I don't get why people are afraid of clowns, not one bit. I would understand, completely, if someone thought they were creepy due to the fact that some dude is dressed up like a freak and plays around with kids doing random tricks or general tomfoolery, as that does sound a bit...odd. To put it mildly. The strange thing is, the few people I've known who were "scared" by clowns weren't scared of the man underneath, the one wearing a facade. Instead, they were intimidated by the actual image, one they found disturbing or frightening, and not just because of Stephen King's 'It.'
John Wayne Gacy gives us reason to doubt or fear the painted faces, though. He wasn't a killer who stayed up in the hills, by himself. He was an active man, a contractor who also performed under the name "Pogo the Clown," who just so happened to have a penchant for murdering young men. He had contact with kids and politicians, and still flew mostly under the radar, which makes his one of the most stunning serial killer stories in modern history. Of course, he was eventually caught, and sentenced to death for his part in 33 deaths. But the appeals process takes an awfully long time, and in that time, killers get plenty of time to think, and let's just say their mailboxes aren't filled with garbage solicitations like the rest of us are inundated with. 'Dear Mr. Gacy' is based on the (supposedly) true story behind one of his correspondents.
When Jason Moss (Jesse Moss, no relation) decides on his topic for a criminology term paper, he doesn't go the quick and dirty route discussing, you know, Batman. He probably should have. Instead, he focuses on the soon-to-be executed serial killer (William Forsythe), a man whose favorite victim matched Jason's typecast. Letters turn to phone calls, as Jason tries to dupe Gacy into admitting his crimes, angling for great material, but instead finds his life changing, coming very close to paralleling that of the infamous man he's pretending to be like. They're on a collision course, both sides trying to out-lie the other, but Jason hasn't quite gotten it through his head that he actually has something to lose. Gacy doesn't.
'Dear Mr. Gacy' isn't an unbelievable story. Just earlier this month, stories hit about Samantha Spiegel, a San Franciscan was put into the spotlight for her relationship with a wannabe killer, mixed with her attempts to correspond with more famous killers, like Charles Manson and Richard Ramirez. There are books on the subject, a psychological issue (disorder?) that more than likely has ties with "daddy issues," such as Women Who Love Men That Kill. The fact that a kid with no (shown) back history of abuse or tendencies towards violence makes this story a bit more difficult to digest, because we're given the "scientific" approach to a psychological issue. This film says that the youngster wants to turn the tables on Gacy, in effect, but he does such a poor job of it, one has to wonder why anyone with no real manipulative history could think they could outdo someone who can say with a straight face he didn't do what he was accused of, a man who spent his years on death row studying law texts so he could file various appeals, blaming numerous others, including his employees, of the murders he committed.
Jodie Foster won an Academy Award playing off a captured serial killer, but Moss is about the furthest thing from award winning that a film of this nature can get, besides the fact that it will be buried in a back catalog of similarly themed, and better executed, psychological thrillers and murder procedurals. It doesn't help one bit that his role isn't all that believable in itself (the character's psychological arc changes on a dime a few times), but Moss really fails to hit home with his part. It wasn't anywhere near as complicated as he made it out to be. The film also isn't much helped with the stale, lifeless "direction" from Svetozar Ristovski, with no unique shots, no spirit, and some very poor pacing and inferred character "development."
'Dear Mr. Gacy' fails in its narrative, as let's face it, few films can pull off letter writing. We always get those same damn voices reading the letters aloud, then montages back and forth between participants. It's stale, old hat convention. Moss as Moss also spouts off fact and exposition like common speech pattern, which makes it even harder to sell the performance/role. The not-so-subtle transformations of Jason, as he acts more and more like the man he's studying and trying to manipulate may sound great on paper, but we're talking about someone veering off headfirst down the spiral, and it doesn't quite translate into action. He's not a sympathetic lead, nor is he even empathetic. He's just there, like the film. No matter how good Forsythe could possibly be (he's not amazing, but he does a pretty good job at being just slightly disarming and creepy), this is a film that should be just slightly intellectually stimulating, but instead plays like the story of a kid who has never had a problem in his life. He may be The Last Victim, as his book's title implies, but we're all the victim of having our time wasted by this shameless attention whoring. Some stories are best left told as they are, and this just so happens to be one of them.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Dear Mr. Gacy' comes to Blu-ray from Anchor Bay on a BD25 disc housed in a cut-out eco-case. There is one pre-menu trailer, for 'The Alphabet Killer,' a dump release (from Anchor Bay's cheapie wave that featured no menus and awful presentations) that bowed a full year before this release. The trailer is not skippable through the top menu button, but it is through the next chapter button. There is one odd note on this release: the packaging indicates that there is a theatrical and teaser trailer for the film, though they are nowhere to be found on the disc.
Count me as one of the people unimpressed with the AVC MPEG-4 1080p encode 'Dear Mr. Gacy' received. For over 100 minutes, I sat, not so much aghast as I was uninterested, as the video presentation constantly pulled me out of the film, rather than into it.
I have no problem with the opening historical footage that looks absolutely abysmal. That is to be expected. I just cannot stand sitting still while a bland picture just exists, failing to do anything but be a slight eyesore. Skin tones are absolutely all over the place, sometimes rosy, other times orange, and often completely pale and flushed, and this is not due to lighting effects. Interior, exterior, it doesn't matter, as detail levels never soar, never really reach out and grab you.
Soft moments are more numerous than Gacy's victims, as the film dips from bland and uninspired looking to subpar quite often, rarely giving a sharp, polished shot. Contrast levels are all over the place, while black levels always fail to impress, and aren't much helped by some slight crush. The gritty aesthetics of flashbacks are a fun aesthetic, but that has been done a million times, and it does deter from any chance of getting detail in the shots. Wonky is the easiest way to describe the video on this release. It is free from artifacting and banding, and shows no signs of digital tampering, but it still fails.
There's much less to talk about with the audio for 'Dear Mr. Gacy,' as the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix provided doesn't have much to work with.
The track is free from technical errors, for the most part, but also free from providing a deep, surrounding experience. Of course, that's partially because surround speakers are used so sparingly that a stereo track would have done the job just fine. The random ambience in rears on a few moments was a nice touch, but the here one minute, gone the rest use was a tad annoying. The gay club scene is the only real moment where music gets a chance to shine, and it doesn't. The thump doesn't hit the LFE, it's just too soft, and very flat. There is some hum in the scenes where Gacy is on the phone in prison, but that seems to be an aesthetic choice, like a fluorescent tube doing its thing. My only real complaint here isn't the lack of immersion, as not all films are made with that kind of budget. Rather, I found some bits of dialogue to be blunt, somewhat harsh, despite being in normal room settings, so they sounded unnatural.
The one real extra on this release is a doozy. A must see for anyone curious about the real life Gacy.
'Dear Mr. Gacy' isn't a great film. It's very, very far from it, despite the great premise, based on a novel telling of one daring little stunt. One good performance (Forsythe) is offset by a poor one (Moss) that gets far more screen time, and amateur direction keeps the film from ever making a step forward. The Blu-ray release of this troubled psychological thriller has mediocre presentation qualities and missing extras, but the one that found its way onto this disc is absolutely superb. This one is only for those who have a thing for serial killers, Gacy in particular, and the most devoted of horror fans who can sit through the problems to get to the goodies.