The lives and sordid actions of serial killers are so far beyond the pale that they rather understandably make rich fodder for movies, with Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and of course Aileen Wuornos — for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar in Monster — getting recent screen treatments. Next up is John Wayne Gacy, who serves as the imprisoned boogeyman in Dear Mr. Gacy, a film that puts a strange twist on the inside-the-mind-of-a-killer sub-genre.
Based on a curious but apparently true story, as chronicled in
the bestselling book The Last Victim, Dear Mr. Gacy recounts the experiences of a headstrong 18-year-old college student, Jason Moss (Jesse Moss), and his relationship with the notorious Gacy (William Forsythe), an Iowa businessman, short-order cook and community volunteer who got demented mileage out of frequently parading around in a clown costume. As part of a school assignment, Moss sends a letter to Gacy in prison, portraying himself as a vulnerable kid, and hoping to work his way into his psyche and get him to confess his crimes. (Gacy initially admitted to many murders, but later recanted, explaining away the more than two dozen bodies found in a crawl space in his house as part of a strange police conspiracy.)
Suspicious at first, Gacy subjects Moss to a series of tests, but is won over by some beefcake photos and collect-call telephone conversations, coming to eventually trust him, and value his friendship. Moss’ preoccupation with Gacy somewhat understandably confounds his
girlfriend Alyssa (Emma Lahana), and his younger brother is a bit creeped out too, when Gacy starts requesting letters from him. What follows is a bizarre game of psychological cat-and-mouse between two manipulators, in which Gacy alternately cajoles, rants, rages and urges the youngster who he believes is his new friend to engage in street hustling, while Moss finds his life turned upside down in unexpected ways. When it seems things couldn’t get even more unusual, Gacy’s death row appeal is denied, and he sends an invitation to Moss to visit him in prison for a private meeting.
Moss (The Uninvited, Final Destination 3) does a capable job as… Moss (weird twist, that), in that he basically has to play a smart kid who’s way in over his head — who has a game plan, but not a back-up plan (or more deeply seated psychological mooring) for when Gacy starts to pull some really sick shit. In this regard, Moss ably communicates the overwhelmed nature and quiet interior panic of his character (or his acting shortcomings do the same thing). Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects), meanwhile, has a Rolodex of sickos and weirdos to his credit, and while he’s obviously given the showier role, he seems to intuitively understand — even if the quality of the writing he’s given is sometimes lacking — that since he’s playing Gacy already incarcerated he’s not playing a “monster” so much as Gacy playing another character (aggrieved victim of justice and all that), lashing out in weird, distasteful ways.
The basic problems with Dear Mr. Gacy seem to stem from a sweetheart adherence to its source material — to not step outside of Moss’ life and his interactions with Gacy, and render judgment or at least deeper shading upon Gacy himself. The film ends on a strange note, too, with footage of the real-life Jason Moss appearing on a talk show, chatting about his motivations for writing the serial killer. Then a brief textual overlay informs us that he took his own life only several years later. This coda undercuts Dear Mr. Gacy, and makes its dramatic machinations seem entirely empty, because clearly there was something deeper going on with Moss — something that this film sidesteps entirely.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Dear Mr. Gacy comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, and optional English and Spanish subtitles. Along with the teaser and theatrical preview trailers, the disc’s only other supplemental feature is a 22-minute making-of featurette, which looks into the production, and features interviews with cast and crew as well as one of Gacy’s childhood friends, Barry Boschelli, who walks and talks with Forsythe. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C+ (Disc)