The Hillside Strangler (2004)
This is a movie I absolutely HAD to pick up when I saw it on the shelf because I am a true crime buff and I am very familiar with this murderous duo. I often will watch movies that are based on true crime events. I always want to see how close Hollywood gets to the actual facts when they do these movies. So often, they embellish or just run off into a whole new realm with the story. (Sometimes, “Based on True Events” means that they took one fact from the real case and used that for the basis for a whole fictional tale. That doesn’t mean it really happened that way.)
Now, when we hear about serial killers, we often think “What made them that way? Why did they do that?” We often seem to want a nice neat answer that will explain away all of the evil we just learned of. And while a lot of the documentaries you will see will only talk about the murders themselves because, frankly, that’s what sells. We rarely get to hear about what led up to the initial murder or the one thing that put them over the edge.
In this Chuck Parello film written by Stephen Johnston, we get a closer look at the events causing these two men to become murders.
We start with Kenneth Bianchi, played by C. Thomas Howell. (Quick note, ever since I saw Howell in ‘The Hitcher’ in the late 80s, I have been a fan. He’s played a serial killer on Criminal Minds and has been in a number of horror/thriller films. He’s done other stuff like the movie ‘Side Out’ (where he is a lawyer that plays beach volleyball…I know…don’t say it) but, he really has a knack for the wicked and psychotic, I must say.) Bianchi is a young man with little marketable skill, living with his mother. Yet he is determined to be a police officer…my guess is for all the wrong reasons…which is probably why he is repeatedly turned down for the academy. (See, when you apply to be a police officer they have you fill out a bunch of paperwork. In that paperwork is a psychological questionnaire. This is used to determine whether or not you have the mental and emotional capacity to be a police officer. They ask you questions like:
You find out your mother is embezzling small amounts of money from her place of employment. She is using the money for medical care for your father. Do you report her to the authorities? Yes or No.
Now, what they are doing here is trying to find out where your moral compass is, if you have any room for judgment or if you strictly follow the rules, that kind of thing. Many government entities use this type of evaluation process. There are also portions of the “test” that are like:
I have trouble communicating when I am angry.
I find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time.
And you are to answer in the Never, Sometimes, Mostly, Always kind of answer.)
Bianchi fails this test numerous times because of his answers to particular questions. His mother, apparently sensing he needs a push, I guess in any direction, she sends him to live with his cousin Angelo Buono (Nicholas Turturro).
Buono, who is already a man on the edge, talks Bianchi into starting a prostitution ring with him after he is rejected for the academy yet again, this time from the LAPD. Angelo has also been throwing women and drugs at Kenneth ever since he showed up in LA. Angelo also seems to have a deep disrespect, if not hatred, for women in general. His mother says that he raped his step-daughter and then left her to his two sons to have their turns with her…and he bragged about it. (This is not a well man. Why Bianchi’s mother EVER thought THIS was the right influence for her son is beyond me.)
Bianchi uses a ruse as a talent agent to pick up young women from all over. He then brings them to Buono’s house, saying that the modeling job has been cancelled and they need to work off the expenses for getting them there. If the girls refuse, they get beaten. Bianchi and Buono both continue this racket, raping these girls and marketing them as prostitutes. And the guys think things are going well.
Bianchi is living with his girlfriend, who is pregnant with his child. They constantly fight and eventually she leaves him.
Then, jealous that these two are moving in on their business, a bunch of guys shake down Bianchi and Buono, take all of their money and put them out of business.
Now, they got their “client list” from a prostitute that has ties to the men that stole all their money. They figure she’s the reason they got jumped so they decide to take revenge on her.
They coax her into their car one night and, after much bullying and razzing from Buono, Bianchi kills her in the backseat.
They quickly become engrossed in the feeling of power they derive from murder. Kenneth likes to impersonate a police officer while Buono simply has no patience. They both like to kill prostitutes thinking that 1) they are above these women and 2) nobody will miss such a woman if she goes missing.
They kidnap, rape and murder multiple women, their taste for killing becoming more and more insatiable. They are not only doing this for the adrenaline rush anymore or the power, they actually see it as a fun activity, like most people would go bowling or to a movie.
During this whole time, Kenneth is trying to reconcile with his girlfriend, Claire, and it is NOT going well. He has become even more unreliable and is now a perpetual liar. She has decided that she doesn’t want Ken to see their baby or have any part in the baby’s life.
Meanwhile, the heat is building up as big headlines are breaking the news. The police have fifty-five officers working full time by the discovery of their fourth victim. With all the noise surrounding their crimes, Buono thinks it’s time to cool off on the killing for a bit. Ya know, wait for things to blow over. Kenneth does not agree and wants to keep killing.
While obtaining their next victim, they have a very close call, almost getting caught with her in their arms and they have to use the fire escape of her apartment building to flee. This is what finally makes Buono crack and he says they need to stop for a while. But, Bianchi decides to go out on his own. He was even raping and killing a young woman while his baby was being born and missed her birth because of it.
Buono gets extremely angry with Bianchi and tells him to leave, basically disowning him at a very low point in his life. This causes him to start to devolve and lose control. He soon goes on his own crime spree in which he is careless and leaves evidence, leading the police right to him.
The police track the jewelry of some of the victims to Bianchi’s girlfriend, Claire. She tells them about Angelo and he is quickly arrested.
Six months later, while he is in prison, Bianchi’s new girlfriend tries to kill someone while he is incarcerated. They are hoping the “copycat” murder will free him. She is unsuccessful and her victim escapes and she is subsequently arrested.
Bianchi and Buono are both sentenced to life in prison.
This movie was pretty good at portraying the depth of disturbed and vile behavior of these two killers. It’s obvious that Bianchi has some serious insecurity issues. He is also the follower here, Buono being the leader.
The murder scenes in this movie are okay but, they are quick. There is a lot of sex in this movie so if that is something that bothers you, you’ll want to pass on this film.
They also did a great job in making this film look dated. The did an excellent job making it look like it not only took place in the 70s but, also filmed in a way that made it more old school and retro.
You really get a feel for how sick and twisted these guys really were. As I watched the movie, it just got more and more disturbing. It’s one thing to read about this stuff or watch it in a documentary but, to see it brought to life like this really makes it much more horrifying.
While I think the personalities were portrayed well, I do wish they could have found someone to play Buono that at least looked a little like him. I mean, Turturro isn’t even close. Howell kind of, sort of looks like Bianchi but, Turturro doesn’t look like Angelo at all.
All of that being said, this would be a good movie to watch if you are a serial killer buff and/or like true crime stories. They got it pretty close to the truth from what I know about the case.
Leave a Reply.