THE ZODIAC KILLER (Prudential Pictures ,1971) (AGFA /SOMETHING WEIRD Blu-ray released July 25,2017) Color 86 minutes /plus bonus feature ANOTHER SON OF SAM color 67 minutes $34.95
Back in the early 1980s, I worked in a film storage company . While many television suppliers would keep their 16mm prints with us for broadcast, and studios would have their 35mm theatrical prints (mostly weekend children matinees ,like MAGIC OF LASSIE (Int. Picture Show Co, 1978) ,a large majority of our films sat in boxes and rotting film cans.
Located in a pier in Edgewater NJ , our storage facility had the original negative of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Fox,1939) as well as NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (Ed Wood ,filmed in 1957, no known release). How these two California produced films negatives ended up in our facility is a mystery. Both were in containers with only lab numbers,without identifying titles.
Shipping errors, mislabeling, human mistakes, hundreds of titles ended up misplaced in storage facilities around the country. Some prints were not returned at all ,and ended up remaining in movie theatres, in the hands of private collectors , or buried in cement .
Add to that film rot (deterioration ) and color shifts (prints turning pink) – it is little wonder that so many films vanish .
While major studios have started to preserve their heritage , the independent film, those made outside the system ,or taken by smaller distributors with either shady practices or /and firms that went belly up, a lot of film prints and original elements lay unclaimed in various film labs due to unpaid services or forgotten . Corruption of the film stock had many turn to jelly or dust ,others tossed due to storage fees unpaid.
Luckily ,in 1990 the late Mike Vraney began the painstaking and time consuming task of finding films in horror and sexploitation ,among the many genres, that he found ,saved from literal oblivion, and released onto the home video market .His hard work turned grind-house filmmakers like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Doris Wishman into cult figures .
The incredibly friendly Mike and his lovely wife Lisa Petrucci ,equally friendly as well as his business partner and who wrote up many of the synopses and designed the various covers, were always welcome dealers at various conventions across the country.
When he passed , Lisa continued the company , and has kept the legacy of SOMETHING WEIRD alive (check out https://www.somethingweird.com/ ) and now has teamed up with newcomer AGFA ( The American Genre Film Archive ) to restore and release some titles in her catalog onto Blu Ray .
AGFA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit located founded in 2009 in Austin, Texas. AGFA exists to preserve the legacy of genre movies through collection, conservation, and distribution. (Want to donate? http://americangenrefilm.com/about )
After a successful Kickstarter campaign ,they are releasing THE ZODIAC KILLER . This is promised to be the first of dozens of titles that AGFA and SOMETHING WEIRD plan to release .
THE ZODIAC KILLER is an incredibly unique film . Created by Tom Hanson who was not involved in film making prior (owning a chain of successful Pizza Man Restaurants) ,his idea was not to make money or for any artistic ambition. Tom felt that his cinematic effort would be a huge aid in helping to capture the Zodiac Killer .
The infamous Zodiac Killer claimed his first known victims on December 20,1968 and his last known one on October 11,1969. There are other suspected deaths that are suspected to be the victims of the unknown assassin (he was never apprehended) that go back to 1963 and up to 1970 . The infamous executioner was self named due to a series of taunting and cryptic letters which they sent to the police and newspapers(that continued until April 24,1978) , signed with an enigmatic sketch that resembles a cross hair of a rifle.
Hanson thought that if he made a film about the events , the Zodiac Killer would be drawn to see the film ,at which point the filmmaker and friends would perform a citizen arrest!!
The plan was the following. Tom Hanson rented out the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco and premiered the movie on April 7, 1971 (the killer had written his Los Angeles Times letter just three-and-a-half weeks earlier). They thought that his ego would draw him moth-like to a flame to see how his story was portrayed.
Somehow ,he got Kawasaki to donate a motorcycle for a prize giveaway.Entrants would fill out questionnaires with the statement “I think the Zodiac Kills because …” and see if an of the entries matched the handwriting of the Zodiac.
To that end, they constructed elaborate and inane traps with which to apprehend their subject ,including a fake ice cream freezer which had an accomplice of Hanson’s within supposedly ready to leap out at the appropriate moment . He must have consulted Wile E Coyote ‘s beloved Acme products, as the person within the box nearly passed out due to insufficient air holes!
Hanson feels that the had indeed captured the mad man at one of the screenings,but had to let them go due to lack of evidence .
The film was also later handled by an unscrupulous distributor and so Tom Hanson ,needing to make money again, stepped away from the maverick world of indie film making. The film was reportedly shot for $13,000,an incredibly small sum to shoot a film even back in 1970.
What we are left with is this incredible document of the time .
The motion picture you are about to see was conceived in June 1970. Its goal is not to win commercial awards but to create an “awareness of a present danger”. Zodiac is based on known facts. If some of the scenes, dialogue, and letters seem strange and unreal, remember — they happened. My life was threatened on Oct. 28, 1970 by Zodiac. His victims have received no warnings. They were unsuspecting people like you…
Paul Avery. Reporter
San Francisco Chronicle
That is the opening credit to give the film it’s bona fides. Paul Avery was a real life police reporter for the San Francisco Examiner who was drawn into the investigation when he received a Halloween card with the cryptic symbol with the warning”you are doomed” . Avery was later heavily involved with covering the Patty Hearst kidnapping .
