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Robert A. Burns,
In the end of the 70's, the dysfunctional Kenneth Bianchi lives with his mother and is obsessed with joining the police force. When his application is refused, his mother sends him to Los Angeles to live with his sadistic cousin Angelo Buono. Kenneth unsuccessfully tries to join LAPD, and Angelo convinces him to start a prostitution business with him. They force two girls from Tucson to work for them, but their competitors destroy their business and steals their money. The frustrated Kenneth and Angelo decide on revenge against a prostitute, and Kenneth strangles her, feeling a great pleasure with her death. The two cousins become addicted to death, initially killing prostitutes and then attacking single women, dumping their bodies on the hill. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Hillside Strangler stands out as hands down one of the all time great true crime films. Chuck Parello plunges the viewer headfirst into the acid guts of sexual sadism, familial dysfunction, and spree killings.
The basic plot follows the rampage of Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, two cousins who committed some of the most perverted acts of torture and homicide recorded in the annals of American crime. What makes this film stand out so well is how mundane the circumstances provoking their spree happen to be. The murders are presented as a simple, reflexive response to a single act of humiliation.
Parello perfectly captures the tacky, sexually saturated milieu of the mid-1970's. The world in which these crimes occur is one of female objectification, sexual dysfunction, and brazen immorality. By spending some time charting the vapid nature of the cousin's lives - petty existences comprised of orgies, drugs, and non- stop cruising - the eventual segue into murder feels almost natural.
There are some extremely disturbing scenes of rape, humiliation, and murder. However, the story emphasizes psychological and environmental factors just enough that Hillside Strangler approaches the precipice of exploitation without teetering over. It's a delicate balancing act that pushes the film to a level of repulsion it would not have reached if treated as a garden-variety serial killer flick (see Mike Feifer's EXORABLE shot on HD garbage cheapies for an example of the worst case scenario of the latter).
For those who feel that this type of movie trivializes the real pain experienced by real victims, I'll point out that this film only scrapes the surface of Bianchi and Buono's evil. Parello re-stages the crimes to avoid some horrifying details (like, for example, the fact that close to half of their victims were teens - some as young as 12), and allow the audience to empathize with the killers enough to maintain interest.
Hillside is a gem of indie true crime.
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