'Hunt for the BTK Killer'
(Joey Campbell, Maury Chaykin, et al / DVD / R / 2007 / Sony Pictures)
Overview: For 31 years, the serial killer known as BTK raised terror in the small town of Wichita, Kansas. Starting in 1974 and ending in 1991, BTK killed 10 people and resurfaced in 2005, in which the BTK killer was captured. This is the story of how police found, captured, and convicted the vicious killer named Dennis Rader.
DVD Verdict: When the police took Dennis Rader into custody in February of 2005, the media had a field day. The man responsible for numerous brutal killings had resurfaced decades after his initial killing spree, a series of murders which had earned him the nickname of 'The BTK Killer' after his modus operandi, that being to bind, then torture, then kill his victims or as he referred to them, his 'projects.' The interesting thing about Rader was that he wasn't your typical loon, rather he was a respected member of society and worked for the city and was active in his community church just outside of Wichita. He was at one point in his life a Boy Scout leader and he was the father or two and no one suspected him. He was there, in the midst of his community, the entire time.
Shortly after his arrest and subsequent conviction (he was sentenced to ten consecutive life terms) at the age of sixty, a made-for-TV movie called The Hunt For The BTK Killer was made. With theatrical release of David Fincher's Zodiac putting serial killers back into the forefront of American pop culture, is it any surprise that Sony has opted to release The Hunt For The BTK Killer on to DVD?
The movie begins with Rader (Gregg Henry) arrested and standing trial for his actions. From here, we learn through various flashback scenes what he did, whom he did it to, and how he did it. We also learn how police detective Jason Magida (Robert Forster) eventually tracked him down and brought him to justice and how Rader more or less just gave himself away over time by corresponding with the cops. It's a fairly standard mix of serial killer movie murder set pieces and relatively mundane police procedural and court room bits blended together to kill an hour and a half.
The movie takes some liberties with the facts and as such it isn't the most accurate depiction of the real life events that inspired it, but as semi-trashy tabloid entertainment it isn't half bad even if it is quite flawed. On the plus side, we've got a very good performance from Gregg Henry who is just dull enough to be believable in the part. He's a creepy looking guy made creepier by the little mannerisms and quirks he shows during his performance. Forster is also good as the head cop in charge. He's always brought a rather gruff screen presence to his performances and this is one of those cases where it seems appropriate. The film doesn't delve too far past the surface and we don't really get to know these characters very well, but there's enough meat here to chew on that the film is at least entertaining even if there is little in the way of heavy psychological explanations given for why Rader did what he did.
Things are sensationalized a bit and the events are thrown at us fairly quickly for the sake of pacing (this is where the reliance on flashback scenes comes in handy from a narrative perspective) and so we don't get the level of detail that a proper documentary on the subject could probably provide but as entertainment it works. The kill scenes, which (like it or not) should probably be the highlight of the film seeing as Sony is marketing it towards the horror movie crowd if their cover art is anything to go on, are surprisingly timid with most of the gory detail covered by superimposed fake film grain and flares on the image. This definitely takes some of the intensity out of these moments – you don't need gore to make something scary but this is a case where it wouldn't have hurt things if it had been there. In the end this is hardly a definitive statement of any kind on the subject, instead it's a reasonably entertaining and cheaply made piece of exploitative entertainment.
In closing just know that the kill scenes in the film have been intentionally made to look gritty and ugly so don't expect those set pieces to look perfect but aside from that stylistic choice, this transfer is fine. Quality of the English track is fine. The rear channels aren't used quite as effectively as they could have been but dialogue remains clean and clear throughout and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to report. Sadly the only extras on this release are limited to previews for other Sony DVD releases. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.