Tag Archives: serial killers

Memories of Murder (2003)

Someone recently recommended the 2003 South Korean film Memories of Murder (Salinui Chueok) from director Joon-ho Bong. It’s based on the true story of Korea’s first serial killer who ran amok raping and killing ten women over a five-year period from 1986-1991 in the rural province of Gyunggi. The victims are young, attractive and are bound and gagged in a very specific fashion. The detectives in this mostly farming region are ill-prepared for such a case, and after the second body surfaces, the police know they have a serial killer on their hands.

The film begins with hefty Detective Park Doo-Man ( Song Kang-ho) riding on farming equipment to the murder site as he’s harassed by (and he in turn harasses) local children. There are few worries about locking down a crime scene–although that does happen later as the body count rises. After the discovery of a second body, Detective Seo Tae-Yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) arrives from Seoul–he’s volunteered to help catch the elusive killer, and he’s quietly appalled by the policing methods used by Detective Park Doo-Man and his combat-booted sidekick Detective Cho Yong-koo (Kim Rwe-ha). These local detectives aren’t above fabricating evidence or beating a confession out of a likely suspect. Forget the Miranda Rights, legal representation, line-ups and any other feature of police investigations. These aspects of crime do not exist for these S. Korean detectives–although some of the police are much more comfortable going over the line than others.

As the murders continue, the detectives desperately resort to local fables and even visit a shaman for results. While there are funny moments as the two rural detectives continue to blunder through the case, there’s also a strong sense of desperation as they know it’s just a matter of time before the killer strikes again in this small community.

 The investigation is not just about the crimes and the identity of the sadistic killer (we see him stalking his victims on several occasions), but this excellent crime film is also about the permanent impact these murders leave behind on the detectives desperate to solve the case. Detective Park Doo-Man becomes a little more humble and less sure of his instincts as the case wears on, whereas Detective Seo Tae-Yoon, a man who’s always acted by the book and whose favourite phrase is: “documents don’t lie” becomes more frustrated and more willing to break the rules in order to catch the killer before he strikes again.

Adding humour to a crime/murder film is always a dodgy thing, and generally–especially in a tale of a serial killer, humour has no comfortable place unless it’s inserted very delicately into the tale. The humour in Memories of Murder is perfect and offers just enough light relief to this grim, tense tale of a sadistic killer and the men determined to catch him.

Marvellously acted, gripping and beautifully photographed, Memories of Murder leaves a chilling lasting impression, and for this viewer, the final scene captures the essence of the entire film.

Tarantino listed Memories of Murder as one of his Top Films since 1992.

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Filed under Korea

Lured (1947)

 “I was on guard against everyone except myself.”

In the Douglas Sirk film Lured a series of young girls disappear after responding to personal ads. The killer taunts Scotland Yard by sending poems describing the girl and announcing the upcoming murder. The police are left with a handful of clues–the personal ads, the flaws of the typewriter used for the poems, and the fact that the killer has a penchant for Baudelaire.

luredSandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball) plays an unflappable dance-hall girl whose friend is the latest victim of the killer. Inspector Temple (Charles Coburn) recruits Sandra to operate undercover through the personal ads. Sandra meets a lot of peculiar men through the ads, and soon she’s juggling dates with bizarre dress designer Charles van Druten (Boris Karloff) and smooth playboy Robert Fleming (George Sanders).

This is an interesting role for Lucille Ball. Here she’s worldly-wise and savvy to every pick-up line in the book. Inspector Temple sagaciously assesses Sandra’s character and realizing she can handle men effectively, he adds her talent to his investigation. Lucille Ball fans will be pleasantly surprised by her role in Lured, and Douglas Sirk fans should enjoy the film too. The characters are well defined, and the plot kept my attention throughout. It’s in glorious black and white, and that complements the story and the setting.

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Filed under Douglas Sirk, Film Noir

Felicia’s Journey (1999)

 “We all have to do terrible things, Felicia.”

Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) is a gently spoken young Irish girl who travels to England to find her lover, Johnny (Peter McDonald). She’s pregnant, desperate and under the illusion that everything will be all right if she can just find him. Unfortunately, the elusive Johnny hasn’t been honest with Felicia, and this hampers her search. While Felicia’s Journey to England to seek her lost lover is literal, she also has a figurative journey into the realm of experience and evil when she crosses paths with a serial killer.

Felicia's Journey DVDMr. Hilditch (Bob Hoskins) is the middle-aged, cuddly catering manager of a large factory. His female employees adore him, and they hang on every word as he passes judgment on a jam pudding. His calm, controlled and meticulous attention to detail combined with his obvious love for food make him a fussy, but strangely admirable character. Hilditch’s sprawling country home is a shrine to his dead mother, a famous television chef. His cellar is loaded with dozens of boxes of brand-new kitchen appliances, and he spends his lonely evenings cooking gourmet feasts. He eats in solitary fashion as he watches old tapes of his mother’s television programme through opera glasses.

Flashbacks of Hilditch’s hideous childhood alternate with flashbacks of Felicia’s memories of her love affair. While Felicia questions her past and wonders if Johnny failed her, Hilditch’s memories are unwelcome, and they float to the surface of the present at the most inopportune times. Hilditch is also troubled with memories of young girls he’s known in his past, and then he bumps into Felicia …

Felicia’s Journey is a beautiful, lyrical film. As a long-time fan of the William Trevor novel, I was delighted with Atom Egoyan’s film version. Trevor, a seasoned writer, explores evil in the most unique ways, and with Egoyan’s direction, Trevor’s novel receives the treatment it deserves. Egoyan’s additions to the film blend in perfectly with the novel–Egoyan’s emphasis on the use of video serves only to enhance the story. Egoyan deftly blends three stories here–Felicia and Johnny, Hilditch and his mother, and Hilditch’s relationship with Felicia. Bob Hoskins delivers an incredible performance as a serial killer who appears unthreatening, but who methodically stalks his victims after luring them in to his life. Dreams and memories mesh beautifully in this film. Felicia sleeps and dreams of a future that will never be, and Hilditch’s nightmarish memories take the form of replaying videotapes in his head. Felicia’s Journey and The Sweet Hereafter are Egoyan’s more accessible films, and they are both masterpieces of filmmaking.

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Filed under Atom Egoyan

Bluebeard (1944)

“I knew I couldn’t undo the wrongs I’d done.”

The film Bluebeard  from cult director Edgar G. Ulmer is set in 19th Century France and begins with the police fishing yet another body out of the Seine. It seems that the residents of Paris live in fear of a serial killer who strangles his young female victims and then tosses them into the Seine. The beginning scenes of the film stress the atmosphere of fear that reigns in Paris–residents hurry home at night rather than face death at the hands of the killer.

Puppeteer Gaston Morrell (John Carradine) holds his puppet shows in the park, and the murders haven’t been good for business. After meeting dressmaker Lucille (Jean Parker) and her friends, Morrell invites them to come and see his puppets. After the puppet show, it’s obvious that Morrell is attracted to Lucille. While it is revealed that Morrell is the killer, the film stresses his motives and the detective work involved in solving the crimes. Lucille likes the softly spoken Morrell–who’s also a portrait painter–so the plot becomes a tense race against time as Lucille becomes more involved with the deranged killer. There’s also an interesting complication in the form of art dealer/landlord Jean Lamatre (Ludwig Stossel)–a man who shares some moral responsibility for Morrell’s crimes.

Director Edgar G. Ulmer makes splendid use of light and shadows to highlight the sinister subject at hand. Some of the best scenes take place under the bridges around the Seine, and it’s in these dark corners that Morrell feels most comfortable, using the sewer system as a short cut when hiding his crimes. One of the biggest complaints about these old film transfers to DVD is that the film is often either too dark or bleached out–obscuring action. But in my Alpha DVD the film is certainly watchable–however, the sound quality is poor and muffled.

