BR: Dear Mr. Gacy (2010)
Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada/ Region: A / Released: March 22, 2011
Genre: Crime / Thriller
Synopsis: A student’s law thesis becomes more dangerous when his chief subject, jailed serial killer John Wayne Gacy, begins to invade his personal life.
Special Features: Featurette – ”The Gacy Files: Portrait of a Serial Killer (22:17) / Teaser and Theatrical Trailers
The saga of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who raped, tortured and murdered 33 young men between 1972-1978 has already been dramatized in the 2003 direct-to-video shocker Gacy, and the taut 1992 TV mini-series To Catch a Killer, so there’s little need to revisit the killings and police arrest of one of America’s most notorious monsters, but Dear Mr. Gacy is a wholly different animal.
Based on Jason Moss’ best-selling non-fiction book, the film adaptation follows the same series of events in which high school criminology student Moss decides to correspond with Gacy for a thesis, posing as a young gay male infatuated and understanding of Gacy’s urges and innocence. To his surprise, Moss’ attempts clicked, and the student was corresponding by mail with the killer, and eventually managed Sunday morning phone calls, where he attempted to dissect and analyze Gacy’s psyche and comprehend the nature of a serial killer’s mind.
There’s an absurdity to the whole concept – the naïveté of youth suddenly confronted by horrors previously gleaned in clinical textual account – and Moss no doubt felt overwhelmed by the opportunity, but he apparently immersed himself in the images, concepts, and desires of his subject, enticing Gacy to the point where an invite to a face-to-face meeting was granted. Two months prior to his execution, the two men met, and according to Moss, he was left with Gacy by the guards in a room, and almost raped.
Director Svetozar Ristovski and writers Kellie Madison and Clark Peterson could’ve gone for an exploitive, sleazy expose of Moss’ procedures, learning and posing and flattering a monster, and finding his own sanity blurring as the ugliness of his subject grew even larger, but not unlike The Deathmaker (1995), the filmmakers opted to focus on the pair’s evolving relationship, with the final prison meeting giving Moss a needed reality check into his crazy quest.
The script bends a few facts – Gacy calls almost every day, Moss actually corresponded with several serial killers before focusing on Gacy, and the time-frame is compressed in spots – but the core themes of getting in too deep and almost losing one’s identity remain up front, and the film benefits from strong, subdued performances by the cast. William Forsythe, usually wasted in direct-to-video rubbish, is compelling as the mood-shifting sicko, and Jesse Moss (no relation) conveys Jason Moss’ naïveté and rush in dealing with a kind of idol.
The actor also convincingly portrays Moss in a perpetual state of conflict: once he’s be come acclimatized to Gacy’s behaviour, he’s ready to offer up details of the killer’s fantasy requests, whether it’s whoring himself on the streets, or seducing his younger brother under the roof of the family home.
Even if the melodrama and familiar conflicts – Moss’ family, girlfriend woes – are excised, there’s a decent psychological drama at play, and the curiosity to see how Moss’ thesis ends sustains the drama. There is one glaring cheat in the script: the writers created a composite character of sorts – a man who escaped from Gacy’s death grip. Moss eventually manages an interview with the man, who warns him of Gacy’s cleverness and cunning tools of manipulation and deception and urges Moss to abandon his face-to-face meeting with Gacy. The scene works within the drama, and while it feels rather convenient, it provides the only glimpse of Gacy’s sadism through quick flashback scenes. (Prior details are largely restricted to news items in the films’ title sequence, and Moss’ wall shrine of clips and stills of the crime scene and Gacy’s victims.)
The film’s strongest element, however, is Terry Frewer’s score, which is angled towards character subtext than overt horror. Using a simple chamber orchestra, Frewer’s score is largely theme variations, but the score never glorifies or delves into sleaze; it constantly reinforces the gradual changes affecting Moss’ own psyche, and serves as a portent to the film’s pre-End Credit caption, proclaiming Moss’ decision to commit suicide in 2006 – perhaps the result of filling oneself with far too many horrors from a panorama of monsters.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray features a crisp transfer and excellent 5.1 sound mix, and the documentary is co-hosted by actor Forsythe, who visits Gacy’s home town, and meets a former childhood friend of the future serial killer. Q&As with investigating detectives and lawyers round out the featurette, with a few rare clips of Moss soon after the publication of his best-selling book.
.© 2011 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review