Appellate Judge Tom Becker was a drifter, but that was when he was under the boardwalk.
"I just don't like having sex with the live ones. It's just not interesting to me."
Director Michael Feifer's parade of serial killers marches on with Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas, another low-impact offering from the guy who gave us Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck and The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story.
This go 'round, we get Antonio Sabato Jr. as the titular Lucas, perhaps one of our more prolific serial killers. Lucas is said to have between 350 and 600 murders to his credit, including his own mother.
As a child, Henry lives with his destitute, legless father and shrewish, trashy mom. He spends his days torturing small animals and watching his mother have sex with strange men for money. One day, while playing with his brother, young Henry accidentally gouges his own eye with a stick; fortunately, one of mom's tricks is a doctor, so he's fitted with a nifty glass orb. This gives Sabato the opportunity to play his role with a wonky left eye, which complements his bizarre, could-be-from-anywhere monotone mumble, said mumble making the lack of English subtitles a decided liability.
Feifer's films rarely rise above the level of TV-movies. They lack insight into the characters—"bad childhood" is a catchall for aberrant behavior—and the police procedural side of things is handled in simplistic, rudimentary terms. This one is no exception, though it does contain one fairly chilling murder scene and a refreshingly over-the-top turn by Feifer regular Caia Coley (Bundy: A Legacy of Evil) as Henry's harridan mom.
Except for the aforementioned chilling murder, there's little suspense to be had here. Most of the film concerns itself with Henry's miserable childhood and adolescence, twangy guitar music and bits of rockabilly punctuating the scenes so we remember that this is taking place in the southwest. The film is framed with Sabato being interviewed by the Texas Rangers, who lap up everything he says; the more killings he confesses to, the bigger a catch he is, so they treat him almost like a celebrity to get him to give more details.
This is actually pretty close to what happened with the real Lucas case, but Feifer doesn't capitalize on it the way he should have. Late in the game, a district attorney shows up to point out to the rangers that much of what Lucas is telling them is disprovable BS, but the cops don't want to hear it. The business of the rangers manipulating—and being manipulated by—Lucas is far more interesting than tidbits about Lucas' childhood, but that's what we're left with. Feifer skates lightly over the whole business of political power games, and considering that the guy was a mass murderer and necrophiliac, dials down the luridness to just below "tepid."
Incidentally, in real life Lucas recanted most of his confessions and authorities questioned the methods used to obtain them. Then-Governor George W. Bush commuted Lucas' death sentence to life in prison, the only such commutation in Bush's tenure (or in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982). Lucas died in prison of natural causes in 2001.
The image here is clear but bland, and for your listening pleasure, you have your choice of Dolby Surround or Stereo tracks. Feifer and Sabato do a standard commentary track, and there's an uninteresting stills gallery.
There's an interesting story here; too bad Feifer doesn't know how to tell it.
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