Son of Sam
Directed and Written by Ulli Lommel
Starring Yogi Joshi, Elissa Dowling, Jamie Bernadette, Cassandra Church, Bertrand Pare, Dawna Chae
Release Date: September 9th, 2008
Between 1976 and 1977, David Berkowitz murdered six people and wounded seven others in a series of attacks that terrorized New York City. He was dubbed the .44 Caliber Killer by newspapers and was self-titled the Son of Sam in a letter found near one of the shooting victims. After Berkowitz was finally arrested, in part due to an unpaid parking ticket, he cited both a Satanic cult he was supposedly a member of and his next door neighbor’s dog that was possessed by a demon who commanded him to go out and kill. This is Berkowitz’s story, as recounted through the imagination of Ulli Lommel.
Lommel, who has been making movies since the early 1970s, has seemingly made his post-2000 career out of writing and directing low budget direct-to-video tales about true-life serial killers or knockoffs of Hollywood fare. One would guess that after a handful of misses he’d finally get one right, but Son of Sam is not that film. Here, Lommel takes broad strokes with the most generic information about Berkowitz to paint a clearly unnecessary fictionalized account of the Son of Sam murders. Truth is always stranger than fiction. Would it have killed Lommel to browse through the Wikipedia entry on Berkowitz to get some of the details right?
From start to finish, hardly any of the facts about the case are even touched upon. Perhaps most insulting to the victims of the Berkowitz is that all of the murder sequences in the film have no correlation to the actual murders, and features embarrassingly cheap blood effects that shouldn’t be seen outside some 15-year-old’s homemade movie. Those familiar with the finer details of Berkowitz will note that it was not the dog who was named Sam (from which “Son of Sam” is taken) but the dog’s owner, and that Berkowitz was definitely not on friendly terms with the pooch. And though it has never been confirmed that Berkowitz was part of a Satanic cult, here it is essentially construed as fact and that it is the reason for Berkowitz’s decision to kill.
Beyond the ingenuous inconsistencies with the real case, Lommel shows once again that he should not be let anywhere near film equipment. From the shoddy camera direction and awful use of spotlights for his night shots to the retina-destroying use of image flaring when Berkowitz is commanded to killed and the triple exposure shots during the Satanic sÃ©ances, Son of Sam is a visual atrocity. Add to the fact that a good portion of the already short running time is spent watching Berkowitz staring off into space, and you’ll quick realize that the entire film be spent fighting to keep your eyesight of fighting to stay awake.
Things don’t fare much better for the cast. Yogi Joshi makes his film debut in the lead role of Berkowitz, who was essentially picked due to his vague resemblance to the real life Son of Sam. Joshi’s performance is practically static the entire time, save for a few bouts of shouting at his defense attorney or flubbing through some improvised dialogue. The success of the film’s believability rides squarely on the shoulders of Joshi, but can not tap into the menacing demand of the role. Much like the rest of the film, Joshi’s performance just can’t be taken seriously. The rest of the cast, bless their starving actor hearts, appear to be reading their lines from cue cards or have just memorized them before Lommel shouts “action!”
How Lommel continues to get funds for these cheap productions is anyone’s guess. You’d think that he’d either start making some competent releases, or the audience would finally learn from their mistakes. It seems however that we are doomed to dance this dance forever, and ever.
Lionsgate takes responsibility for distributing this movie to the unsuspecting masses, while trying desperately to attach itself to marketing artwork of Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam. Included on the disc is an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film with stereo sound, and accompanying Spanish subtitles. An audio commentary features Lommel and his crew talking about the movie, and sounds like it was recorded by a tape player via a speaker phone. A selection of other serial-killer themed movie trailers and a stills gallery rounds up the sparse special features.