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This film is part biopic, part psychological portrait of real-life
serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (played here by Mark Holton). It
begins with a brief scene of an 11-year old Gacy with his father,
before jumping to Gacy's later life with his second wife, when he was
living just outside of Chicago. It roughly covers a number of events up
to Gacy's arrest, but not his trial or later years.
This is one heck of a difficult film to rate. Co-writer David Birke also co-wrote another serial killer biopic/psychological portrait, Dahmer (2002), and both films suffer from many of the same flaws. Gacy may have even more problems. There are countless things that could have been done better.
Yet in combination with co-writer and director Clive Saunders, Gacy manages to retain your interest, and excels at the prime directive of serial killer flicks--it makes the viewer feel profoundly uncomfortable. If judged solely on that aspect, the film would deserve a 10 out of 10. Of course, not everyone wants that kind of emotional experience with a film, but it seems to me that if a serial killer flick doesn't make you uncomfortable, something went wrong. The subject isn't exactly puppy dogs and pixie sticks, unless we're talking about barbecuing puppies and using the pixie sticks for spice.
Let's get out of the way that the film isn't precisely, historically accurate, and it's far more historically incomplete. I don't consider that a flaw. Saunders makes it more than clear a couple times that he's used facts about Gacy's life as inspiration. This is not a documentary, but a fictionalization--specifically it's "historical fiction". Gacy had a relatively complicated life, and understanding his crimes "realistically" involves looking at a huge time span of complex events. There's no way it could be done in 90 minutes, or even 180 minutes.
However, the events that Birke and Saunders choose to show too often seem random, and there's too much exposition missing. We get one scene of Gacy-as-a-boy with his dad, whom we see being mildly abusive. This isn't sufficient to establish anything significant about Gacy's youth. There either should have been more material like this, or it should have been dropped altogether and simply mentioned at some point, perhaps during a bit of self-reflective dialogue (which we get later anyway).
Next we jump to a screen full of text telling us that Gacy was convicted of sodomizing a boy and spent 18 months in prison. Then we jump again, and suddenly we see Gacy living with a woman about his age, two younger girls and an older woman. We can figure out that this is his wife (it was actually his second wife) and mother, and we assume it's his kids (they weren't, they were stepdaughters). Eventually we're told their relationships (except my parenthetical facts), but it doesn't help that it is initially presented as something of a mystery.
There's a general lack of exposition as exemplified above that makes the film play more surrealistically if you're not familiar with Gacy's story. Sometimes this works--the inserts of Gacy eating chicken and dressed up as an alternate world Colonel Sanders (Gacy's first wife's family owned a number of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Iowa) are particularly striking, even if the viewer can't quite figure out why they're present. But just as often the lack of exposition is more of a problem, as with the two hippie-looking guys who are staking out Gacy near the end of the film. It's never quite clear who they are, why they're around, or why in some cases they appear to have lawn chairs set up within about 30 feet of Gacy's front door.
There are a lot of interesting facts about Gacy that are hinted at but not shown very well. For example, he was actually well liked by a number of people and he was very involved with community groups such as the Jaycees at one point. His fascination with clowns was also much more bizarre than is shown in the film. He had unusual makeup that friends recommended he change because it had potential to scare children, and he was an amateur artist who painted weird but wonderful clown/skeleton canvases (well, I like it at least, but I have a taste for outsider art, including psychotic stuff). In conjunction with the clown fascination, Saunders employs subtle carnival music in the score at one point. This worked well, but would have been better if more regular and prominent.
What Saunders focuses on instead are those elements that provide that uncomfortableness I was talking about earlier. Gacy had a crawl space beneath his house that served as a dumping ground for bodies and that produced an infamous stench. Saunders dwells on the crawl space, appropriately. He also fills it with cockroaches, maggots and other insects. Gacy comes across as consistently pathetic, almost sad, as does most of the rest of the cast, surprisingly enough, including Gacy's family and most of his victims. It's difficult when watching the film to believe that some of the victims would make themselves as available as they did, especially over time, but this is based on truth. A lot of small, subtle "beats" add to the pathetic feeling, including the driving shots through the dirty windshield, and a lot of white trash characters who look unkempt, who drive wrecks, and who work in dilapidated environments. Even though I ended up wishing there was more of the carnival music, I also loved the melancholy score that is prominent about two-thirds of the way through the film.
