- Straight to Video
- Director: Michael Feifer
- Written by: Michael Feifer
- Running Time: 90 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: R - Restricted
- Cast: Kane Hodder, Amy Lyndon, Cara Sigmund, Odessa Rae, Bob Arnold, John Burke, Jeff Coatney, Dru Ashcroft, Pascale Gigon, Wesley Stiller, Matteo Indelicato, Caia Coley, Anna Margaret, Cameo Cara Martine, Sarah Shoup, Meagan Smith
Kane Hodder offers up an honest turn portraying real life Kansas serial killer Dennis Rader in a film that proves less honest with the material it attempts to cover. For anyone not in the know, Hodder is a working stiff Hollywood stunt man who came to the attention of cinema geeks when he did a short stint playing “Friday the 13th villain Jason Voorhees, in three films in the series (7, 8 and X). That stint would evolve into him becoming a minor celebrity on the horror convention and film festival circuit. Sensing that that the genre would turn out to be his bread and butter, Hodder has made the most of his personage, turning up in numerous low-budget independently produced horror films, often for "B.T.K." director/producer Michael Feifer.
"Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield” a 2007 indie film about the infamous serial killer, Ed Gein (Gein being the inspiration for such films as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Psycho”), was the first time Feifer cast Kane Hodder in such a role -- having him play a character based on a real-life serial killer. Sadly, it was a disappointing turn for both parties as fans and critics alike upon release subsequently trashed the film. Considering that the real life Ed Gein was known for being a tiny, diminutive and non-imposing fellow, there was always an underlying sense that hulking, 300-pound Hodder wasn’t necessarily the best choice for the role. However, when Feifer decided to cast Hodder the very next year in a movie about another real life serial killer, Dennis Rader (aka B.T.K.), there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Hodder fit the part, at least viscerally, as Rader was known for being a big and imposing man much like Kane. Granted, there was still some question of whether or not Hodder could pull of the dramatic element that the role demanded as Rader was also a very complex man in real life, leading a double life as President of his church group on one hand, and operating as a vicious homicidal maniac, on the other. Hodder, for what it’s worth, does seem to give it his all in the part, offering up a respectable performance.
In “The Hunt for the B.T.K. Killer” Ted Levine seemed to focus on Dennis Rader’s various ticks in his effort to put across an authentic performance. Kane Hodder (2007's "Dead Noon"), decked in geeky glasses and a goofy moustache, follows a different path to authenticity. He seems less interested in those aspects of his personality - the ticks and quirks - and more in the rage and fire that lurked beneath the surface, motivating Rader to commit such horrible acts. It’s an evenly modulated performance, and viewing the scenes with his family, namely his two teenage daughters, proves almost as awkward as viewing him as he commits various horrific murders or as he gleefully enrages non-compliant citizens. There's just something so odd about a man trying to act human when, deep down, we know that part of his personality is missing. So, the scenes with his family seem to feel theatrical, if that's the right word, while the scenes where he murders people feel more honest and in keeping with his character.
Director Michael Feifer (2008's "Dracula's Guest") takes a trashy approach to his subject matter in that he’s not so much interested in what really happened, but what aspects of the story he can milk for exploitative value. Certain facets of the story are created out of thin air, namely the roadside injuring of a cop, that didn’t really occur and which feel contrived and superfluous. For some familiar with the real story of Dennis L. Rader, inclusion of such faux details, while skipping over more horrific real ones, might throw off the balance of the film, lessening its impact. Either that or it might help them realize that this is an exploitation film… nothing more - placing things into proper perspective. The producer’s only allegiance is to the paycheck and their horror circuit fan base. To be sure, this is not a documentary.
Some aspects of the film that do work and that the filmmakers manage to get right are the sequences showing Rader working as compliance officer in Park City, Wichita. Perusing the streets in a small van looking for the pettiest of violations (the grass is a half inch longer than it should be, a dog accidentally got off its leash etc.), Hodder is chilling. His polite demeanour and condescending attitude only works to anger those he targets, which in turn, drives him towards even more aggravating conduct. “Does this get a rise out of you?” one of the violators says, long after she has apologized and attempted to make amends by promising not to let it happen again. The tension in these scenes feels nothing short of real, and terrifying. There is a certain ritual to his actions, but that only adds another creepy, under-your-skin, layer to Hodder’s character. It also speaks to something greater, namely the way those little instances - those things that seem inconsequential on the outset, actually work develop and define a more realistic portrait of a whole of a person once the bigger picture comes into focus.
Kane Hodder makes the most of his imposing frame and icy stare, adding something extra to the murder sequences which are already graphic, mean-spirited and agonizingly protracted. On numerous occasions, we are front and center as Hodder pummels, bashes, mutilates and strangles women to death. Despite one sequence where a woman is sliced nearly in two by a shovel, it is the lengthy strangulations that will stay with you. It’s as if the director was looking to capture the event in real time, pushing the snuff-filmy notion that you are sitting in on a real-life strangulation; the desperate last gasps of breath, the loss of consciousness, the regaining of consciousness, the horror and fear in their eyes as they look upon the man who is pulling their life away from them, yeah, it’s all there and fuck if it isn’t painful to watch. Upon screening the film, I was hard-pressed to remember anything but these gruesome moments that, after awhile, seem to drive the film. Interesting how the death scenes don’t lose their shock value even when they are played out over and over. I sense it is because the director was focused on assembling the carnage to offer the greatest impact and letting it play out for such long stretches. The sequence where Rader busts into an apartment and proceeds to murder the boyfriend of a hooker who stole money from him, works as the film’s most tortured and powerful moment. It is the hooker’s desperate pleas for forgiveness from her now deceased boyfriend that adds a certain poignancy and weight to it all. It's a check-mark on the senselessness of Rader's selfish actions.
Less interesting is the moment late in the film when the police get wise to Rader and act to bring him down, simply because so little time is spent working that end of the story - the police investigation – beforehand. When it eventually takes center stage in the final twenty, it feels somewhat tacked on and pointless. This also goes for the family drama that develops between Rader’s wife (Amy Lyndon who also played Kane's wife in "Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield”) and the two daughters (Odessa Rae and Cara Sigmund) as they debate whether or not Dennis was a good dad and husband. C’mon. Hodder's half-assed confession to his family: "I'm a bad man," is also lacking and feels out of place. I'm not sure if this moment was underplayed on purpose or because the actors just weren't good enough to make it work. In the end, this isn’t necessarily a good film but I guarantee that you’ll takes parts of it with you long after you’ve ejected the DVD from your player.