Retro Review: THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971)

Looking for an intense thriller centered on the Zodiac Killer? In the mood for a true-to-life depiction of Zodiac’s heinous crimes? Yes? Well, you certainly won’t find it in 1971’s The Zodiac Killer, the inaugural release from the American Genre Film Archive (AFGA), in conjunction with Something Weird Video. 

Zodiac’s reign of terror has the entire city of San Francisco living in fear. But just who is this elusive killer? Could it be an angry truck driver? How about the mailman? Or, what if the killer is actually a cop?

Prior to The Zodiac Killer, director Tom Hanson owned a chain of pizza restaurants. He desired to break into filmmaking and decided to use The Zodiac Killer as a way to do it. But not just by making the film. Oh no, Hanson had greater plans: he intended to use the film to capture the real Zodiac Killer!

This was to be achieved through a contest held in a San Francisco theater, in which Hanson four-walled (a practice in which a distributor rents a theater, buys every seat, then keeps all the proceeds from the box office), where theater goers attempted to win a Kawasaki motorcycle by filling out a card asking why they believed the Zodiac killed. Handwriting experts were standing by to analyze every card until they found one with writing that matched the letters sent by Zodiac. Of course this didn’t work, and Tom Hanson never got his big break.

But enough about the film’s history. How does the movie itself fare? Well, The Zodiac Killer is pure and glorious exploitation at its finest! This hodgepodge of truth and fiction won’t give you any insight into the killer’s motivations or anything of the sort whatsoever; but it will provide insight into men in bad toupees, awful acting, wildly inappropriate music (upbeat stock jazz) and comical death scenes. The result: unintentional hilarity. I would get into details, but I’d rather not spoil things for you and just tell you to hunt this puppy down.

The Zodiac Killer didn’t accomplish anything it set out to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Far from it: this is golden, exploitative shlock and definitely worth every bit of your attention. Big thanks to AGFA for saving this beauty from oblivion. My hat is off to you.

The film is available on a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack and features another serial killer film that has nothing whatsoever to do with its subject matter: Another Son of Sam. That, however, is a story and a review for another time. 

About Evan Romero

Evan Romero has been a horror fan since watching “Leprechaun” at the age of five. Aside from watching and writing about horror flicks, he delights in torturing friends with Z-grade movies. He’s also an unabashed Andy Milligan fan, God help him.

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