THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Tom Hanson
AGFA (American Genre Film Archive)/Something Weird Video/MVD Visual

With the Zodiac Killer loose on the streets, filmmaker Tom Hanson sets out to capture him with the lure of THE ZODIAC KILLER, on Blu-ray/DVD combo as the debut release of AGFA and Something Weird Video.

With a killer shooting and knifing couples and shooting motorists as he works his way north from Los Angeles, the police – represented by Sergeant Pittman (Ray Lynch) and Officer Pittman (Tom Pittman, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS) – are at a loss with no physical evidence and even the usual suspects having rock solid alibis. When a newspaper receives a letter with very specific details about the killings not released by the police signed by someone called Zodiac and demanding they publish a cryptogram he has enclosed with the letter, the police know that he now plans to strike again, claiming victims among those whose animal nature might block his spiritual progress as his servants when he moves onto a higher plane of existence. As the police chase shadows and consult bogus psychics (Aaron Koslow, MICROWAVE MASSACRE), the film studies the contrasts between two suspects: bitter divorcee Grover (Bob Jones), a truck driver who dons a toupee to play high-powered executive in order to attract women but whose deep misogynistic bent threatens to explode upon his ex-wife Helen (Dion Marinkovich) or any woman who rejects or ridicules him, and mailman Jerry (Hal Reed, THE DOBERMAN GANG), a polite, unassuming individual who prefers his pet rabbits to "evil people" (whether or not that includes the insatiable housewives who cannot keep their hands off of him on his rounds). Both men's tormented personal lives are pushing them towards the edge, but only one is bent on taking other with him.

While a lot of independent genre films are primarily business transactions in that they are either passion projects or a means of paying the rent funded by investors seeking bigger tax breaks, THE ZODIAC KILLER was not mounted with any pretense of art or entertainment but as a lure to entice and capture the killer himself with a screening that would end with a drawing for a Kawasaki motorcycle for those who answered the question printed on their ticket "I believe the Zodiac Killer kills because…" with which they would compare the handwriting to the letters sent to the San Francisco Chronicle's Paul Avery who supplied them to the production. Although the tone varies wildly and the pacing is just as haphazard, the film's recreation of the Zodiac Killer's actual murders and a few others are blunt and brutal. A couple other killings are slightly absurd and comical but they are reflective of the killer going off the rails in a psychological profile that may not accurate at all but depicts the killings as an outlet for mental anguish at personal tragedy and existential anguish, with the film suggesting through the character's narration that the killer himself could be anyone and that every member of the audience might have at one time come into contact with him, someone who has killed, or someone who has seriously thought about killing. While not a particularly good film, it holds interest not only a time capsule of the setting but of the society rocked by the killings (THE ZODIAC KILLER being the first of a handful of films about the killings made while they were still occurring, including THE ZODIAC RAPIST with John Holmes and Clint Eastwood's DIRTY HARRY).

Released first in the San Francisco by Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick themselves for the aforementioned sting and in other territories by Audubon Films, the film crept onto VHS from Academy Home Entertainment in the eighties in a nondescript big box but would not be heard of again until Something Weird Video's upgraded their VHS and DVD-R with an Image Entertainment "Sharpshooter Triple Feature" with ZERO IN AND SCREAM and Barry Mahon's THE SEX KILLER. With the 16mm camera negative lost, the lone surviving 35mm print from Something Weird has been utilized by AFGA to create a new 4K scan which served as the basis for their 1080p24 MPEG-4 pillarboxed 1.33:1 transfer. The color had further degraded since the 2003 DVD master, but AGFA's conservative color correction and clean-up has resulted in a crisper image with more naturalistic skin tones and redder blood. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sports clear dialogue and music, while English SDH subtitles are also thoughtfully provided.