While the film might not provide a lot of psychological insight into Gacy, if such would be possible--he truly comes across as very rational and completely insane at the same time, and it might have benefited from a more linear, in-depth look at some of the victims, the film still succeeds by delivering a deeply disturbing atmosphere.
I'd like to know what the purpose was behind the making of this film.
The Gacy story would have been served better by a more documentary
approach, instead of this weak "grand guignol" version which spends
more time focusing on maggots and bad smells than on Gacy and his
background. Are we to believe that he's a psychopath because his dad
whacked him around on a fishing trip (and maybe elsewhere)? His married
life is brushed over casually (what happened in all the OTHER years of
his marriage?), and his business and social life was also given short
shrift. Why did he kill the first boy? When did he lose control over
his anger and perversion? He's just a hair-trigger, vulgar and angry
guy through the entire film.
BUT HERE'S WHAT BUGS (sic) ME MOST ABOUT THIS FILM...when will L.A. producers realize that other parts of the country look different from California? This story took place in Des Plaines, IL, my wife's home town. (In fact, Gacy's last "pickup" was at a store just a few blocks from her house.) In the movie, Gacy's house and neighborhood look nothing like Chicago. The trees are wrong, the sky is wrong, the other buildings are wrong. They didn't even get the colors quite right on the Chicago police cars. Worst of all...as in many other Hollywood productions about Chicago...you can actually see MOUNTAINS in the background (during Gacy's party scene). Hollywood morons need to get out a little more! There is life beyond L.A. (At least they confessed to it in the closing credits.)
Having a low budget doesn't always mean having a bad movie, but in this
case it does. While other directors use their minimal budget to produce
the best film they can, Clive Saunders seems to have blown it all on
something, because this film looks like it could have easily been made
on $1,000. I found it to be dull, poorly written/acted/directed, and an
insult to the intelligence of viewers who have actually done the
research on Gacy that these film makers neglected to do.
The setting is horrible. The movie is supposed to be taking place in Chicago, but the Southern California architecture, mountains and palm trees make it clear that the production never left Los Angeles. The film is supposed to take place in the seventies, but it doesn't give off the authentic feel at all. The script gives one the feeling that it was a first draft whipped up in one weekend and put to film without so much as one editing session. The dialogue is weak and unbelievable in many scenes, and there seemed no basic plot whatsoever. With directing, editing and shoddy camera work such as appears in this film, these people should be banned from ever making films again. Seriously, I could do better with a bunch of friends and a camcorder.
Now, I want to start right off by saying that I did not go into this hoping for blood and guts and gore...what I wanted was to learn a little background on the man himself. Although I love those aspects of horror films, I wanted more of a psychological view of Gacy, and that is what the film failed to deliver. All it managed to do was show scenes of bugs in his crawl space, him going to and from work, him being harassed and beaten up for the money he owes, and the overwhelming emphasis placed on the stench of the decomposing bodies hidden under the house.
Worst of all, Gacy is portrayed as somewhat of a bumbling idiot rather than the scarily intelligent being he was. All of the deaths that are shown seem to have been committed on accident - such as the boy he was drowning in the bathtub when he was interrupted. When the boy fell down dead, he looked like he'd "made a boo-boo."- Not to mention the fact that he would leave dead bodies lying around the house and his roommates wouldn't take any notice. I realize that some people don't make it their business to report suspicious crimes or get involved, but that is just ridiculous.
Yes, I will admit that I wanted at least one scene of brutal violence from the film, but only for it to give me a full perspective of Gacy's crimes. I wanted a true story that did the story of the killer justice as well as creep me out, but instead I received this boring mess. Don't do like I did. Spare your intelligence and read up on Gacy instead, I guarantee you that what you read will entertain and scare you more than this film ever could.
I hadn't heard much about the Gacy Killings before I saw this movie. I guess
you could say I'm uncultured considering he is one of the most well known
serial killers of America. Anyway, I decided to give this movie a go,
because I'm starting to open up to movies that aren't all about comedy and
this seemed like a good contrast to try.
