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The Hillside Strangler
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The Hillside Strangler More at IMDbPro »

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18 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Good Docudrama and Exploitation Flick

8/10
Author: Jakealope from Albany, NY
28 February 2005

This movie is not for the faint of heart. These two men were sadistic, woman hating thugs but it transcends the genre by presenting them as human and bad, not as stereotypical Hollywood killing machines or some victim of uncontrollable compulsions. It was certainly better than earlier flicks that only hinted at their lifestyle. C.T. Howell's Ken Bianchi is a little overdone but he does a good job as portraying him as a liar, geek, sadist, weakling and a con man with a smidgen of humanity. Nick Turturro stole the show with his over-the-top Angelo Buono who was a real goon in the Soprano style of "lovable" Italian sadists. The movie takes a slap at Italian macho man culture but in the case of these two goons, it isn't offensive or unwarranted. Even before they slapped their first women, you got to really dislike them as Nick took his weaker cousin on a journey through the tawdry sexual night life of LA. The way they duped the small town girls with their phony modeling agency spiel then forced them to be whores was a good warm up to their later murder spree. Good late night flick, but definitely not for your date or the sensitive type!

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17 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Eerie in its Realness

9/10
Author: Thorsten_B (thb8@hotmail.com) from Frankfurt, Germany
9 August 2004

"Hillside Strangler" tries to given a realistic portray of two cousins who became one of the most notorious mass murder duo ever. First up, the actors were quite good - in C. Thomas Howells' case, it's hard to recognize him when keeping his teenage roles from the 80s in mind. But as far as acting goes, he obviously improved. Lots of good looking girls share the scenes, but when the viewer is shown were it all leads to (as if we didn't already suggest from the title), the more disturbing the story becomes. Not only do Kenneth and Angelo rape, torture and kill these girls on the screen - they did it in reality. What we see is, of course, an "alternate version" to the real world, but still one that sticks to the actual events quite closely. Even though many people may feel uneasy when watching both the explicit sexual scenes and the even more graphic murder moments, it seems that some gruesome details have even been left out. Other parts, such as a female writer who fell in love with Kenneth while he already in prison and who tried to commit another murder in order to install arguments for him being innocent, have been changed, though not entirely made up - that woman really existed (and seemingly, still does exist in some jail). In total, the movie gives a very realistic insight in the late 70s Californian suburban atmosphere and it's darker sides, with the Hillside Stranglers minds being the pinnacle of darkness.

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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Disturbingly Realistic

Author: Lechuguilla from Dallas, Texas
16 December 2007

Except for victim names, this true-life story of the infamous serial killings in Los Angeles in the late 1970s is mostly factual, and is told from the POV of the two killers: Kenneth Bianchi (C. Thomas Howell) and Angelo Buono (Nicholas Turturro). As such, the film functions largely as a character study of these two criminals. The script is structured as a series of events, in chronological order, beginning with Bianchi's life in upstate New York, where he started out as a petty thief.

Although he apparently tried to live a reasonably normal life, Bianchi felt constantly rejected, especially in his repeated, unsuccessful efforts to join the police force. He tells his mom: "Whatever I do, nothing ever turns out right; sometimes I just want to find some tall building and take a big fall".

His hook-up with Angelo Buono in Los Angeles proves fatal. Buono, a domineering, unctuous brute who haunts the tawdry, seedy areas of LA, persuades Bianchi to go into the hooker business. But that effort backfires as a result of one particular prostitute and as a result, the two men lose their "business". Seeking "payback", they lure into their presence, and then kill, a whole series of women, mostly street hookers, as a way to "settle the score".

Their murder partnership calls to mind the symbiotic relationship between Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, in the film "In Cold Blood" (1967). It was the liaison, the merger of mindsets that ultimately led to the killings.

Some of the scenes in "The Hillside Strangler" are quite graphic. They are hard to watch because the victims are portrayed as real people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I think the Director could have spent less time showing us the nude bodies of the victims, which strikes me as gratuitous and unnecessary.

Both C. Thomas Howell and Nicholas Turturro give performances that are credible. Allison Lange, as Bianchi's girlfriend in LA, provides about the only semblance of humanity in this dark story. Toward the film's end, an effort to enact a copycat killing renders an interestingly strange plot twist that presumably really happened.

