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Case Number 08630

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Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders

Sony // 2006 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 17th, 2006

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All Rise...

For this film, Judge David Johnson thinks the camera operator may have been one of those Radio Shack Armatrons.

The Charge

Los Angeles, 1978. Sex, Drugs, Serial Killers.

Opening Statement

I need an Aleve.

Facts of the Case

It's 1978, and a serial killer is on the loose in the City of Angels. Young women are turning up nude, raped, and strangled, and the police are desperate to prevent the murderer from claiming any more victims. Led by ace detective Jillian Dunne (Lake Bell, NBC's Surface), the cops finally catch a break, nabbing a young man named Kenneth Bianchi (Clifton Collins Jr.) who looks to be the prime suspect.

Unfortunately, Kenneth isn't interested in playing ball, and immediately clams up when the cops start the interrogation. Jillian brings in her friend and psychiatrist Samantha Stone (Brittany Daniel, Club Dread) to try and get Kenneth to open up. Thanks to her probing questions and her tendency to go braless, he eventually loosens his tight-lipped demeanor.

When he does start talking, Samantha is suddenly plunged neck-deep into the mysterious investigation, in which Kenneth dwells in the middle. She continues to pry, but is met with impasse after impasse; and despite the warning from the cops, Samantha finds herself drawn closer to whatever madness Kenneth has cooking.

It falls to Samantha to unravel the enigma that is Kenneth Bianchi and try to figure out, once and for all, if he is truly disturbed, or just a brilliant, manipulative monster, playing everyone from the start.

In between interrogations, Samantha has threesomes with her coke-head boyfriend.

The Evidence

It is not often that I'm confronted with what could have been a pretty cool film, but is utterly deep-sixed by a stylistic choice. For Rampage, on paper, surely a better-than-decent psychological thriller, it is the insane camera work that torpedoes the experience. I need to get this out of the way now, because it is this aspect of the film that upstages everything else: the subject matter, the grisly murder scenes, the fine acting, heck, even a lesbian threesome with Brittany Daniel.

Director Chris Fisher has chosen to shoot this film using extra-long tracking shots and handheld, whirling, twirling, shaky camera work. It literally gave me a headache. In the opening scene, which documents Samantha's drug-fueled, riotous lifestyle and plops the viewer in the middle of a rocking house party, the camera is all over the place. We're zipping back and forth, spinning upside down, now our vision is blurred, and, wait, we're partially steady for a second, then it's back to "epileptic seizure-vision" (TM). I get what's supposed to be going on: we're to be experiencing this scene through an in-the-moment "drug haze," but, honestly, hardcore partier POV is more like a hung-over and my $#%*#@% head is killing me POV.

Worse, this shooting style continues throughout the entire film. While the first extended tracking shot seems pretty cool, the subsequent ones strike me as gimmicky—and irritating. In the commentary track, Fisher notes that he liked using this technique because it created the feel of watching a stage play—except, of course, most people aren't strapped into a G-force simulator when they watch a stage play. The constant, and often erratic, movement of the camera is what's super-annoying. In fact, the only scenes that tend to work are the lengthy interrogation scenes, where the camera rotates around Samantha and Kenneth. These are well-acted sequences, and one of the few times where the camera doesn't take away from the drama.

Setting aside this major gripe, Rampage tells a good story, though the ending, whether you know the facts the film is based on or not, is within sight several miles away. Both Daniel and Collins do very well, which is crucial, as their scenes occupy the majority of the movie. Daniel especially is electric, and I'd say that whether she ran around completely nude or not.

So, if you can overcome the brain-stabbing camera work, a decent psychological screw-job of a film awaits you. But, kids, I'm telling you: it's a lot to overcome.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clean, but the color saturation is a little too psychedelic for my taste. Again, just a stylistic choice that didn't sit well with me. Two commentary tracks accompany, one with Chris Fisher, Brittany Daniel, and Clifton Collins Jr., the other with Fisher and cinematographer Eliot Rockett, where they go deeper into the reasoning behind the film's bizarre look. Deleted scenes and a photo gallery finish things off.

Closing Statement

I wouldn't suggest spinning this disc without a bottle of Dramamine handy.

The Verdict

The accused…is…uh…er…found…uh…BLAAAARRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 85
Extras: 80
Acting: 80
Story: 70
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Drama
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Two Commentary Tracks
• Deleted Scenes
• Photo Gallery
• Trailers

Accomplices

• IMDb








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