Image Entertainment // 2009 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // December 11th, 2009
Do you know what the most solitary predator on Earth is?
Another serial killer gets his DVD day in Freeway Killer, the story of William Bonin, who murdered dozens of young men and boys between April 1979 and June 1980. Bonin's victims were generally hitchhikers, and he recruited a number of other young men to assist him. Bonin and his cohorts sexually assaulted and tortured the young men, then stabbed and/or strangled them with their own t-shirts. Bonin was executed in 1996, the first prisoner in California to die by lethal injection.
Freeway Killer gives us the horrible, yet somewhat sanitized, tale of Bonin's murderous exploits.
The film is framed with Bonin (Scott Leet, Solitaire) recounting his story to a woman whose son might have been one of his victims. The woman needs closure. She has written to the governor on Bonin's behalf, at his request, and in turn, he's promised to tell her about her son.
Bonin and a friend, Vernon Butts (Dusty Sorg, In the Drink), an occultist, go on frequent "hunting" expeditions -- hunting for young male hitchhikers to kill. One night, Bonin meets Kyle (Cole Williams, North Country), a confused kid who's browbeaten by his boss and his girlfriend. Bonin recognizes that there's something sad and twisted about Kyle, and soon, the Freeway Killer has a new buddy. As Bonin, with or without his accomplices, continues to pick up and murder young men, the police start closing in.
The strongest aspect of Freeway Killer is Scott Leet's turn as the depraved Bonin. Leet doesn't pretty-up the killer, portraying him as an unappealing loon who is just charismatic enough to attract some loserish younger guys to take part in his crime spree. Everything with this guy is a cat-and-mouse game, and until the police catch up, he's always dealing with people who are one or two steps behind, giving him the upper hand. Both Sorg and Williams are strong as Bonin's accomplices, and Michael Rooker's considerable presence is on display in what amounts to a cameo as the cop who brings Bonin in.
Unfortunately, the film is a pretty shallow look at this criminal and his crimes. There's little background on Bonin; we get a scene with his alcoholic mother, and late in the game learn that he was abused by his pedophile grandfather, but these bits are tossed out so quickly, they barely make an impression.
While the film is gruesome enough, it treads pretty lightly over the true nature of Bonin's crimes. Bonin was a sexual deviant who molested his victims, but you'd barely figure that out from Freeway Killer. Bonin and company pick up hitchhikers, ride around for a while, and then strangle or stab them and dump the bodies. Yes, this is horrible and upsetting, particularly since it's true, but why skate over what Bonin and his accomplices really did?
Cynically speaking, I suspect that if Bonin had been assaulting and killing young female hitchhikers, Freeway Killer would have gone full-bore lurid exploitation, but guy-on-guy sodomy is a tough selling point. This begs the question: why make a film about a sexual deviant if you don't address his sexual deviance? There are a couple of random comments made, but that's it. Even the box art is something of a cheat, with a close-up of Leet's scowling visage, and in the background, a decidedly female-looking hitchhiker shown from behind. Imagine the disappointment of the exploitation fan who picks this up expecting a violent, rough-sex kinda trip and ends up sitting through 85 minutes of guys being clubbed with a tire iron and garroted. The filmmakers also ignore the fact that most of Bonin's victims ranged in age from 12 to 17; most of the guys here look old enough to buy a beer at the 7-11.
Image provided a screener disc, so I can't comment on how the finished product is going to look, but the picture here is fine, and the stereo track serviceable. There are no extras on this disc except for a trailer for Freeway Killer as part of a trailer gallery for other Image releases.
A potentially interesting and controversial story gets an unfortunately safe treatment. Despite a strong central performance, Freeway Killer is just another trip down the well-traveled psycho-killer road.
Guilty of pandering.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R