5. Snowtown (2011)
Now once again we’re leaving America for Australia. In a case you don’t know, the Snowtown murders (also known as the bodies in barrels murders) were a series of murders committed by John Justin Bunting, Robert Joe Wagner, and James Spyridon Vlassakis between August 1992 and May 1999, in and around Adelaide, South Australia. A fourth person, Mark Haydon, was convicted for helping to dispose of the bodies. The trial was one of the longest and most publicized in Australian legal history. This film is based on the true stories of that events.
Average filmgoers might think the film is too slow but if you’re a patient viewer who’s okay with a challenge, the film might offer you a fascinating psychological portrait of these characters who all have such interesting arcs. The movie does something that not many other films dare to do; it takes evil seriously, and it tries to understand it. It’s gloomy, too long, and depressing enough to turn some people off but that’s where the film’s strength lies. Exceptional for its acting performances, the movie also shows what kind of effect fear and control have on vulnerable people. The Director of the film, Justin Kurzel recently made another film in a similar vein called “Nitram” which you should check out if you haven’t yet.
4. Monster (2003)
It doesn’t feel right to call a movie like this “underrated” because it did great business, won an Oscar and the reviews were exceptional. However, it also gets overlooked when we discuss movies with similar topics. We also take Charlize Theron for granted who’s giving a brilliant performance as Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer who engaged in street prostitution and killed some of her clients. She later defended herself that she only had to kill those who tried to rape or assault her. This film is her story, as written and directed by Patty Jenkins who did a great job with the first “Wonder Woman” but would be great to see her back to doing this kind of movie. It doesn’t glamorize Aileen but gives her enough of humanity.
While the film is obviously a well-made depiction of the makings of a serial killer, we have to go back to highlight Charlize Theron again and again. It’s one of those performances where even if you don’t like the direction film goes or the choices it makes, you still can’t take your eyes off Charlize. She’s convincing and riveting in every single moment of the film which resulted in a well-deserved Oscar win.
3. The Boys Next Door (1985)
Penelope Spheeris’ filmmaking career deserved better. She deserved better projects to be offered to her because her range is amazing. She started with the documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization”, then made an acclaimed drama “Suburbia”, had a huge comedy hit “Wayne’s World” and did some family films like “Little Rascals”. However, no film is more unusual than “The Boys Next Door” in her filmography. It’s about two young men, disillusioned with life going on a killing spree. Maxwell Caulfield and Charlie Sheen are both doing some good work in the leading roles. Sheen was a promising actor before he lost his mind overall.
However, what makes film work is how it handles its violence. The violence here is shocking but not for the sake of shock. They’re genuinely disturbing and while it’s not possible to like these guys in the lead role, the film has humane moments that remind us these people are human beings after all. One can argue that its message and themes were also ahead of their time. Writers of the film Glen Morgan and James Wong later went on to write some of the best episodes of “X-Files”. They did an excellent job here with writing convincing dialogues and some realistic portrayals of teen angst.
2. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)
If you love serial killer movies, you already had seen this one. If not, then it means somehow “Dahmer” has made you interested in this topic. “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” is a must-see on the subject. Specifically based on the confessions of convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Who knows how accurate it is because Henry was a serial liar but the movie has such a realistic tone that you buy everything.
The movie is almost relentlessly bleak which is a bold choice. Sometimes films like this prefer to use some humor to lighten the mood. Michael Rooker’s performance is very strong and very raw and it helps the film’s documentary-ish approach of the material. John McNaughton, who is a very underrated director, is not interested in graphic violence. Instead, he shows us the result, the scenes of their deaths which makes the whole experience even more disturbing and honest. Overall, in our current times, the movie feels fresh, something that still can frighten the audiences. Definitely one of the most compelling character studies on the subject.
1. Angst (1983)
Now that we had “Henry”, it only makes sense to another similar film where the journey really gets us inside the head of a twisted monster. That monster is a young man (Erwin Leder), who has served a ten-year sentence for murdering an old woman. Now he’s released from prison. As soon as he is free, he immediately feels the strong desire to live out his murderous fantasies, gives in to the inner urge, and immediately starts looking for new victims. After a taxi driver narrowly escapes him, he breaks into a secluded villa where an elderly woman lives with her disabled son and young daughter. The man brutally takes control of the family and starts a sadistic game.
Sometimes bleak movies are just bleak, they don’t leave you with any hope. They don’t philosophize about evil, they just show you the evil. It’s one of those movies. The lead performance is fantastic but it also helps that the camera movement, the editing, and the script all complete each other in such a way that you find yourself in the mind of this troubled man. You end up feeling genuine terror. It was not an easy film to make and due to censorship, the film hardly made much money and didn’t gain enough popularity. That’s why unfortunately the director Gerald Kargi has not made any other film again.