Now almost five decades after the events took place there are still questions and theories abounding. The film ‘The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story’ is the viewpoint of film maker Michael Feifer as he tries to piece together accounts and documentation to help discover the truth. Of course this is a long time ago and there is as much mythology as facts surrounding the case. While this is not definitively what occurred then it does provide a gripping ‘what if’ scenario of this gruesome chapter in American history.
This is the second film by Michael Feifer that has crossed my desk for preview in the last three week. The other one was ‘Dracula’s Guest’ a very good horror thriller based on Bram Stoker’s short stories. Even a quick glimpse of his list of credits will show that this is the perfect film maker to take on this project. Not only does his resume contain many horror and thriller movies he has a number of films concerned with serial killers. He has been in the production side of the industry since 1993 and recently has moved into writing and direction. He also has a successful career in still photography and second unit direction. All of this gives Feifer a keen eye for detail. He has focused this on the true monsters, not those that wear hockey masks or have long knives for fingers but the ones that murder innocent people time and time again. His previous films involving serial killers is a virtual ‘who’s who’ of the most heinous people this country has ever produced; Ed Gein , Ted Bundy, Richard Speck and BTK. Feifer’s ability to move effortlessly between fact and fiction makes this film one to watch. He can infuse the techniques of a true horror film into the reality of the actual events. Although you are watching conjecture based on real events there is a compelling feel of viewing a well crafted horror film. What make it so riveting is real women died and the man or men responsible may never have been caught. Feifer goes on the supposition that real evil exists in the world and the serial killer is the most aggressive form of evil our species has produced.
The film opens with a view of a isolated prison. The razor wire is curled on top of the bare fence set against a grey, desolate sky. We see Albert DeSolvo (David Faustino) in the prison staring out of a window. He is in the Walpole maximum security prison. The date is November 25, 1973; the day DeSalvo will be murdered by his fellow inmates. DeSalvo is on the phone, Dr. Arlen (Jude Gerard Prest), his former psychiatrist mentioning he is doing fine but after being asked for the reason for the call states he has some things he needs to get off his chest. He wants to tell the truth about the Boston Strangler murders. The doctor would rather speak to DeSalvo in person and arranges to meet him the next morning. Next we see a young couple coming home after a date. The young man, Greg Foster (John Gorman) and woman, Jennifer Mitchum (Jen Nikolaisen), kiss passionately bit she tells it is late and reluctantly he leaves. She begins to undress and prepare to go to bed. Suddenly a man in a ski mask appears behind here forcing Jennifer to the bed. The man begins to choke her but before she can die that way he pulls out a knife and stabs here to death. He then ties a stocking around here neck. On the front page of the Boston Record the head line reads’ Girl Reporter Analyzes Strangler’. Captain Parker (Timothy Oman) admits to his detective that he gave the reporter information. The detective, John Marsden (Andrew Divoff) has been working the case and resents the information going to Jana Fineman (Beth Shea), the reporter in the headline. Everyone involved with the case is frustrated. The body count continues to grow but there is almost no evidence. By the way, Jennifer Marsden is not listed as one of the victims of the Strangler. In a line up we see two men, DeSalvo and Frank Asarian (Kostas Sommer). Eventualy they would be cellmates and DeSalvo reportedly would confess to Asarian about the murders. Actually the name of his fellow convict was George Nassar. Asarian had a long record with many violent and sexual crimes while DeSalvo mostly had a string of lesser offenses. The woman viewing the line up tells the officers it was Asarian who brutally raped her. DeSalvo is depicted as a man who tries to impress people, especially young women, with how smooth he is. Watching it you have to wonder how any of his lame lines would work with any girl with half a brain. Feifer does mix in some facts among the altered names and places. He shows Marsden investigation the May 8, 1963 murder of 23 year old Beverly Samans, who was stabbed instead of being strangled. Based on what little they have on the crimes Marsden is responsibly certain that there is more than one man at work here. The detective is under incredible pressure from the District Attorney’s office to find the man and put him behind bars so the city can breathe easier.
This film has more flaws than others by Feifer. The mixture of fact and fiction is disruptive in the flow of the film forcing the audience to wonder what is just conjecture, what is made for dramatic effect and what is true. Still, the movie holds together very well as a true crime thriller. Feifer seems to shift the focus from Marsden and his investigation to the relationship between DeSalvo and Asarian somewhere around the mid way point of the flick. He does offer plausible explanations for confession of DeSalvo and his possible motivations for a lie of this magnitude. Like any film of this type you can’t take as historically accurate. It may seem strange to see David Faustino in the lead role. He will always be Bud Bundy from ‘Married with Children’ for most people. He does do well in this dramatic movie adding a nice touch of creepy to his presentation.
The DVD release is through Genius Productions and The Weinstein Company. While it is not the best work of the director it is a strong and driving movie that will entertain you. It falls apart in the third act but until then it will hold your attention.