John Wayne Gacy was one of Chicago’s most infamous killers. He most remembered for the images of him as a clown. He used to entertain at parties in the costume. While it was never really part of his killing life, he was forever known as the Clown Killer. Gacy would entice young men, often gay hookers, into his home where he would drug them and have sex with them. He would also trick them into putting on handcuffs, and he would strangle them to death. He buried the bodies of his victims in a crawlspace beneath his house, where the mass grave’s discovery would lead to his arrest and conviction. A bit of a surprising development was that Gacy himself ended up drawing an accurate map of where each of the bodies could be found, because he didn’t want them to rip up his floors. Of course, it should have been clear to him by then that he wasn’t going to be living there ever again.
We all know the story. There have already been countless films and documentaries as well as books dealing with every aspect of the killer’s life and crimes. Apparently, there was another little known story that hadn’t gotten quite the same amount of attention. In the 14 years that Gacy was incarcerated awaiting his eventual execution for the murders, he was quite the communicative butterfly, writing to many of the folks who wrote to him in prison. He would attempt to manipulate these people from behind his own prison cell. One of these pen pals was criminology student Jason Moss. Moss would later write a book about his experiences with Gacy called The Last Victim. In the book he described the correspondence that led to him actually visiting with Gacy in the last days leading up to his execution. Obviously, there are going to be some liberties with the film, but it is nonetheless a fascinating character study of a relationship that got terribly out of hand.
Jason Moss (Moss) (no relation) is a criminology student who is anticipating his final paper which will account for 50% of his final grade. When he sees a newscast of John Wayne Gacy (Forsythe), he becomes fascinated with the figure and decides that he will write to the killer and befriend him. His goal will be to manipulate the man into revealing things he hadn’t told anyone else. Even though his professor warns of some of the problems with his idea, Moss proceeds and writes to Gacy, first lacing the envelope with his cologne and next posing for provocative pictures in his underwear all in an attempt to seduce the killer into opening up. The bad news for Moss is that it worked.
The two begin an intimate correspondence that spirals more and more out of control. Both parties are attempting to manipulate the other but we begin to believe that Moss is in way over his head. Before long he has discovered this for himself. Gacy is now calling him. The relationship begins to take a terrible toll on Moss’s life. It has taken control of his life, and he is changing to the dismay of his family, professor, and girlfriend Alyssa (Lahana). When he decides to shut down the relationship, he finds Gacy to be relentless, and he threatens Moss and his family. Paranoia sets in, and Moss finds he can’t escape Gacy’s control. Days before he is scheduled to be executed, Gacy reaches out to Moss and asks him to visit him. He promises to reveal everything and give him all of his secret notes. Gacy gets a guard on his payroll to make Moss think the visit is safe complete with every precaution. Unfortunately, Moss isn’t as safe as he thought and finds himself physically in the hands of this demented killer.
The movie is a powerful character study. There are so many interesting questions here that we find the rather simplistic presentation to be quite compelling. Moss believes he can control the evil he has touched without it controlling him. The pacing is perfect as we watch this relationship develop. We might easily have predicted where it was going, but that doesn’t really matter. The film isn’t about any surprise or twist in the plot. The film is about the psychology of Moss’s interaction with Gacy that keeps you glued to the screen.
None of this would have been possible if not for the incredibly solid performances of Jesse Moss as Jason Moss and William Forsythe as John Wayne Gacy. This is one of those films that manages to create a solid dynamic between two characters that don’t meet at all until the end. Still, the chemistry and interplay is as powerful as you can get even with two actors in the same room. This is only the second feature film from director Svetozar, but it shows the man can do a lot with very little. He doesn’t get in the way of his story by trying to show us how good he is or what tricks he knows. He puts the story in motion and gets out of the way. Less is so often more, and I believe that Svetozar has a solid grasp of the concept. These are the kinds of directors that, when you do give them more, don’t waste it on stylish trappings. Let’s see more, or should I say more of less, from Svetozar.
Dear Mr. Gacy is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 22 mbps. There isn’t a lot of style on display here. The film looks incredibly natural. This is one of those image presentations that disappears completely into the story telling. So why bother with high definition at all? Because you get those small elements of detail that make you believe you’re seeing something for real. There aren’t any compression issues or other problems to distract you, pulling you out of the experience. Colors never jump out at you. It all has a bit of a dark nature to it. The sharpness is exactly enough to look real and not so much a video image. Black levels are fine.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does everything it is required to do. This is all about the dialog. That’s where you’ll find the drama and the tension that drives this piece forward. You hear it as if the characters were playing it out right there in your room. The score elements are quite subtle. Again, it’s all a minimalist approach so that nothing distracts from the story.
The Gacy Files – Portrait Of A Serial Killer: (22:17) HD Many of the detectives and principals of the Gacy case talk about the elements of the real story. They often talk to William Forsythe who has a chance here to get into the mind of his character.
We’re all fascinated by serial killers. It’s almost an American phenomenon. Instances of serial killers elsewhere are almost non-existent. Of course, there was England’s Jack, but few have graced the streets of anywhere but the good old US of A. I taught a law class where students would admit they signed up for the unit on serial killers. There have been so many books movies and documentaries that everyone’s an expert these days. I’ve become a bit jaded with all of these types of films. I was very pleased to find an element that hadn’t really been explored before. That it was based on a true story might make it that much sweeter, but I would have enjoyed this movie had it been completely fictional. In fact, the true-story aspect might have hurt a bit as you begin to pick apart things that just don’t ring as possible. In fiction you’re willing to suspend belief. But when the filmmaker tells you this happened, you find yourself looking harder for the inconsistencies with reality, or at least I do. This one hold up completely because it’s a tightly written story with wonderful pacing acted out perfectly. Unfortunately, usually I find in Hollywood, “That’s not how it works”.