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Case Number 09659: Small Claims Court

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The Serial Killers

Dark Sky Films // 2005 // 390 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 12th, 2006

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All Rise...

He won't be inviting these thirteen serial killers over for tea, but Appellate Judge Dan Mancini found their stories compelling in a gruesome kind of way.

The Charge

The sick minds behind the most gruesome murders in America

The Case

Don't let the opening title sequence with low-rent video effects and cheap-o synthesizer music fool you. The Serial Killers is a captivating little show. At least it's captivating for those of us with a morbid fascination for the psychology, motives, and modus operandi of the human predators we call serial killers.

This three-disc set from Dark Sky Films is a collection of thirteen documentaries on individual serial killers. Each piece runs 25 minutes in length. Here's a rundown of the killers you'll find profiled on each disc:

Disc One:
• William Heirens, "The Lipstick Killer"
• Harvey Louis Carigan, "Harv the Hammer"
• Henry Lee Lucas, "The Confession Killer"
• Kenneth Allen McDuff, "The Broomstick Killer"

Disc Two:
• Theodore Robert Bundy, "The Lady Killer"
• Ronald DeFeo Jr., "The Amityville Horror"
• Kenneth Bianchi, "The Hillside Strangler"
• Douglas Clark, "The Sunset Slayer"

Disc Three:
• Michael Bruce Ross, "The Roadside Killer"
• James A. Paul, "The Executioner"
• Catherine May Wood, "The Lethal Lovers"
• Gwendolyn Graham, "The Lethal Lovers"
• Arthur Shawcross, "The Monster of the Rivers"

The pieces are constructed mainly of archival material in the form of video and audio interviews with the killers, police who worked the murder cases, various experts, and occasionally friends or family of the victims. Still photos are used judiciously to provide a visual break from the talking heads. Structurally, the episodes intersperse (often graphic) details of the crimes, along with biographical information about the killers. Intertitles, set in courier font and plunked out to the sound of a typewriter, fill in any gaps in the stories. Though probably driven by budget, the no-frills presentation adds plenty of drama and power to the presentation. The often tangible anger and disgust of the cops being interviewed is a welcome antidote to the overblown narration of Bill Kurtis on A&E's American Justice. Surprisingly, the recollections of individuals personally involved in the crimes prove more chilling than dramatic re-enactments or bloody crime scene photos.

The selection of serial killers examined is also excellent. Sure, we've got high-profile murderers like Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas (the inspiration for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), and Kenneth Bianchi. But the pathologies of lower profile killers like Harv "the Hammer" Carigan and Douglas Clark (both of whom murdered their female victims while receiving oral sex from them), or Arthur Shawcross (who may have begun murdering while a soldier in Vietnam) are equally repellant and fascinating. The set even includes separate profiles on female serial killers Catherine May Wood and Gwendolyn Graham, lesbian lovers who smothered old ladies for sexual thrills at the nursing home at which they both worked.

Each of the thirteen cases offers clichéd tales of childhoods so tormented and rife with deprivation that the adults who emerge seem destined to slaughter other humans in the most depraved ways imaginable. Somehow, though, the sharp details of the individual cases make each episode fresh and mesmerizing. Watching The Serial Killers is like driving by a road accident: You want to look away, but you just can't.

The video presentation is decent if unspectacular. The full frame image is in keeping with the show's television roots. The archival materials used to create the episodes vary greatly in quality and style, from old and grainy film to video sources in various stages of preservation or decay.

The opening credits reveal a stereo audio track that is crisp and has a solid dynamic range. It's otherwise limited by the quality of the audio on the various archival materials, some of which contain hiss and crackle.

There are no supplements.

The Serial Killers is short on style, but has plenty of substance. True crime fans will enjoy it. This three-disc package is hereby found not guilty, which is more than can be said for its thirteen subjects.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Dark Sky Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
Running Time: 390 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Crime
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• None

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