There’s an excess of under the radar, reality-based serial killer movies out there. Separating the wheat from the wack is a challenge hard-won. Some are fascinating or can at least boast interesting performances (JEREMY RENNER in DAHMER, CARRIE SNODGRESS in ED GEIN) and some are lamentably directed by ULLI LOMMEL. (Don’t cry ULLI, you and I will always have THE BOOGEYMAN). I tend to dive into the true crime zone as sporadically as possible because I know regardless of the film’s success, I’m signing up for a bummer of a time. In fact, the better the film is the more likely I am to feel dismal afterward. I always end up empathizing too much with the victims and sometimes even the killers themselves. People can romanticize murderers as much as they like but the truth remains that they are sick miserable people whose homes no doubt smell really bad.
DEAR MR. GACY leans toward the way less sucky side of the true crime spectrum and it’s deep and dark enough without resorting to excessive violence to leave you wishing you could dunk your brain in Purell. It’s based on the book THE LAST VICTIM by Jason Moss which details the author’s correspondence with several serial killers; the staunchest of which was with John Wayne Gacy while he was on death row.
Jason Moss (portrayed in the film by JESSE MOSS, no relation) comes off as nearly as complicated and twisted as the source of his obsession allowing the film few respites as it careens towards a moral abyss. Hiding under the excuse of research, Moss endangers his family and throws his own well-being off a cliff as he attempts to outsmart, exploit and even seduce a known psychopath. Sometimes the player gets played and some masks are easier to put on than yank off. He is left stained with the knowledge that his desire to have the upper hand, his fixations on power and control and his shruggy ambivelance towards the suffering of others are all simpatico with the demons that drive Gacy. In other words, when you lie down with dogs that dress up like clowns and bury a multitude of corpses under their floorboards, fleas are the least of your worries.
Speaking of dogs, WILLIAM FORSYTHE whilst portraying Gacy, morphs from prancing poodle to pulverizing pitbull in a way that’s remarkably chilling. I’m not familiar enough with the real life maniac to say how well he captures his personality but I do know that he snags the general essence of seriously loco like a pro. After lulling us into an odd sense of comfort with Gacy the film abruptly revisits the harrowing experiences of one of his victims who somehow narrowly escaped and it’s like a sobering glass of water splashed in the face; Moss is Mr. Magoo taking a bath with a shark. Due to this being a small film concerning unpleasant subject matter it’s doubtful FORSYTHE will recieve the apprasial that he deserves but he’s really very good in this.
Horror fantasy and horror reality are two distinct camps in my book no matter how much they influence and smudge into each other. In truth, the cinematic villains horror fans are accustomed to stand so far removed from the depths of depravity known by their real-life inspirations that they might as well be Shirley Temple doing Black Sabbath karaoke. There’s probably much going on in DEAR MR. GACY that could have been orchestrated better but there’s no question in my mind that it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It’s not Gacy’s crimes but the allure of darkness to Moss that is really under this microscope. Moss may have correctly assumed that he was brighter or quicker than Gacy but he underestimated the trumping toxic power of evil itself. This is a clash of titan egos where one oponent ends up executed (Gacy) and the other eventually kills himself (Moss took his own life on 6/6/6). I’m going to call it a draw.