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Case Number 14410: Small Claims Court

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Son Of Sam

Lionsgate // 2008 // 81 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 29th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan has memorized a few actuarial tables in his day.

The Charge

His Reign of Terror Brought an Entire City to its Knees.

The Case

The only (and I stress only) thing I learned from watching Son of Sam is that the surest way to have a movie made of your life is to kill a bunch of people. Browse through director Ulli Lommel's credits at IMDb and you'll see he alone is responsible for at least six films about serial killers in the three years preceding Son of Sam (including not one, but two about the Zodiac killer). If I'd killed a bunch of people, I'd rather get the gas chamber than have my story told by Ulli Lommel. You'd think on his seventh serial killer pic, he'd have learned something about how to make a killer's life, I don't know, interesting?

Let me put it bluntly so you can go on to more productive things, like memorizing actuarial tables: Son of Sam is a horrible, boring mess of a movie. No, this isn't one of those movies where the mess is half the fun. No, this mess is like cleaning up after a meal gone wrong at the local Taco Shack. And boring? I lost count of how many minutes of the film were simply taken up by an actor moving his head from side to side in front of a famous piece of New York sky. No dialogue. No drama. No suspense. Just a camera angle that allows us to see entirely too much of the actor's nostrils. Fun.

Okay, some facts:

• Between 1976 and 1977, a number of (seemingly) random shootings occurred in New York City. Because of the choice of weapon, the police believed they were linked.

• A letter was found at one of the shootings. In it, the killer called himself the "Son of Sam."

• David Berkowitz (played in this film by Yogi Joshi) was arrested and charged with the shootings. He confessed, claiming that he was told to commit the crimes by a demon who possessed his neighbor's dog. He eventually amended his statement to say he was part of a satanic cult, and they were ultimately responsible for the killings.

The film obviously took the satanic angle to heart. Son of Sam is essentially a 20-minute series of scenes repeated four times. In each 20-minute block we're treated to a "killing" (I use the term loosely because we don't really see the actual killings, just poorly done corpses), some scenes from a "satanic ritual" (which are basically a woman in her underwear intoning with a bunch of hairy middle-aged men in a circle), some scenes with David confessing to a court-appointed attorney, and an interminable series of shots of David wandering New York City with cheesy sound effects playing over him. Lather, rinse, repeat. There's no psychology, no transmission of detail, and no excuse for this movie.

The movie had the opportunity to fly with the exploitation crowd, but is remarkably tame. There are enough murders in the Son of Sam case files to make for some good gore, but the killings in the movie are glossed over. We instead get loving closeups of the corpses, but the makeup looks like the kind of things teenagers do for YouTube all the time. Also, the film has a female satanic cult leader, and she doesn't get naked. That's seriously bucking genre convention (and not in a good way).

It might seem redundant by now, but the acting in the film is nothing too interesting, either. Yogi plays Berkowitz likes he's constantly on barbiturates, with a blank stare and little expression (I learned from the commentary that he was chosen for his apparent likeness to the real Berkowitz. He certainly wasn't chosen for his acting skills). Everyone else is either hammy or wooden, although the dialogue isn't exactly sparkling, either.

This package from Lionsgate is better than the film deserves. Shot on video, the anamorphic widescreen transfer looks fine considering the source. It's noisy and poorly lit, but there are no serious artifacts of note. The sound is a little tinny and distorted once all the "satanic" voices kick in, but for the most part it does all right. In addition to a still gallery, we get a commentary by the director as an extra. Seriously, don't bother.

It would take all of David Berkowitz's six consecutive life sentences to list everything Son of Sam is guilty of.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 45

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Bad
• Biographical
• Crime
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Director's Commentary
• Stills Gallery


• IMDb
• Wikipedia: The Son of Sam Case

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