Ted Bundy was a psychopath who believed he was better and smarter than the law. John Wayne Gacy had a thing for sexually assaulting and killing young men. Jeffrey Dahmer attacked young boys and wanted to make them all into his personal sex slaves.
Then there’s Bob Berdella. Berdella was the Kansas City combination of Dahmer and Gacy; an openly homosexual recluse preying on young men and hoping to create slaves he could keep for his sexual pleasure. Berdella’s spree lasted only four years before he was caught and arrested.
“Berdella” is an independent film telling the little-known tale of Bob and his criminal methods. The film opens with Bob admitting to some fellow drunken rednecks that he has a young man captured in his basement. They don’t believe him, and Bob gets away with killing him. (This is a direct parallel to Dahmer’s teenage victim Konerak who escaped and was returned to Dahmer’s apartment by police.) What follows is a sequence of events that show Bob’s inconsistent social behavior.
Bob flies off the handle at the newspaper mention of his victim. He barks at an old woman asking for his participation in the town’s historical society. He murders a needy acquaintance badly in need of a fix. Then he talks a couple into quitting drugs and going straight. The guy is a head case. Bob continues to kill and abuse his victims (sometimes in that order).
When Bob isn’t taking in drug addicts or pumping dead bodies in his basement, he occupies Bob’s Bizarre Bazaar; a booth at a flea market. “Berdella” follows Bob along his strange path of action, weaving in and out of various social circles, fulfilling his killer instinct, and providing drugs to the needy while making them promise to quit. The film sleeps along, documentary style, for more than a half hour before kicking into the torture genre. That’s the point where Bob takes the high-dive off the deep end, and the film kicks into high gear.
Bob gets a second crack at his buddy, Larry, and it doesn’t take him long to live out his fantasies with his long-time friend. Bob moves from necrophiliac to torturer, unleashing a new level he hadn’t previously experienced. The transition is seamless, but the understated way that the directors deliver it is very effective. They never stray from the filters and pacing of the earlier shots. This makes the contrast between Bob’s earlier acts and the climax of his dementia that much more effective.
“Berdella” is an interesting combination of serial killer documentary and the torture porn genre. Seth Correa is a good fit as the sick, sadistic, dominant titular character. The other actors are hit or miss, depending on the scene, but Correa is the anchor to the movie. If he doesn’t work, nothing works, and fortunately, Correa makes a convincing sadist.
The film is punctuated by a wide range of musical styles, from single piano to electronic, to hard rock. Each mode helps to put viewers inside the uncontrollable urges Berdella experiences; touching all the highs and lows he can’t control, but must feel.
The only omission from “Berdella” is Bob’s bizarre back story. Knowing why Bob became who he did would have helped viewers understand him better. Unfortunately, Bob, like all characters in the film, isn’t given any depth. Viewers simply see what he does, and what the others do, and are never treated to the reasons why. They also aren’t given any particular payoff.
“Berdella” is an interesting surface-level only view into the workings of a psychopath who believes he is better than those around him, smarter than the law, and justified in his sexual misconceptions. Unfortunately, the film never truly defines a hero and villain. There is no one to root for, or really root against. It’s got a great premise, a twisted sadomasochist in its sights, and little else, and would benefit from deeper insight into why Bob does what he does, and why he must be stopped. Otherwise, it’s just a gore-filled story, running at an average pace, with an average resolution.