Something beneath upstanding citizen, minor political demi-god, contractor, and friend to all John Wayne Gacy’s house. Anyone with a clear memory back to the middle 1970’s remembers the horror stories surrounding John Wayne Gacy’s house of homosexual horrors where the bodies of 30 young men were unearthed.
Lions Gate Entertainment brings a tightly written and generally engrossing look at the last year or so of Gacy’s freedom in their new release Gacy (aka; “The Crawl Space”). This films follows two other well produced, well written, and well acted serial killer biopics about Ed Gein (starring a stunningly eerie Steve Railsback) and Jeffrey Dahmer. The writer of Dahmer, David Birke, co-wrote this film with Saunders.
The film focuses on two principle people, John Wayne Gacy, and Tom Kovacs (who may be a fictional character... I am not totally up on my Gacy history).
Taking the role of Gacy is Tom Holton, a character actor best known as Pee Wee’s bike thieving nemesis in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, who presents a J.W. Gacy that is one part Rush Limbaugh, one part Ward Cleaver, and one part lunatic psycho. He really brings life to a man that took so many lives. He is riveting as Gacy, whether offhandedly explaining away the stink of decay billowing from beneath his modestly appointed home, smooth talking really dumb teen boys, or erupting with psychopathic rage.
Tom Kovacs plays the fly living unwittingly within the spider’s web. As one of Gacy’s employees Tom rents the recently vacated room of Gacy’s twin daughters completely oblivious to the horrific goings-on around him. This sort of weird naiveté sort of stands in for the public reaction to the lunatic living within their midst.
Gacy picks up late in the J.W. Gacy history. He’s already served time for sodomizing a teen boy in Iowa, at the end of his second marriage, and living comfortably in Chicago with a strong painting and decorating business staffed by down-and-out teens.
Up to this point Gacy had kept his murderous hobby hidden by carefully selecting his victims from Chicago’s gay teen prostitute industry. Usually these kids were homeless runaways, or the other detritus of society. Essentially they were very easily forgotten, and that made them perfect prey for Gacy’s horrific sexual compulsion.
By the time the film begins Gacy’s life is beginning to fray. His neighbors complain about the stink of his home, the police occasionally show up to inquire about missing boys at one time or another under Gacy’s employ, his relationship with his wife Carol (Joleen Lutz) is strained, and occasionally maggots bubble out of the bathroom drains.
Once Carol and the girls leave (Carol finds a stack of gay teen porn mags), Gacy throws caution to the wind and begins killing with less attention to detail. This, ramped up activity, and his release of one prostitute after a night of brutal torture and rape, leads the police inevitably to the Gacy’s doorstep.
The film moves along at a good clip, and never lets the viewer get too comfortable with Gacy’s mannerisms before he snaps and kills someone. I guess because pretty much anyone with any knowledge of Gacy’s past already understands the sort of lunatic he was, so there isn’t any real reason to suggest reasons for his homicidal madness, and the film doesn’t give motivation more than a cursory examinations. But, I think this works. I mean, can we really understand the motivations between someone as twisted as John Wayne Gacy?
This inattention to motive allows the film to treat Gacy more as a curiosity than a psychological study, and for all the work that went in to refining the character, it works pretty well. I kept thinking about what I knew about Gacy versus what I was seeing on screen, and after the first 20 minutes or so they meshed well enough that I could forget watching for flaws, and instead watch for enjoyment... Well, does any really enjoy a film like this? But, I think you know what I mean.
The film contains some graphic violence, but it isn’t anything overtly gory which makes it well suited to cable TV, where I assume it will find the largest audience. Most of the killing takes place off screen or in silhouette, which is very stylish, and lets the viewers mind fill in the details. This works because it keeps the film accessible to the “average” viewer unlike, say, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer.
In fact, the only complaint I have with the film is the choice of bugs infesting the Gacy household. Rather than use native bugs such as actual German and American cockroaches and maggots, the production uses Madagascar hissing cockroaches and what appear to be blowfly larvae and meal worms. I guess most folks would just say “ewe... icky bugs!” but I have this deep hatred of cockroaches and know them on site, same with maggots. For me, the use of non-indigenous species yanked my suspension of disbelief away.
The DVD contains a trailer, chapter stops, and a great commentary track featuring Mark Holton, David Birke, and Susan Rodgers (Supervising Producer) that focuses little on Gacy the man, and a lot of the process of making Gacy the film.