AGFA director Joseph Ziemba and head archivist Sebastian del Castillo moderate a commentary track, first discussing how they became acquainted with the Something Weird Video library and crowdfunding a 4K scanner in order to make the SWV titles and other prints they have preserved available as DCP and on Blu-ray before they join director Hanson and producer Nedwick to look back at the film which was funded by Hanson and Nedwick selling franchises of the Pizza Man chain with a basic script (with contributions from about twenty people), no location scouting (with DP Bob Birchall responsible for the blocking and staging), shooting on-the-fly with a sole interest of getting it in the can and up on the screen to catch the killer. They discuss the cast and crew members – one of the actors claimed to be an heir of Howard Hughes and moved to Nevada to be part of the lawsuit regarding his alleged final will – along with details of the screening in which Hanson believes the did meet the killer (who he started searching for again years later). Hanson also appears in "Let's Get This Guy: The Origins of The Zodiac Killer" (3:35), a brief video interview that presents a short recap of the commentary info.

There is no trailer for the film but "Tabloid-Horror Trailers from the AGFA Archive" features trailers for CARNIVAL OF BLOOD, THE MANSON MASSACRE, THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS, THREE ON A MEATHOOK, and THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (excepting the last one, hopefully we might see some of these on Blu-ray from AGFA). The disc also includes a bonus feature in one-shot writer/producer/director's dire ANOTHER SON OF SAM (71:57) in which an asylum inmate named Harvey who was sexually molested by his mother (Anne Owens, MADE IN HEAVEN) is transferred to a local hospital to undergo shock treatment and is triggered to escape and go on a killing spree. Joining the manhunt is Lt. Setzer (Russ Dubuc) who is too emotionally involved since it was his doctor girlfriend (Cynthia Stewart) that Harvey has beaten into a coma to affect his escape. With the papers and the mayor breathing down their neck for Harvey's escape and their inability to recapture him, Setzer stumbles upon Harvey's hiding place when he heads to the nearby college to respond to a call from student Darlene (Kim Saunders, GETTING IT ON) who suspects desperate friend Tina (Pam Mullins) of being the culprit behind some missing money. When Tina's roommate Heather (Bonnie Schrier) finds her dead in their dorm room, Setzer seals off the building and calls the police to search the building. The search turns up nothing, but Harvey is lurking in there and he takes Heather and Darlene hostage. As Setzer and ill-fated Officer Shuster (Larry Sprinkle, HOUSE OF DEATH) sneak back into the building, Captain Thompson (Bob McCourt) calls in the SWAT lead by gung-ho Lt. Nelson (Garland Atkins), but his rash actions may be detrimental to the hostages.

A completely unrelated cash-in and a real dog of a film, ANOTHER SON OF SAM may be the most boring hostage situation ever committed to film, as the filmmakers cut away from anything exploitable – with the exception a cheesy full-length love ballad by Tom Jones wannabe Johnny Charro (as himself) with axe-like editing while the least important plot points are emphasized with optical freeze frames, and lapsing into slow motion at moments that should be tense but never culminate in anything dangerous or tragic. Exposition and characterization is just as threadbare as anything that might lead to excitement, and no amount of slow-motion squibs can help. The film was shot in Charlotte, North Carolina and features some "talent" in front of and behind the camera who would also work on Earl Owensby productions and other films shot at his studio.

Although a poster exists for the film, ANOTHER SON OF SAM understandably appears to have had little theatrical exposure before its early 1980s Nite Flite Video clamshell tape release (followed by a 2005 VHS and DVD-R release from Something Weird Video). The 35mm theatrical print used for AGFA's 2K scan appears to have been in much better shape than THE ZODIAC KILLER, and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is clean and colorful apart from a large red scratch during a stalking sequence, some damage at the reel changes, some scratches that might have occurred while creating the optical freeze frames, and a bit of missing footage when Heather berates Setzer after discovering her dead roommate. There are no extras related to the film, and the twelve-page booklet only focuses on THE ZODIAC KILLER with an extract from Chris Poggiali's interview with Tom Hanson published in full at his Temple of Schlock blog. (Eric Cotenas)