Serial Killers in Horror cinema has been a trending topic for decades. Some films paint a perfect picture while some are hit-or-miss. Especially when it comes to films inspired by or based on true events. Such as the case with Duncan Skiles‘ The Clovehitch Killer, which is based on Dennis Rader, also known as, The BTK Killer. While watching the film, I had a faint feeling it was based on BTK, but wasn’t entirely sure because the way the film plays out is somewhat deceiving.
Productions based on infamous serial killers and true events like to pride themselves on being more than what it is, utilizing words such as “Disturbing”, “Shocking”, “Twisted”. Such as with Joe Berlinger‘s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile. Watching the film, I’ve seen that it’s far from that and the title is extremely deceiving. Yet, maybe its metaphorically speaking. Berlinger’s film is based on serial killer Ted Bundy. Yet, it doesn’t capture the madness of the serial killer. Instead, the story plays through the perspective of Liz Kendall, Bundy’s girlfriend. This was a bad route to travel, as the story should have played through the perspective of Ted Bundy, himself. After all, HE is the one that is extremely wicked, shockingly evil, and vile.
Back to The Clovehitch Killer and Dennis Rader. Skiles paints a similar picture to that of Berlinger, decreasing the essence that is BTK, almost diminishingly. For starters, the story plays out rather slowly, such as with Berlinger’s film. Secondly, there are not enough events to paint him as the cold-hearted killer that BTK was. The only connection to BTK was the secret fetish Don Burnside (portrayed by Dylan McDermott) had with ropes, and even this wasn’t a clear picture of being based on BTK. After all, this method of victimizing can be the forefront of any serial killer. It wasn’t until late in the movie that I made the connection given the way the event played out.
Burnside is painted the perfect husband, father, and citizen. When his son, Tyler (portrayed by Charlie Plummer) starts to find clues through secret compartments that a criminal runs in the family, the story becomes a complicated, slow burn mystery, as it interweaves from “he is the killer” to “wait…maybe he’s not”. Thanks to the intimidating performance McDermott puts on, successfully creating a mirage and throwing the veil over the eyes of his family, society, as well as the audience.
Yet, the story travels at the speed of a Ferris Wheel. There’s an attention-catching scene, then it dies down for a while. The main event doesn’t happen until way later in the film, while the audience is being teased by Scooby Doo search-and-find mysteries, slowly building hype for this one main event. Which tends to be the case with these melodramatic serial killer productions as of late that play more like soap operas.