With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and believe me there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and with the benefit of hindsight in many cases may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
Kemper: The Co-ed Killer (2008)
For all the devastation they cause I do find the stories of serial killers fascinating especially learning how the police caught them. Mrs B taped Rick Bitzelberger’s Kemper for me and I will confess I had not heard of the notorious Co-ed Killer who murdered six female hitchhikers in the early seventies and committed horrific acts of mutilation and sexual violence on their bodies. Approaching the film I wasn’t sure what to expect.
The film opens with Detective Harris (Christopher Stapleton) investigating two murders. One girl has been murdered at home her head removed and placed in the microwave while another is found outside and the methods of her killing contrast greatly to the other case. Unbeknownst to the powers that be Harris has his best friend Ed Kemper (Robert Sisko) on the police payroll his intelligence having helped solve previous murders. Harris shows Kemper all the evidence he has gathered of the murders and beseeches his friend to help him solve the mystery. Little does Harris know that the brutal murderer of the girls is the very man that his helping him track down the killer.
There is no secret that Kemper is the villain of the piece from the off that title being a huge giveaway of course so it’s immediately intriguing to have Harris relying on his best friend to piece together a profile of himself. The worrying thing that seems to resonate throughout the film is how stupid the police force seems to be when faced with clues. Early in the film we have an image left by the killer of violence and death with two words written on it that no one seems to decipher. Helping the police Kemper believes the language to be Native American throwing the police off the scent of course but watching the film with me was Mrs B who immediately deduced that the writing is backwards! In another instance when Harris knows Kemper is the killer and the latter is in touch frequently with his former friend by phone Kemper makes reference to a love of gardening. Once again Harris is slow to decipher the meaning not realising Kemper is pointing to where the remains of his victims are! I’m pleased to say I worked that one out before the police did!
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There are some pretty brutal moments in Kemper even when the violence is implied. As we get to the heart of the man we find him to be a complex but deeply disturbed individual. At a young age he murdered his grandparents with a gun out of curiosity and in the present day he lives with his bullying mother. Inevitably Kemper snaps and kills her. Remaining true to the reality Kemper tries to put his mother’s vocal cords down the waste disposal and also uses her head as a dartboard though you’ll be pleased to know the only thing we see is the head on the wall and nothing else! Despite Harris pursuing Kemper relentlessly the murderer shows surprising care and concern for his friend especially when he is taken off the case when knowledge of his previous association with Kemper gets out. When Kemper learns what has happened he abducts a girl and films her pleading to the police for Detective Harris to be reinstated on the Kemper case! The threat works! Kemper has to slip up at some point and one way in which Harris learns his location is quite clever having been hinted to the audience very early in the film.
For a TV film Mrs B and I didn’t think this was too bad. It’s rather unpleasant in places but not over the top. Reading more about the real Kemper it’s clear that the film is only loosely based on his life. A few features of the real Kemper come through into the film such as the skulls dug up in the garden their empty sockets pointing towards the Kemper house to which he explains his mother always wanted people to look up to her! Some of the acting isn’t spectacular here and a film closer to the facts would have been better but as general viewing I could name many films that are vastly inferior to this.
Kemper is an average film at best with some intriguing moments and memorable conversations between Kemper and Detective Harris. That it is loosely based on the true story does taint the film somewhat but if you want to learn a few things about this notorious murderer then this is a good place to start while we wait to see if Hollywood decides on a bigger budget adaptation of his life.