I was quite disappointed by the lack of depth. It seemed to just fill time with the same thing over and over again. He goes out, picks up a boy, brings him home and well...we know the rest. I suppose the main problem was the fact that we never really got an insight into him and how he thought and his real reasons for doing what he did. We had a little taste of his childhood and his abusive father right at the beginning of the film and heard a few flashback sounds throughout the film as constant reminders but that was it.
We also never really saw how this affected everybody else around him. His co-workers, friends, neighbours, wife, mother, children. I mean they were all a part of his life and even lived in the same house. It would have been nice to include this in the storyline. I feel this film was more of a documentary to tell people who he was and what he did rather than open up a bit of light as to what went on behind it all.
I've seen other serial killer movies and they all seem to at least explain a little as to what is going on. We never really got a look at it through his eyes, which is what I guess everybody will be expecting to see.
Overall, it was a pretty boring account of what happened and although my thoughts go out to those that were lost and the people that were affected by these real life events. I feel this film has done nothing but bring back painful memories for those involved. A film best left alone...
If you're thinking of watching this movie. I suggest you do it on a night where you've got nothing better to do because it really isn't that entertaining.
"Gacy" is a great example of a film that tries to do way too much and
tries way too hard to do it. We are treated to a very vague portrait of
a man who was an historically vicious serial killer. Along the way
there are attempts at comedy that do not work at all, too many victims
that look too much like actors, and a lot of nonsense that couldn't
have happened and never really did happen.
Keep in mind that the movie was penned by a screenwriter, it is not any kind of J.W. Gacy biography. If you view it with this in mind, I suppose it could be mildly entertaining, but if seen through intelligent eyes, it stands out as an exploitative, ridiculous and overly ambitious serial killer thriller film that romps through way too much unnecessary filler material.
Not scary, not funny, not realistic. Not recommended.
3 out of 10, kids.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Gacy' is a low-budget dramatised B-grade version of one of America's
most famous serial killers in John Wayne Gacy. It is not a horror
movie, nor should it ever be made with the "oh look, he's gonna get it"
clichés. It's a true story based on real events, and real people. I'm
glad that Clive Saunders chose to not to try and make a slasher/horror
flick. Instead, he opted to display the creepiness of John Wayne Gacy,
and perhaps, frustrate the audience at how this man got away with so
'Gacy' is a hard film to make, and I can see why it was dramatised the way it was because it's too graphic a crime to really show what he did to his victims- and the circumstances of his capture and the reasons for targeting his victims weren't as dramatic in real life. ***MAJOR SPOILERS*** The climax of the film where Tom narrowly escapes was not the reason the cops decided to make the arrest. It makes for good drama, but that was not how it happened. The truth is, the evidence began to accumulate due to objects found in the house, and also because many of the victims also knew each other. Other scenes such as neighbours threatening to sue over the smell is also inaccurate since Gacy's real neighbours defended him at the trial. Similarly, the boy who wanted his pay did not beat Gacy up and take his money to become a future victim- all the kid did was threaten to go to the police over the pay dispute. So, the film does take some liberties with the truth for dramatic effect, but I personally would like to have seen the true story, and more about how the cops managed to discover his crimes, and why it took them so long to clue on.
'Gacy' as a film, feels b-grade, and never really convinces you that it's representing a true event. The acting in general is substandard, although Mark Holton does look more like John Wayne Gacy than Brian Dennehy did in "To Catch a Killer" mini-series- yet the latter was a better representation. Holton is okay in some moments, but the rest of the cast don't add much to this movie. You never really get a satisfying conclusion, nor does Gacy's family ever get explored as characters. They are just basically wallpaper. Director, Clive Saunders, tries to represent the psychology behind Gacy's actions through his childhood, but it's never really convincingly connected, and Adam Baldwin seems farcical as Gacy Snr! Granted, Saunders manages to give a creepy uncomfortable feeling in this movie as the "normality" of Gacy's everyday life is played out, and the use of clowns is quite effective in this movie too. However, 'Gacy' never displays the true horror of John Wayne Gacy, and some scenes are so unconvincing and badly acted (as well as scripted) that it's hard to take this film seriously at all! While I respect the fact that Saunders got away from selling a real-life serial killer story as a horror movie, and instead go for the creepier aspect of John Wayne Gacy with implications! Saunders still should have made a film that was as accurate as possible, and given more substance to other characters in the film. However, as it stands, he neither had the means or the talent to portray a chilling exposition of this extremely evil human being. 'Gacy' is simply not a good movie, but at least it didn't go down the road of cliché horror flicks, and one can respect that I guess! ** out of *****!