The entire story is very depressing and disturbing. However, visual shock value notwithstanding, the film's presentation of that story is realistic and credible. It's not for the faint of heart. And the film's story has greater breadth than depth. But as a general overview of events and of the mindset of the two criminals, "The Hillside Strangler" is certainly worth watching.

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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Ultraviolence with bad intentions

5/10
Author: murking from United States
17 October 2005

I suppose it's a bit trendy to do so, but Tartan films certainly does take advantage of the direct to DVD/late night cable market. The books recounting the ill deeds of Gein, Dahmer, Gacy and Buono/Bianchi are well documented. Cram as much shock into 90 minutes as possible and if you can effectively capture the pathos and motivation of these grandiose sickos all the better. I love a challenging film, one that leaves me a bit mentally drained without long-term ill effects.

I'd say this is one of the better ones, due mostly to the benefit of having two protagonists with anti-social manias to capture instead of one. And the casting of fairly well known actors doesn't hurt either, although the roles actually could have been reversed physically speaking. What I remember from the book's photos is that Bianchi was much more vital and really did look like a cop, not the skinny smarmy John Watersy used car salesman-y figure Howell presents. And Angelo Buono was tall and lean and the book described him as incredibly fastidious and anal, whereas Turturro is a bit too cliché Italian. Either way, the formula works and I think their chemistry is still effective.

This is definitely the hardest of this series of movies by the producers. The language, the real-time realism, the fear of the victims are all very palpable.

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11 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Lust for Death

7/10
Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
14 December 2006

In the end of the 70's, the dysfunctional Kenneth Bianchi (C. Thomas Howell) lives with his mother and is obsessed to join the police force. When his application is refused, his mother suggests him to go to Los Angeles to live with his sadistic and perverted cousin Angelo Buono (Nicholas Turturro). 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 to revenge against a whore, and Kenneth strangles her, feeling a great pleasure with the act of killing. The two cousins become addicted in death, initially killing whores and then attacking single women, dumping their bodies on the hills of LA.

"The Hillside Strangler' is a low budget movie based on a true event that happened in 1977 in Los Angeles, with the police chasing one serial killer when actually they were two. The disturbing and violent story has many strong moments with the explicit sadism of the two cousins, and sex exploitation with many nudism, but it is well acted and attractive. This movie is not recommended for sensitive persons due to the psychopathic violence, but for those that like a cruel and credible story, it is a good choice. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "O Estrangulador" ("The Strangler")

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A movie from the belly of the beast!

9/10
Author: Saintthomas1985 from United States
22 December 2009

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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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Pretty Much What I Expected...

7/10
Author: Wednes from Ann Arbor, MI
1 May 2005

If you've seen the other serial killer movies by Tartan films, you'll get exactly what you expect from this film: actors you haven't seen in awhile steeped in extreme violence with not a whole lot of emphasis on the facts. There are some gruesome scenes here, though tamer than the actual crimes of the Hillside Stranglers. Pretty good performances all around, but not excellent. Some interesting camera work, better than you'd expect from a film with so low a budget.

I was concerned by the casting of Turturro and Howell, having had a fondness for the earlier portrayals by Dennis Farina and Billy Zane. Plus, C Thomas Howell just seemed too cute to play Ken Bianchi. But once I got a look at him, I was shocked by his gaunt, creepy appearance. I sincerely hope he looks better than that in real life.

To conclude, this is by no means the movie of the year, but if you liked Tartans Gein, Gacy or Bundy, give this one a watch.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

a mixed bag

5/10
Author: Roland E. Zwick (magneteach@aol.com) from United States
8 August 2005

Is there anything more inscrutable and unfathomable than the mind of a serial killer? Probably not, yet, year after year, undeterred filmmakers attempt to come to grips with this elusive subject matter, usually with unsatisfactory results.

Generally, serial killer stories are placed in the context of a police procedural, in which a crack homicide investigator searches for clues in the hopes of finding the culprit before he can claim his next victim. But, once in awhile, filmmakers will take a more serious approach to the topic, focusing more on the killer himself, his methods and his madness, as a means of trying to "open up" the psyche of such a person in the hopes of finding answers. "The Hillside Strangler" is in the second category.

