Jerry is your average, everyday Californian man. He’s tall, handsome, and can hold down a good government job as a United States postman, but Jerry has another side to him. A dark side that’s hidden beneath a façade of apparent normalcy. His random acts of senseless violence and murder have Jerry a great advantage over the rest of society, especially the police, as he commits homicidal tendencies right under their noses without an inkling of a motive and stretching out his urges to kill days, weeks, and months a part under the guise of the notorious Zodiac Killer.
Based on the factual and claimed murders of Northern California’s infamous serial, director Tom Hanson helmed the thriller “The Zodiac Killer” and released his finished project in spring of 1971 when the serial killer was still very active. In a little history tidbit, Hanson had the idea to premiere “The Zodiac Killer” at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco in attempt to lure the Zodiac Killer to the screening by way of having patrons writing “what-ifs” as the real Zodiac Killer and then analyzing the handwriting to the letters the real killer submitted to the police and news outlets. Of course, the stunt didn’t work, but did bring about awareness of the prospect that everyday people – neighbors, gym teacher, mailman – could be a deranged, blood thirsty wolf underneath sheep’s clothing. In their first and only writing credits, Manny Cardoza and Ray Cantrell penned the script.
With a minuscule budget and a performance driven script, “The Zodiac Killer” could only speculate on the person behind the deaths and though in today’s filmmaking standards, some points in the dialogue and the action are awfully outdated in it’s rigidity and over exposition, but when getting down to brass tax and looking deep at the root’s message, the effective troubling performance by lead actor Hal Reed, as Jerry the Zodiac, transfixes viewers as the tall, handsome, and baritone-voiced actor bore an eerie on-off switch between pure good and polluted evil. Before knowing Reed’s true self, not every character was black and white as Hanson attempts to a lineup suspects, especially with a truck driver named Grover (Bob Jones) whom had a knack for pretending to be a wealthy businessman on his nights off in hopes to score naive bar tail. Whether flawed by design or by the obsolete nature of filmmaking, the curve ball attempt to throw the viewer for a loop doesn’t stick and for every second, Hal Reed is the titular maniac even if not proclaimed at first sight. Ray Lynch and “Invasion of the Bee Girls'” Tom Pittman round out the cast as the two police officers not hot on the Zodiac’s trail.
For early 1970’s, “The Zodiac Killer” is graphic, verbally and in imagery with an example being Jerry enthusiastically jumping up and down on a car hood while an elderly woman is pinned between the hood and the engine or Grover calling every single female character a “broad” or a “bitch” in the film; “The Zodiac Killer” certainly strikes a chauvinistic chord from a male’s point of view with not only Grover’s attitude toward women, but also portraying women as shrewd, powerless, and as sex objects. Culturally, this attitude toward women might have been accurate for the time period as well as many of the portrayed Zodiac attacks though numerous of the attacks were only claimed by the Zodiac and not actually confirmed. In any case, Hanson’s rendered theories are well thought out and entertaining in spite of their tragic background.
The American Film Genre Archive, Something Weird Video, and MVDVisual present “The Zodiac Killer” on a 2-disc DVD/Blu-ray set exhibited in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, keeping the black bars on the right and left of the screen to preserve the format. The new digital transfer was scanned from the only existing 35mm theatrical print through to 4K resolution on a Lasergraphic film scanner and the image has a real clean look to it despite some minor print damage with horizontal scratches and burn flares. The print also suffers from a color degradation, voiding the coloring and replacing it was a washed look. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track has a mighty bite that’s surprisingly clean and clear despite the obvious low fidelity. Special features include an interview with director Tom Hason and actor Manny Nedwick, a commentary track with Tom Hanson, Manny Nedwick and the AFGA crew, and a tabloid-horror trailers from the AGFA archive. Also, the release has a sleek illustration with reversible cover and an inner booklet complete with the film’s tidbits, transfer information, and distribution company credentials. Plus, a bonus movie “Another Son of Sam” (1977) that’s been scanned in 2k from the original 35mm theatrical print. The Zodiac might have ceased a wrath of carnage and made a brazen exodus from California before being caught before his or her identity became known, but the killer’s notorious legacy lives on with this stellar release of Tom Hanson’s “The Zodiac Killer” and serves as a chilling reminder that vicious killers walk among us.