Something Weird and the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) go extra weird for their first collaborative Blu-ray release with The Zodiac Killer, a piece of low-budget sleaze from 1971 that brings gore-meister Herschell Gordon Lewis sensibilities to a true-crime case that still haunts the Bay Area. Unlike David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, which is about as historically accurate as a Hollywood movie can be, this Zodiac Killer may actually decrease your knowledge of the original case — although the ’70s-ness of its version Lake Berryessa murder scene has a level of grim realism that even Fincher can’t achieve.
The film intersperses non-sequitur scenes of a guy with a funny nose and glasses stabbing a young woman to death on a suburban sidewalk — plus some bonus Satanic rituals — with re-creations of real Zodiac crimes ripped from then-recent headlines. (In other words, some actual research was done for this production.) There’s also an extended sexist monologue a deadbeat dad in a lopsided blond wig delivers in front of a mirror. Played by a guy who sold fast-food chicken franchises, he conjures Donald Trump, because everything must these days — even things made almost 50 years ago. Another random bit with a psychotic mailman living in a house full of rabbits is oddly prescient, as The Zodiac Killer came out a year before San Francisco homicide detectives searched prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen‘s Santa Rosa trailer and found it chock-full of pet squirrels. The coincidence is eerie, even if the animal is off.
What’s crazier than the film itself is that all this blood-soaked cinéma vérité was produced with a purpose. In the commentary track, producer and director Tom Hanson, a failed L.A. pizza-chain owner, details renting out the Golden Gate Theater on Taylor Street in April 1971 for a week’s worth of screenings in the hope that the real Zodiac Killer would show up. While this bit of William Castle-type gimmickry didn’t crack the case — which is still unsolved today — Hanson maintains he and his production crew nearly caught a suspect. The commentary about Hanson’s run in with a man resembling the police sketch of the Zodiac in the theater bathroom is as unsettling as anything you’ll see on the screen.
This release was derived from a 4K transfer of the only surviving 16mm print of The Zodiac Killer, giving this disc the proper level of graininess without a trace of digital artifacting. The set comes with a both a Blu-ray and DVD, a 14-page booklet full of liner notes, and a 2K transfer of Another Son of Sam (1977), making it the ultimate grindhouse double-feature for the serial killer-obsessed.