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Saturday, April 11, 2009

B.T.K. -- DVD review by porfle

The same tall, imposing figure, dressed in coveralls, relentlessly stalking his next hapless victim--Kane Hodder remains as intimidating a screen presence now as he did as Jason Voorhees in the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. But there's no hockey mask here, only the face of a normal, everyday guy. Yet there's something about it that isn't quite right, something a little off...just enough to give you the creeps. Because this isn't the face of a mindless killing machine. It's the guy next door.

Which is one of the reasons B.T.K. (2008) is so effective. Hodder plays Dennis L. Rader, a devoted husband and father of two grown daughters, a man active in his church, a man with a fairly responsible position--he's what's called a "compliance officer", which means he gets to wear an official-looking uniform and drive around his sleepy Kansas town in a white van, looking for infractions of various city ordinances. Rader takes this job seriously, perhaps a bit too seriously, to the point of being anally obsessive and at times downright hostile toward people who let their poodles run loose or don't keep their lawns trimmed (he actually measures the grass). Not only does this feed his voracious ego and help bolster his feelings of inadequacy, but it also gives him an opportunity to scope out potential victims--the women who will be his next targets for home invasion and brutal murder.

B.T.K. isn't your usual colorfully-inane slasher flick for teenagers to hoot and throw popcorn at. It's closer to the somber, uncomfortably realistic feel of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, although Dennis isn't quite the remote, solitary cold fish that Henry was. He revels in his family life and his community and church activities, as long as he has brutal murder as a release valve for his pent-up rage and an outlet for his sexual frustrations. Hodder is great at portraying the two sides of Dennis--he's all smiles and banal cordiality until the little psycho-dial in his head inches into the red and he starts turning into a monster. And with his hulking physique, bull neck, and big, powerful hands, he's someone you wouldn't want coming after you.

Writer-director Michael Feifer doesn't go in for the flashy, elaborate kills that require the services of guys like Tom Savini or the inventiveness of Rube Goldberg. The real thing is scary enough when presented in a realistic way, as he does here. The performances in B.T.K. are generally good (Hodder himself is excellent) and natural enough that we feel for these everyday people whom Dennis strangles, stomps to death, smothers with plastic bags, or simply shoots in the head. The fear we all feel of having a vicious killer stalking us in our own homes is vividly portrayed. Feifer uses a hand-held camera to good effect and deftly stages the terror sequences so that they're both unnerving and emotionally disturbing. Direction and editing are above average throughout. Not every scene works, of course, and some of the later ones with Rader's family discovering the truth about him as police investigators move in are less than successful.

As the film goes on, we're taken deeper and deeper into Dennis' whacked-out mind while also getting disquieting glimpses from the victims' POV as well. One rather shocking scene shows him tracking down and getting revenge on a hooker who ran out on him earlier in the film--he decorates the wall with her husband's brains and begins to strangle her, which we see through her eyes as her vision dims, then returns, over and over again as Dennis sadistically brings her to the point of death several times before the kill. Then, he suddenly sees his own daughter in her place and freaks out. His mental state becomes even more unstable later on until ultimately we're just as unsure as he is of what's real and what isn't. Which leads to one of the film's most disturbing moments--a final twist that ends the story on a disorienting, dispiriting note.

Picture and sound quality are good--the DVD image is 16 x 9 widescreen with 5.1 surround audio. My screener contained no extras but the final release should boast a commentary track featuring director Feifer and Kane Hodder, a stills gallery, trailers, and Spanish subtitles.

B.T.K. (the title stands for "bind, torture, kill" after the infamous B.T.K. Killer, who inspired this fictional account) isn't a "fun" movie by any means. But it is often harrowing, disturbing, and effective. Mainly because the killer isn't a faceless automaton in a mask, or a grossly disfigured monster, but just some guy you might pass by on the street. Or glimpse out of the corner of your eye while sitting at home alone at night, right before he whips the plastic bag over your head.

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