Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Boston Strangler: The Untold Story (dir by Michael Fiefer)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR. It’s going to take a while.  She recorded this true crime thriller off of Showtime on June 1st.)

I have to admit that the main reason that I recorded Boston Strangler: The Untold Story off of Showtime was because I thought it was going to be one of Ulli Lommel’s infamously terrible true crime movies.  I had so much fun reviewing Curse of the Zodiac a few years ago that I always keep an eye out for anything that could possibly have been directed by the infamous Mr. Lommel.

Well, it turns out I was wrong.  This is not one of Lommel’s films.  Instead, Boston Strangler: The Untold Story is a fairly serious-minded examination of the enduring mystery of the Boston Strangler.

Now, the Boston Strangler isn’t exactly a household name anymore.  He committed his murders in the 60s, before the term serial killer had even been invented.  He is thought to have strangled at least 13 women in the Boston area, ranging in age from 85 to 19.  Eventually, a man named Albert DeSalvo was arrested for committing a series of rapes.  While he was awaiting trial on those charges, DeSalvo announced that he was also the Boston Strangler.

For the most part, it was assumed that DeSalvo was telling the truth when he confessed.  In 1967, a movie, perhaps the first ever made about serial murder, was released.  It was called The Boston Strangler and it starred Tony Curtis in the title role.  It still shows up on TCM and, from the start, it assumes that DeSalvo was guilty of the murders to which he confessed.

However, what was often overlooked was that DeSalvo was never actually put on trial for any of the murders.  (In fact, before he confessed, DeSalvo wasn’t even considered to be a suspect.)  In those days, before the discovery of DNA, there was no concrete physical evidence linking DeSalvo to the crime and his confessions were often so inconsistent that many detectives continued to have their doubts about whether or not DeSalvo was telling the truth.  He received a life sentence for a series of rapes and robberies that he had committed but he was never charged with a single murder.  DeSalvo later retracted his confession and then, a few years after the Tony Curtis film came out, DeSalvo was murdered in his cell.

(I should note that, in 2013, Boston authorities announced that DNA evidence had linked DeSalvo to the final murder, that of 19 year-old Mary Sullivan.  However, there are some who argue that the Mary Sullivan murder had so little in common with the other murders that she was probably not a victim of the original Boston Strangler.  Who knows?)

Making this story even more intriguing is that, while DeSalvo was being held for trial, his cellmate was George Nasser who, unlike DeSalvo, actually was considered to be a suspect in the murders.  There is a popular theory that DeSalvo, already facing a life sentence, agreed to confess to Nasser’s murders so that his family would be financially taken care of.

That’s certainly the theory that’s presented in Boston Strangler: The Untold Story.  In this film, DeSalvo (played by David Faustino) is just a loser who ends up being manipulated by his cellmate (Kostas Sommer).  The lead detective (Andrew Divoff) doubts DeSalvo’s confessions but everyone else just wants to be able to close the book on the murders that have gripped Boston in fear.  Boston Strangler: The Untold Story is a strange mismash of styles, veering from docudrama to horror.  It makes for a somewhat jarring viewing experience but the film does create and maintain a properly ominous atmosphere.  Though the film argues that DeSalvo was not a murderer, it still portrays him as being an empty man with no conscience and, even if he wasn’t a murderer, his very existence still left me feeling unsettled.  David Faustino is odd casting as DeSalvo and it takes a while to get used to him.  However, Kostas Sommer is chilling in the Nasser role and SyFy fans will be interested to know that Corin Nemec plays F. Lee Bailey.  If you’re into true crime, I’d say give the film a chance.

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