The Hillside Strangler (2004)
By: Devon B. on November 9, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Force Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 94 minutes
The Movie
Director: Chuck Parello
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Nicholas Turturro, Allison Lange, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Jennifer Tisdale, Kent Masters King, Aimee Brooks, Lin Shaye
Screenplay:Stephen Johnston, Chuck Parello
Country: USA
The Hillside Strangler is the latest serial killer film from Chuck Parello, who brought us such 'winners' as Ed Gein and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 2. Fortunately, this time out, he fares a bit better.

C. Thomas Howell (in a major step up from Side Out) stars as Ken Bianchi, one half of the notorious Hillside Strangler team. The film begins with Bianchi as a power abusing security guard. When life gets too much for Bianchi, he moves out west to California. Bianchi stays with his cousin Angelo Buono, played by Nicholas Turturro of NYPD Blue fame.

The pair get involved in escort services, but when that goes sour, they vent their pent up rage on women. The pair quickly decides to commit a very tenuously "justified" murder, which seems disjointed with the film's slow pace up to that point. Evidently, this is how the events actually occurred, so I guess this isn't a fault of the film. But if you thought the murder leap was a bit quick, the necromantic turn comes even faster. The film doesn't gloss over the details of the murders, with the female victims often presented starkly bare and vulnerable. This representation is still toned down from the reality, but is a fair attempt to convey some of what happened.

Most of the performances in The Hillside Strangler are fine, but a few bit players are not good. Howell looks nice and scuzzy, and really captures the look and feel of a 70s sleaze merchant. Sadly, Turturro's character is completely 2-D, which makes him seem over the top and cartoony. Buono's excessiveness is made even more apparent because effort is to give Bianchi some depth. The film's slow build to murder seems to be designed to showcase Bianchi's degeneration, but Buono seems ready to kill from his first moments on screen.

The film has been criticized for being a series of big-boobed women getting killed. I wouldn't say the spree is glamorised, but I guess the film could be seen as exploitive. Parello tried to give the victims some depth, so don't think exploitation was his intention, and I will give benefit of the doubt.

The real shame of this movie, for me, was that the most interesting aspect of the case, the 'Christina' character, feels tacked on. It will be interesting to see if this element is utilized better in the other new film about the Hillside Strangler that's due out soon.
The Hillside Strangler is presented at 1.77:1. It's a new film, so it looks good, though there's some light grain. The colours are a bit bland, but that may be the attempt to capture the look of the 70s. Then again, the 70s had some garish shit going on. Anyway, hopefully the bland colours are intentional.
The audio is available in an English 2.0 track. It's well mixed, but not about to wow anyone. The commentary track has an echo to it.
Extra Features
The Hillside Strangler DVD includes the film's trailer, three deleted scenes, an interview, and a commentary.

The deleted scenes don't add much. Really, the only thing of interest is the scene where Buono is angry with Bianchi because the police have found out that the Hillside Strangler is actually two men, not one like they originally thought.

The interview is with C. Thomas Howell, and runs 17 ½ minutes. The cameraman must've LOVED Howell's face, because it's often VERY tightly framed, but Howell does give some insight into the Bianchi character.

The commentary is with writer and director Chuck Parello, who gives the expected info about actors/casting/shooting, but he also heavily focuses on comparing the film to the realities of the case, which is EXACTLY the way I think commentaries on these real life serial killer movies should be done. Parello makes it sound as though he stuck to truth as much as possible. He tends to repeat himself on the morality of the characters, and was obviously personally affected by what happened in real life. I found the commentary to be very absorbing; however, if you don't care about the real vs. reel, the track won't be interesting.
The Verdict
The Hillside Strangler is a bit slow (but then again, it is set in the 70s) but it is one of the better entries in the new wave of serial killer movies. Worth a look.
Movie Score
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