craigjclark (craigjclark) wrote,

I'm sure that the Jury would agree that there's nothing more annoying than a nasty copycat.

If any one filmmaker could cure me of the compulsion to watch every movie featuring guys in hoods, it's Ulli Lommel. The film in question: 2005's Zodiac Killer, which Lommel wrote, produced, directed, acted in, and did the cinematography and production design for a few years before David Fincher put his own stamp on the material, the slacker. (Lommel's film actually has a 2003 copyright, which means it sat on a shelf for a couple years before he could find someone to distribute it. Not terribly surprising, really.) While Fincher moved on from Zodiac to other types of films, though, Lommel planted himself on the serial-killer beat, churning out direct-to-video features on the BTK Killer, the Green River Killer, and the Son of Sam, among others. Zodiac Killer was even followed two years later by a sequel of sorts called Curse of the Zodiac, but one Ulli Lommel Zodiac movie is curse enough for me.

To begin with, Lommel's script isn't focused directly on the Zodiac, but rather on nursing home employee Michael (Vladimir Maksic, simultaneously making his screen debut and farewell bow), an impressionable young lad who acquires a gun and decides to start executing the neglectful relatives of his elderly charges. Curiously, the local news leaps to the conclusion that his first killing is "reminiscent of the string of murders committed nearly 30 years ago by the infamous Zodiac, a serial killer still at large," and helpfully refers listeners to a book from the '70s called Hunt for the Zodiac, which Michael dutifully picks up, giving his "dissociative identity disorder" an identity to fixate on. He's even moved to get in touch with the book's author, Simon Vale (played by Lommel), who's introduced in a shoddily written scene opposite forensic psychologist Mel Navokov (David Hess), who announces himself as such by saying "I'm a forensic psychologist, you remember?" while he scrolls through gruesome crime-scene photos and tries to entice Simon into going with him to a strip club. "I think I can do without these photos and your strippers," Simon demurs, but Lommel the director has no compunction about lingering on the former at every opportunity.
He's also fairly shameless about dipping into his own back catalog, having his characters watch clips from his movies on television and raiding them for flashbacks to the Zodiac's supposed childhood. (He even shoehorns in the bathtub electrocution from BrainWaves, which is the dictionary definition of brazen.) More egregious, though, are the scenes where Simon interviews Willie Harman (Gunter Ziegler), the son of Kurt Raab's character from Tenderness of the Wolves, to get material for the new edition of Hunt for the Zodiac he's updating at his publisher's behest. Not only is this a reminder of when Lommel actually gave half a damn about the quality of his films, but Tenderness is a perfectly good standalone work that doesn't deserve to be associated with this garbage heap of a film.

Adding to Zodiac Killer's crimes against cinema are the scenes featuring the Jury of Twelve, a secret society of men in opaque black hoods who gather in what appears to be a hotel lobby to update each other on their activities. (The Twelve's code names, incidentally, are based on the signs of the zodiac, but Lommel only ever shows half of them at a time, which means he either couldn't afford that many extras or he only had six hoods.) A frequent topic of conversation is the Zodiac copycat, whose identity is unknown to them, but not to Simon, who quickly figures out (with the help of an anonymous hacker who uses an NSA program to track Michael's cell phone) that his disturbed young friend is the one getting the city into a lather. From there, Simon starts molding Michael in the Zodiac's image, directing him to a website about the killer's exploits, presenting him with a black hood to help him complete his Zodiac Halloween costume, and even giving him a DVD of The Mikado (the Zodiac's favorite operetta, don't you know) and a knife for Christmas. He also invites Michael over to his apartment, the walls of which have been festooned with plastic sheeting so Simon can reveal his true identity to the clueless kid and murder him in cold blood. All that's left then is for Simon to fill a vacancy in the Jury of Twelve with a petulant Mel (who didn't have much else going on, to be perfectly honest), report the successful elimination of his copycat to them (since he apparently carries out their orders as the Zodiac), and toast a "Happy New Year to all of us." Yeesh.
Tags: i'm just a hooded guy, serial killers, ulli lommel
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