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Case Number 10979: Small Claims Court

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The Hunt For The BTK Killer

Sony // 2005 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // March 9th, 2007

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All Rise...

According to the DVD cover art, this was the "story that captured a nation." But aside from one performance, the only thing Judge Bill Gibron caught from this somber serial-killer story was a few boredom-derived Z's.

The Charge

Church President goes pathological.

The Case

For over 10 years, he terrorized Wichita, Kansas, murdering people at random without any real rhyme or reason. Known as The BTK Killer—thanks to a self-penned abbreviation of his manner of slaughter ("bind them, torture them, kill them"), he was the city's newest nightmare. Before he disappeared in 1988, he was responsible for the deaths of 10 innocent individuals. With the case unsolved, the years just crawled by. An entire city stayed on edge, the entire populace plagued by doubts and fears. Then in 2004, attorney-turned-author Robert Beattie (Maury Chaykin, Mouse Hunt) gave an interview in which he offered an opinion on BTK's identity and, suddenly, the police began receiving correspondence from the killer once again. Apparently the need for power and publicity stirred the madman's psychological desires, and it wasn't long before he was stalking his next victim. But if Detective Jason Magida (Robert Forster, Jackie Brown) has anything to say about it, BTK will be caught before he can do any more damage. When it turns out that mild-mannered Dennis Rader (Gregg Henry, United 93) is the notorious slayer, the case's conclusion is even more shocking. It seems that The Hunt for the BTK Killer could have lead to almost any door in the small Kansas community.

In some ways, you have to feel sorry for the BTK Killer. Not literally, mind you. No spree-slaughtering scumbag deserves even a single ounce of common sympathy. But in the current media's desire to compare all crimes to perpetrators past, this murdering manic has a lofty lineage to live up to. There's Gacy, Bundy, Rollings, and that guy over by Green River. Heck, unless you lived in the Kansas area during the dude's decades-long wave of terror, he was less a monstrous felon and more a minor footnote. Even that deranged devil Charlie Manson, who merely conspired to kill people, is more of a prominent boogieman than Daniel Rader. But in this era of 24-hour-a-day news needs, our man of many initials found a small amount of fame - and, as a result, the hucksters desperate to make their despair dollars off of anything revolving around death and panic got their entertainment productions rolling. The result was two decidedly different approaches to the subject. First out of the box was the theatrical abomination known as BTK Killer. Helmed by the Teutonic hack that must have taught fellow German Uwe Boll how to suck cinematically, one Uli Lommel (check out his IMDb resume for a true look into the face of horror), this "based on real events" crapola was comparable to Conquistador Coffee (those who understand the reference have permission to nod, knowingly).

Just a shoosh better in the entertainment department, the Canadian TV production The Hunt for the BTK Killer still remains an underwhelming experience. Part of the problem is with old BFD himself. You see, we've all become numb to the standard FBI profile—the quiet man, easily immersing himself into regular society, able to hold down a job and even maintain a family, while his crazed psychosexual urges are running rampant through his body like demons dominating Beetlejuice. In the case of Daniel Rader, we have the even-tempered church president and slightly anal city official (he was a code enforcement officer—read: dogcatcher) who loves his plump spouse and orders his iced tea with three ice cubes only. But when he locks himself in his work shed, out come the trophies from his previous crimes and on goes the disturbing dreams of death and desire. Perhaps most compelling, BTK was literally writing a book about his escapades, the first-ever first-person narrative exploring the messed-up mind of a sociopath (those Anthony Robbins self-help tomes aside). Since all his killings occurred in the '70s and '80s, we are treated to frequent flashbacks, actors dressed in period garb to sell us on the narrative time-travel idea.

Luckily, The Hunt for the BTK Killer has one solid cinematic thing going for it, and that's Gregg Henry. Known for his work in such DePalma movies as Body Double and Raising Cain (he was also in James Gunn's glorious monster movie Slither), the actor gives a great performance. It's a finely-tuned turn as a man battling major inner turmoil while permanently putting on a "hi, how are ya" game face. Sure, there are times when we can just see through the many Method layers, but overall, Henry helps carry us through what is basically a very boring police procedural. Oscar nominee and FoQ (friend of Quentin) Robert Forster, however, is the law enforcement equivalent of an air biscuit. He manages to make little or no impression, even though he's in almost every scene and even narrates the tale. He merely wafts in, reads his criminology-laced lines, and retreats into the ether. Similarly, the rest of the cast is generally lifeless. Even a disheveled Maury Chaykin can't bring to life the attorney/author character who wrote the book upon which the movie was based. Without our lead louse, The Hunt for the BTK Killer would be absolutely pointless. Evidently the silent-but-deadly bad guy just can't anchor a compelling crime drama. We need perverts who play in the feces of their vivisected victims or dress in the skin of their stored in the freezer for freshness fatalities to jolt our jaded mass-murderer sensibilities. This sort of subtle slayer doesn't do it for us—not as a fiend and not as film fodder.

Sony must believe that there are enough people interested in this story to stick this basic TV movie (complete with commercial fadeouts) onto DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks nice and holds up well under many of director Stephen T. Kay's Nine Inch Nails/Se7en swipes (jittering lens, odd framing moves and wipes). The colors are bright and the details rich. As for sound, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is completely dull. Very little atmosphere is created in the scoring and the music by Tree Adams sounds like The Residents rewriting parts of Fingerprince. Thankfully, there are no bonus features to suffer through, unless you consider three unrelated trailers as viable added content. While Rader could have used a dossier explaining his motives and modus operandi, the less time we have to spend with this disc the better.

There will be those who find this story endlessly fascinating, who will wonder aloud how someone so cavalier in their killing can still be a happy, hide in plain sight sort of citizen. Sadly, The Hunt for the BTK Killer is more interested in the mania and not the man. It's the perfect post-modern media motion picture—all sensationalism and very little substance. This one deserves a long sentence of obscurity.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
• English
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Crime
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers


• IMDb

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