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The Life and Crimes of William Palmer (1998)

 “He has more bottles in his wine cellar than in his surgery.”

lifeThe Life and Crimes of William Palmer is based on a true story, and you can discover why this 19th century monstrous rural doctor became so infamous if you watch this British television costume drama.

When the film begins, William Palmer (Keith Allen) brings home his sweet young bride, Annie (Jayne Ashbourne). He buys her a lavish gift, but this is not a sign of devotion–but a sign of out-of-control spending. They live in the small town of Rugeley in a house that also serves as Dr. Palmer’s surgery. They should be able to anticipate a modest income and a degree of respect from the community, but Dr. Palmer’s expensive tastes include an impressive wine cellar and a penchant for racehorses. It takes very little time for Dr. Palmer to find himself horribly in debt. And this is where murder enters the picture ….

Soon the bodies are dropping like flies, but interestingly enough, questions aren’t asked about the high incidence of deaths in the Palmer household until outsiders enter the drama in the form of various insurance companies. The story conveys the notion that both William and Annie come from rather problematic families. William marries the illegitimate Annie believing her to be an heiress, and Annie’s potty gin-addicted mother (who carts her pet chicken with her wherever she goes) drove Annie’s father to suicide. William Palmer’s mother is also slightly deranged, but she indulges William–except when it comes to lending him money. Neither side of the family is perfectly respectable, but in the rural setting, while rumours abound, Dr. Palmer is still above reproach.

The film includes some extremely realistic horrendous poisoning scenes. There is vomiting galore, and ghoulish Victorian style postmortems abound. It isn’t a matter of whether or not Palmer is guilty, but more a question of how this monster will be stopped. Palmer is fastidious, cold, and arrogant, and he dispatches his victims mercilessly. At times this can be relentless (the poisoning scenes are gruesome)–nonetheless, for fans of British costume mysteries, this is a riveting story. The acting is superb, the costumes are marvelous, and the sets are perfect. 160 minutes long, this is the sort of quality drama that British television is famous for. From director Alan Dossor.

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Filed under British television, Crime, Period Piece

Asesino En Serio (2002)

 “It’s the first time a murderer uses the G-spot as a weapon.”

In Asesino en Serio (AKA Serious Killer) detective Comandante Martinez (Jesus Ochoa) begins investigating the serial murders of prostitutes in Mexico City. The corpses are all beautiful naked women found face down, and all of the victims have rapturous smiles on their faces. There are no wounds, no signs of trauma, and according to the coroner, the cause of death is excessive pleasure, or in other words, Death by Orgasm. Martinez is intrigued. He’s having problems in his love life with the nubile and nasty Yolanda (Ivonne Montero). So while he investigates the murders and wants to find the killer, he also hopes to discover the secret of the technique used to kill these women. Meanwhile, corpses of grinning women begin turning up at an alarming rate.

The plot may sound like some sort of tacky ‘adult’ film, but it’s handled here so well, that instead, Asesino en Serio is a light comedy full of quirky characters. Martinez–a great detective character who keeps a bottle of Tequila under the front seat of his car–is soon hot on the trail of the killer, and along the way he finds a very bizarre kinky priest Padre Gorkisolo (played by the talented Santiago Segura), a depressed anthropologist, a transvestite music-addicted prostitute, some ancient sex rituals, and an Aztec Pleasure Chamber. To complicate matters, while investigating the murders, Martinez runs a parallel investigation of his own involving an insurance scam.

Directed by Antonio Urrutia, Asesino en Serio is proof yet again that the Mexican film industry is enjoying a Renaissance. While the film is a light comedy, it’s also full of sly jabs at ecclesiastical corruption–and some of the very best scenes are those with talented Spanish comedian Santiago Segura in a great role as the corrupt Padre Gorkisolo. The DVD doesn’t have much in the way of extras–just two versions of the trailer and a filmography. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Comedy, Mexican