Zodiac courtesy Paramount Home Video
(2007) strikes me as a fascinating companion piece to last week's DVD Tuesday pick,
(1986). While both are about the hunt for a serial killer and the toll it takes on the investigators,
is pure fiction inspired by the work of the FBI's behavioral science unit, while
or the 2006
, which also took their inspiration from the case) hews closely to the facts of a nearly 40-year-old unsolved case.
The killer dubbed "Zodiac" - after a cryptic symbol with which he signed a series of taunting letters to the media and the police - is credited with seven murderous attacks committed between December 1968 and October 1969 in and around the San Francisco Bay Area; two victims survived and five died. Zodiac (and/or one or more copycats) played ruthless games with the police, claiming dozens of victims who died or vanished both before and after the acknowledged 1968-'69 spree. He or they sent ciphers, postcards, poems and various other communications through the mail, made taunting calls and even arranged a televised telephone conversation with noted attorney Marvin "King of Torts" Belli (perhaps better known today for his appearance on the
episode "And the Children Shall Lead" than for his then-stellar roster of celebrity clients, and played by
's Dr. Lector).
Zodiac played on popular fears of the counterculture, cults, Satanism, sex- and drug-crazed hippies, and the general unraveling of conservative, law-abiding mores like a pro. Fincher's film was a critical hit, but audiences didn't warm to it; I suspect part of the reason is that a lot of younger moviegoers weren't familiar with the case and, having no idea it was unsolved, were disappointed when the film ends on an ambiguous, unresolved note.
I think if you go in knowing there's no resolution in the offing, you're in a better position to focus on the personal turmoil of the cops, reporters and forensic experts who immersed themselves in the hunt for a vicious killer who got away and publicly humiliated them in the process.
Fincher opens with the 1969 lover's-lane shootings of Michael Renault Mageau and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin (he survived, she didn't) and ends more than 20 years later with the tantalizing suggestion that one of the suspects (
John Carroll Lynch
) interviewed during the original investigation may well have been the killer. Fincher re-creates the killings, but his focus is the men in the eye of the storm: San Francisco PD inspector David Toschi (
) - the model for
's character in
(1968) - and his partner, Inspector William Armstrong (
), Vallejo Police Department Sergeant Jack Mulanax (
), hard-drinking and -drugging
San Francisco Examiner
reporter Paul Avery (
Robert Downey Jr.
) and Avery's colleague editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith (
), whose gift for working puzzles thrust him into the forefront of the investigation (his books about the Zodiac killer were among Fincher's primary source materials). All emerged from the investigation changed men, touched by a malignant darkness they could neither understand nor escape.
And just as
owns "Innagadadavida" for all time,
now owns Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," whose slyly insinuating tune and hippie-dippy lyrics will now forever sound to me eerie and faintly menacing.
Things to consider:
What are your thoughts about the argument that people like crime movies because they deliver a sense of closure and the restoration of order that's all too often missing in real life?
What true-crime cause haunts or fascinates you?
Send your movie questions to
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See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the
Previously in DVD Tuesday:
A Simple Plan
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Gone in 60 Seconds
Bob le Flambeur
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Devil Wears Prada
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
In Cold Blood
This week's new DVD releases