Ulli Lommel's early film about an historical serial killer The Tenderness of Wolves (1973) remains one of the great films of the genre, gross, disturbing, yet artful. For his entire filmmaking career Ulli has been revisiting the serial killer theme, preferring to create creepy documents of killers who actually existed.
Though he would never equal the artistic mastery of Tenderness, & would be pretty much a sleazy schlock director throughout his career, there is nevertheless something about his work (perhaps only the maturity of Ulli's perspective) that makes them occasionally something special, supposing a viewer has much chance of liking serial killer movies to begin with.
Ulli isn't a director whose work I'd recommend to viewers not already fond of schlock & gore, but for those of us who've already expressed such guilty pleasures, Ulli is something of a minor god, certainly an icon both as an actor & a director of lurid horrors.
Recently he has been documenting, one after another, several modern serial killers, releasing in 2004 & 2005 a slew of features, including Zodiac Killer, B.T.K. Killer & Killer Pickton.
Though made fast & cheap, there is not really a film-formula, as Ulli lets each killer's actual history inform the mood, imagery, content, & story development, so that each portrait of a real-life psycho really is like portraiture.
For Green River Killer Ulli made the perhaps alarming decision to start the film off as soft-core porn culminating in death. By focusing on Gary Ridgeway's screwing his victims, Ulli has made a snuff film, & it's surprising how dull that can be. However, after we get through the extraordinarily bad porno flick that takes up the first fifteen minutes of film time, the "portrait" angle of Ridgeway begins.
Ulli does not adhere to facts. He researches a killer, filters his bastard-of-choice through his own sensibilities, then makes more or less an interpretation. The real Ridgeway was avowedly impotent through most of his killing career, though early on he did have sex with some of his victims. So Ulli can pick & chose what he wants to show; he decided he preferred a more sexually capable Ridgeway than actually existed.
If I hadn't seen so many of his films it would be tempting to say his choices reflect his tastes, but in the context of his oeuvre, Ulli's just always testing new angles, pushing the boundaries of trashiness in differing directions. The incorrect angle that assumes the sex act itself was very important to Ridgeway turns out not to be one of the most effective things Ulli has tried.
Even so, if the viewer can just look past the pornographic elements of the film, there is much else here, even if it takes fifteen minutes to even begin to delve into anything else. The goriness of Gary's rampage against prostitutes is not too graphically portrayed (considering the genre) but in Gary's nightmares we see some hideously expressionistic graphic gore with Gary rather than the prostitutes the primary victim. These bits are superior gore-flick stuff, as well as curious psychological interpretation.
The quieter moments of the film are the best, as we are invited to attempt to fathom Gary in his own words. A few bits of the videos of Gary's actual confessions are incorporated in the fictional retelling, & some of the text of his confession makes it into the scripted dialogues.
Forgiving the film some serious lapses of judgement, there really is some stuff here worthy of Ulli as an artist above & beyond the exploitation. It probably remains the case, though, that one would have to be either very fond of its schlock format, or interested in Ulli's broader oeuvre, to detect that Green River Killer isn't as totally awful as it seems at first blush.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl