Confessions of a Serial Killer

Director: Mark Blair                                   
Robert A. Burns, Dennis Hill, Berkley Garrett

A woman is trying to start her stalled car at the side of a road. Soon a nerdy looking man pulls up and offers to drive her to the nearest gas station. Since it's the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, and no one else around, she reluctantly accepts. They drive off in his junk food wrapper filled car, and make a little small talk. He drives past a gas station, and says nothing. She says nothing as well, but is obviously worried. Then she looks at the door handle and sees it's been broken off. She panics. Please, I have a fiancÚ, I'm going to get married, I'll give you money, I won't tell. Silence. She keeps pleading. Okay, he says, I was know - Just let me out, she insists. He stops the car, and goes outside to open her door. After he opens her door, he pulls out a jackknife and brutally stabs her to death.

Do not let the awful video box art (showing a man clad in Hannibal Lecter-like restraints) fool you; Confessions of a Serial Killer has nothing in common with Silence of the Lambs. And it's not a bad movie at all - in fact, it's one of the best movies I've seen in the last few months. The movie is based on the same real life case that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was based on, and comparing the two movies together one is struck by how similar the two movies are. A rip-off, you are probably saying. Actually, there doesn't seem to be any indication that the makers of Confessions were imitating Henry. Though it is true that Henry was made in 1986 - a year before Confessions - Henry actually wasn't released until 1990, because of the burden of its X rating. So the makers of Confessions made this very similar movie without any knowledge of Henry, which is quite a coincidence. It's also quite a coincidence that this 1987 was shelved for several years as well. It was made by Concorde Pictures, possibly for theatrical release, but released in 1992 on New Horizons Home Video. Could it be that the distributors of this movie also felt that there would be problems with a theatrical release? These coincidences and others the two movies share are quite eerie.

But what's really eerie about the movie is not the similarities that it has with Henry, but that it's eerie in its own right. That opening scene described at the beginning of this review sets the tone for Confessions, a movie that pulls us into the mind of a serial killer and refuses to let us escape. The movie shows us the life of killer Daniel Ray Hawkins (Burns), who tells his life story in a series of confessions during an interrogation by a small town police department. Hawkins, a passive, unemotional man, tells the authorities about his life, starting with his life growing up with a sluttish mother and a paralyzed father, who killed himself after Hawkins' mother kept bringing in men in the house for her desires. Hawkins first kill is when he is a teenager and a local prostitute rejects him, then grows up into a drifter who drives around the country and randomly kills people (mostly women). Then much of the remainder of the movie deals with Hawkins' relationship (in more ways than one) with equally insane "Moon", and Moon's sister Molly.

And this part of the movie is also brutal, especially since now that there is more than one killer. Though Confessions is an intense, violent, and brutal movie, a lot of this mood doesn't actually come from seeing the murders directly. In several instances, director Blair sets up scenes like Tobe Hooper did in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by suggesting there is more violence than we actually see. The sequence where Hawkins clubs a prostitute to death is directed so that for the most part we just hear the clubbing. And a part where we see a glimpse of the action at first glance seems to show the club hitting the woman, but a rewind of the shot shows that the club never actually hit the woman. Some murders happen off-screen, as when Hawkins fires a shot from a doorway into a room with a victim we don't see get killed. Also, Blair understands that shooting a scene in silence can make it more atmospheric. A sequence when the contents of three shoe boxes are uncovered is done with no dialogue, and the implications of these contents sink in deeply because there's nothing to distract us. But most scary of all is how Blair creates a sense of helplessness; we see that anybody can be a victim anywhere, and show that there's always a situation where we are powerless. When Hawkins or one of his friends are near some strangers, we have a sick feeling that something bad will happen. We are not sure what will happen, but we're sure something bad will happen. The scene keeps going and going with the victim still not seeing he or she is in danger, adding to the tension. We want to cry out, to do something, but we can't do anything, not even turn our head away. Then when the victim realizes he or she is in danger, Blair doesn't make it a quick killing. Blair extends the sequence to show the victim suffering in the hands of the killers, or trying desperately to escape to safety, always while in hot pursuit by Hawkins or one of his friends. Both of these results are at times almost unbearable to watch, because they seem like what would happen in real life. No snarling, over-the-top villains, but cold, brutal real people who kill other real people.

One of the key to a movie like this is how believable the villain is. Robert A. Burns, a production designer (who also did that same task for this movie) does an outstanding job as Hawkins. He looks creepy, and wisely acts in an understated manner, telling the authorities what he's done in a matter-of-fact tone. Burns also narrates his flashbacks, and without snarling, growling, or making gratuitous statement, he manages in his tone of voice to show his character's deep hatred of women as well as his utter lack of  humanity. It's too bad that this role seems to be Burns' only role to date; it's clear from this movie that he deserves more roles. Also, Burns' production design, and Blair direction give this movie the gritty look and feel it needs - this is a case where slick design and direction would be disastrous. Though it's clear that they were working with a pitiful budget, they actually used it to their advantage - seeing no-name stars in locations that are more accessible to audiences give this an even more convincing feel.

The movie is actually an improvement over Henry in one regard - it takes some time to show us the central character's life in his early years, showing what helped shaped him into a cold-blooded killer. Not a lot of time, but better than the device of using passing references in Henry. So is then Confessions of a Serial Killer better than Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer? Though it comes close, I don't think it quite matches the better known movie. The sickness of the characters in Henry and their killings were more graphic and intense, and they were more memorable. We don't learn much about Moon and his sister in Confessions, or what makes them tick. The last quarter or so of Confessions is pretty much one story that we know how it will end, only it takes some time to get to that end. As well, since we see Hawkins telling the story via flashback in custody, we know eventually what's going to happen to him. Despite this, Blair ends the movie like Henry's ending, in a way that has us wondering, "My God, what now?" This movie may not be as good as Henry, but it is a very good movie. Good enough that, if released first, Confessions of a Serial Killer might be the movie that's talked about while Henry stayed in the obscurity that this movie unfortunately now is in.

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See also: Madman, Manson, The Other