The so-called "Hillside Strangler" actually turned out to be TWO serial killers who, working in tandem, terrorized Los Angeles in the early 1970's. Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono were "cousins" who acted out their hatred of women by kidnapping, raping and slaughtering an assortment of innocent victims they picked out at random (they started with streetwalkers, then branched out to women in general). Bianchi was a loser "nobody" who found murdering helpless young women and terrorizing a whole city (albeit in anonymity) the only way in which he could achieve the status of a "somebody." Buono was a smalltime auto repairman who, through the murders, finally got the opportunity to act out his sadistic sexual fantasies on an epic scale. In fact, as portrayed in the movie, both men use the killings as the ultimate orgasm, confusing the destruction of the helpless with sexual fulfillment.

The problem with a movie like "The Hillside Strangler" is that, no matter how serious it is in its intention and approach, the film is bound to feel exploitative in its darkest moments. Although this is definitely no sensationalistic rabblerousing gore-fest like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," after we've watched a half dozen or so innocent terrified young girls being essentially tortured to death, we still wind up asking ourselves what the purpose of the movie really is. Director Chuck Parello adopts a cool, detached, documentary-style tone throughout, but it still isn't enough to smooth us past the emotionally disturbing rough patches.

That being said, there are a few quality elements in "The Hillside Strangler" provided one has a high tolerance for depictions of disturbing violence. The movie effectively shows just how easily two utterly amoral individuals can pass for rational and normal in the eyes of the outside world. Bianchi is particularly adept at leading a double life, going so far as pulling the wool over the eyes of his very own wife who has no clue about her husband's deadly nocturnal activities. C. Thomas Howell and Nicholas Turturro give complex, chilling performances as Bianchi and Buono, keeping us on the knife-edge of suspense through much of the movie. The film also does a good job capturing the look of the '70's, right on down to the polyester clothes, perms and ubiquitous moustaches that helped to define the era. The poorly lit, slightly grainy photography also gives the film the look of one of those low budget exploitation pictures of thirty years ago. (There is at least one inadvertent anachronism in the film: the skyline we see in some of the establishing shots is of Los Angeles today, not three decades ago).

The screenplay by Parello and Stephen Johnston pays little heed to the detection aspects of the story, so much so that we never find out what it is that made the police suspicious of Bianchi in the first place. We see him being apprehended but have no idea what the clues were that led to his capture. This is a frustration oversight on the part of the filmmakers.

"The Hillside Strangler" deserves credit for at least trying to bring a more controlled, less sensationalistic approach to a topic that often gets thrown onto the trash heap of two-bit police dramas and slasher horror films. But, for all its good intentions, the film doesn't wind up revealing much about the psychotic mindset that we didn't already know before. Thus, the rewards are not sufficient compensation for the unpleasantness of sitting through so much of the movie.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Pretty Good

6/10
Author: necredeye from Hollywood, CA
19 July 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was a pretty decent flick. It wasn't amazing or anything. It had a real dirty 70s feel to it though. Thats what I liked best. The film has dirty language and dirty characters, which I enjoyed. They drop some serious bad words in bad combinations and mistreat women pretty constantly. Its not a happy film. Its a little light on the horror and gore, but its not really focusing on that. It focuses more on what kind people the serial killers were. Namely dirty bad people. But I found myself enjoying it and have recommended it to like-minded individuals. If you like dirty and exploitative films, you'll enjoy this throwback.

I give it an overall 6 of 10, but it will probably find its niche out there.

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Lacking in Substance

6/10
Author: normbatesjr-1 from Mooresville, NC
24 December 2004

Well, not bad but by no means not great. What is missing from this telling of The Hillside Strangler story is what is usually important to making a good serial killer movie: "police involvement". The fact that what really stumped the LAPD for so long is that they didn't know they were looking for two people was key in the real-life story and not even mentioned here. Also the film makers failed to really show (only in some quick snippets) just how sick and twisted these two were and some of the really gruesome things they did to their victims. I'm not saying it needed to be shown but it should have been at least mentioned. But there again that would call for police involvement. That being said I would mention that C. Thomas Howell turns in a pretty good performance here. With his gaunt appearance, silly thin mustache and pathetic shleprock mannerisms he gives his character, he almost channels the spirit of an icky Willem Dafoe performance. Almost. I'll be kind and give this a C-.

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