Having his name associated with the film was meant to lift it up from mere exploitation. The result ,however,while sincere ,is brought down by bad acting and inept technical aspects. That does not mean that the film is without merits.
For one thing, the killings are pretty brutal and sudden . The film also has a dark sense of evil lurking everywhere ,with the killer having the last words :”I’ll be seeing you”.
While claiming to be the true life events of the serial murders, certain facts are played with and a lot of characters who are not involved with the events were invented for the story line .
The film is in the end, in spite of all its good (?) intentions , an exploitation film (not that there’s anything wrong with that!!).
SOMETHING WEIRD had released THE ZODIAC KILLER prior with two other films on DVD , THE SEX KILLER (Barry Mahon,1967 ,about a Times Square psycho ) and ZERO IN & SCREAM (Lee Frost,1971,a man kills women who reject him in Hollywood). That release is now out of print .
This new Blu Ray is a 4K scan 1080p HD transfer from the surviving16mm blow up elements (it was shot in 16mm to be transferred to 35 for theatrical release). The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2 channel track . While the picture quality and sound is improved ,AGFA is taking great pride in not altering or punching up sounds or pictures ,to give the closest presentation to the original release (take that George “let me C.G.I. the soul of it it “Lucas) . Therefore, flaws in the 48 year old film elements remain (some hazing common in 16mm blow ups,and a hair in the gate when it was printed. The sound too isn’t played to jump around your sound system.
Other extras on this AGFA/SOMETHING WEIRD release are
A brand new commentary track with several of the surviving creative team like Director /Producer Tom Hanson ,Producer Manny Nedwick and several of the AGFA team .
A four minute film interview with Nedwick and Hanson have the two discuss how the film came together is material covered in the audio track but it is interesting to put faces to the voices .
Finally, a second feature fills out the extras. Whether you think this is a bonus or not depends how much you enjoy ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977). This film was given a new 2K scan from a 35 mm print.
This film’s most interesting moments are the long list of serial killers going back to Jack The Ripper. I mean it goes on for quite a while. QUITE A WHILE . Almost as if they are trying to delay the start of the movie as long as possible. It finally runs out of murderers to name(though I kept expecting another title to pop up during the course of the film ,reading : “Oh we forgot to mention…”)and we take a leisurely journey down a river, to a couple’s boat house ,and then to a night club where a singer named Johnny Charro,portraying himself , in full lounge lizard attire ,sings “I Never Said Goodbye” ,a tune that rates with “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat”from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Toho,1966) as most responsible for killing nightclubs. Johnny ,by the way ,is still with us and performing .http://www.johnnycharro.com/about.htm
Finally, just when we think we are watching someone’s vacation films , we cut to a local mental institution . Our killer named Harvey (not a killer bunny) breaks free of his restraints (I wonder if Rob Zombie saw this to inspire his Halloween remakes ?) after receiving electro shock and a sedative (did he hear Johnny Charro??) . A quick flashback implies that Harvey was sexually abused by his mom, causing him to go off on a murder spree.
Somehow ,we try to follow a group of college girls ,whose lives meet up with the killer, and swat teams are called in, and a lot of running around happens ,a few odd freeze frames happen while the sound continues , and mother is called in to confront her son at a police stand off, where he is killed by multiple gun shots (with some of the most obvious blood packs ever used on screen).
I watched it twice just to make sure that I didn’t miss something. If anything it seemed more confusing the second time around. Were it not for the sync sound in certain scenes ,I might have thought it was made by Hal Warren of MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE ( Emerson ,1966 ) infamy. It was that level of ineptness. Warren ,however ,had an excuse as he had never made a film before (or after).
ANOTHER SON OF SAM (shot under the title HOSTAGES) was written,produced ,and directed by stunt man Dave A Adams ,who also handled the stunt co ordination .Adams had at least been on film sets before (TRUCKER’S WOMEN ,1975 ,which was released regionally,then on Paragon Video,before Troma picked it up), but you would never know it. Filmed in Charlotte,North Carolina , the film seemed to have been shot in 1975 before finally getting a nominal theatrical in 1977.
It is just 67 minutes but it seems ten times longer .This is a film that is crying out for a Rifftrax treatment.
ANOTHER SON OF SAM is at least much clearer than the old Neon Video VHS copy that was around for years at video stores. That said, poor sound work cannot be improved and this film suffers from a lot of that (though with some of the dialogue,maybe that is a blessing. “No,you can’t come into the shower with me,Henry!”may sound like something sexy is about to happen but the character is talking to a stuffed plush animal!!).
Kudos to AGFA and SOMETHING WEIRD for saving these film obscurities , though your enjoyment will depend upon your enjoyment of
SERIAL KILLER FILMS
1970s EXPLOITATION CINEMA
I assume that if you have read this far, then this Blu Ray /DVD combo is needed for your collection.
This Is Not The End (well actually it is ).
-Kevin G Shinnick