So, possibly not the worst, but damned near to it. Here's the thing; I'm a psychology major with a specialization in criminal psychology. I've been working in a prison with small-time serial murderers for the past 3 years north of Atlanta, Georgia for my internship and occupation. I've extensively studied all the famous ones, Fish, Sutcliffe, Gacy, Dahmer, Gein, etc. so that I could make headway on treatment and understanding in the prison I've been working in. For all of you out there interested in the subject, the best book on the subject for those not doing, well, graduate study or anything, is My Life Among the Serial Killers by Dr. Helen Morrison. Excellent book with a large section on Gacy, her studies with him, and even his trial and execution. Not even talking from a standpoint of how it incorrectly portrays Gacy the man, but plainly from the standpoint of movies, it's terrible. It's an absolute bore; the whole movie drags and chops its way through a largely fabricated story with terrible editing, directing, and acting. Much worse, Gacy is portrayed as if his murders are driven by revenge at points, unconscious drives at others (closer to, but still not getting to the most likely causes). There is one thing that the movie did decently, and still it was nothing more than hinting at the truth. Jeff Rignall, one of his few surviving victims, was depicted as that male prostitute. He suffered severely from Gacy's treatment, including permanent and nearly fatal liver damage from the chloroform, brain damage from the near-death suffocation, and several other major medical issues along with severe developmental and psychological issues. The other victim that survived and came forward, Robert Donnelly reported almost identical occurrences as far as abduction and torture. Even then, his life did not need extra, fictitious events to dramatize it. He was an interesting enough person even when the truth is told. Come to think of it, some of the most interesting things he did were during his imprisonment up until his sentence was carried out in March of '94. Either way, if you think this movie gave you any insight into the veiled monster that Gacy really was, you're deeply mistaken. The biggest thing this movie was lacking was recognition of his inability to view other people as separate sentient human beings. That is what makes a serial killer. This movie did not portray that in any reasonable way, and it did not bring to the public any sort of idea of what Gacy was.
I was pretty disappointed with this one. The primary reason this film was even remotely disturbing was due to the fact it was based on a true story. The direction and acting was quite terrible. Really, really bad. Thankfully, the bad acting is so much so that it turns from bad to kind of funny. I haven't seen the other film based on the same situation, but can't image it to be much worse than this. It's worth seeing for the sake of it being an interesting true story...well, that and John Gacy is played by none other than Mark Holton (Francis from Pee Wee's Big Adventure). Somehow, the relation between the two films makes them both that much scarier.
I just saw this movie on DVD and worked myself all the way through till the end. This movie was not really good, the acting appeared to me as a bit corny, and the story was not put together either. Also I thought it was too bad they sometimes used handycams, usually I don't mind, I love the Dogma95 movies, but this movies had all the handwork at the wrong time. You wanna see a good J.W. Gacy movie go see "to catch a killer" it was actually a miniseries made in 1992 starring Brian Dennehy, that was made more convincing. 2 1/2 out of 5 stars
The reason I rented this movie is because, John Wayne Gacy is a legend over
at my old high school, because two of his victims were my teacher's
students. So, there would always be questions. The house was just a couple
blocks down from our school and we'd ask about Gacy himself and what he was
like. It wasn't really like what we heard when I saw the
The movie does tell in the beginning that some of the events they came up with were fictional. To tell the truth, I don't think the reason why this movie wasn't effective is because of the fact that Gacy was so brutal with these boys. It couldn't be shown what he did to them. So, the movie itself isn't that great. I'd rather go and visit my old school and just ask the teachers that were there when this happened.
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