Monday, August 6, 2012

Rampage (1987)

Red is a good color for a movie about a serial killer that takes place during the holiday season. There are lots of Poinsettias and there is a lot of blood. When we first see Charles Reece (Alex McArthur) he is bouncing awkwardly but with confidence down the street while wearing a bright red jacket. Not like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, more like something Travis Bickle would wear on Christmas. 

Early in the film we also meet prosecuting attorney Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn). We find out that he had been against capital punishment, but his views on that are quickly changing due to some personal experiences.  

It is revealed pretty quickly that Reece is a serial killer. We see him murder families in suburban neighborhoods and we see flashes of his face covered in blood. He's caught almost right away by the police. And so begins the long process of deciding what to do with him and at the same time Rampage transforms itself into a courtroom drama with little to offer. 

The first third of the film is quite beautiful to look at. William Friedkin does a wonderful job of filling up the screen with almost a single color. And as I mentioned before, the red that the killer is wearing makes him really pop out of the scenery. As we follow Reece around while he stalks the streets, the camera moves with slow and careful grace. There is a nice combination of suspense and calmness, that surprisingly works remarkably well. 

There are moments in Rampage that remind me of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). While I think that Henry is a much better film, Rampage has a visual style that reminds us that this movie was made by the same guy who made The Exorcist. Unfortunately, when the action moves into the jail and the courtroom, the style starts to fade and nothing that is said, no points that are made are of any earth shattering profundity. To me, this movie didn't bring anything new to the table on the discussion of legal insanity and capital punishment. 

Is it worth watching? I suppose so. It's available on hulu and Netflix, so it sure is easy to access. And at around 90 minutes there are much worse ways to spend your time. Twin Peaks fans will want to see this for Grace Zabriskie's performance as Reece's oblivious, drug addicted mother. Otherwise, if you have never seen John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, you should probably watch that instead. 

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