The Zodiac Killer: Lurid 1971 thriller is now on Blu-ray from AGFA
It’s amazing to witness the wave of downmarket movies dumped into drive-ins and hard-tops in the 1970s and later, the fill-the-shelves-and-dump-bins wave of cheapie VHS in the 1980s, suddenly getting respect. Insane really. Witness The Zodiac Killer, director Tom Hanson’s grotty, sleazy and skuzzy exploitation flick that reportedly was produced to actually be used as a tool to lure out the real deal (still uncaught) Zodiac Killer whose wave of terror plagued San Francisco in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Yeah right it was! Really, The Zodiac Killer is just another sensational “tabloid” thriller made for peanuts by regional filmmakers looking to capture the wave of serial killer mania that had fascinated America, mostly to the graphic coverage of both Zodiac and the Manson murders on TV. I remember buying the film on big box VHS when I started collecting films and not thinking much of it. I was wrong. This movie is a visceral, nickle-and-dime jolt and a truly fascinating slab of alternative horror movie history.
Unlike the real Zodiac (who again… was never, ever caught), Hanson’s film creates a speculative drama to suggest — based on the brutal murders committed — who the killer might have been as a human being. Here, he’s a working class dude (Hal Reed) who, after his truck-driving pal goes bananas and is mistakenly killed by police after claiming he’s the Zodiac in a fit of madness, decides to start taunting the police, defying them to catch the real killer. From this point on, we follow the maniac — verite style — as he shoots and stabs his way across the city, a series of relatively bloodless but still very disturbing sequences that are alarming in their matter-of-fact approach. The most upsetting scene sees the Zodiac — in a black hood and robe — hog tie a pair of lovers picnicking by a pond, strips them and plainly mentions that he will now stab them. And he does. Again and again.
Sure, the acting is awful and the production values are non-existent, but there’s a consistency to the production, almost as if it was beamed in from another universe, blasted onto greasy, hand-me-down film stock and discovered by meth addicts in a dumpster. In fact, we have AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) to thank. They’re the film restoration wing of the Alamo Drafthouse that seems dedicated to find the oddest horror and cult movies out there, giving them 4K scans from whatever source material they can find and making them freely available to an entirely new and totally curious generation. They did it recently with Effects, but The Zodiac Killer is a far more obscure and daring choice. The scan here was done on a battered 16mm print obtained from the Something Weird Video library. It looks great and grubby. The back end of the disc is pumped full of fun, including a compelling commentary with Hanson and others that fleshes out the history of the film and the wild marketing techniques used to convince audiences that, yes, this was an “important” movie and would serve to catch the killer. There’s also a bunch of trash trailers, liners from writer Chris Poggiali and, best of all — in true Something Weird style — a bonus movie in the 1977 serial killer flick Another Son of Sam (aka Hostage) that is nowhere near as compelling as The Zodiac Killer but still has that cheap, homemade sheen that hypnotizes.
This is a major release of a movie that is unlike anything else you’ll see anywhere else. Order it here.