It’s not every serial killer film that’s presented by James Ellroy. That’s why this one grabs your attention immediately. For those interested in serial killers, this is like getting that one gym coach in high school that was worth a shit while all the others were rubbish – you sit up and pay close attention. In the opening moments of Benjamin Meade’s latest film, Ellroy greets the viewer and presents the case of one Bob Berdella, a man who was convicted of torturing and killing six young men in the mid-eighties. In a way it’s a stamp of approval. This will be a story to take note of. And it is, even though it really is the story of another sick fucker who gets his rocks off by performing hideous misdeeds upon people he’s attracted to. But what really sets this story apart from the pack is the way it’s presented here. Those of you that know Ben Meade’s work (Das Bus) know to expect something out of the ordinary and “Bazaar Bizarre” does not spoil those expectations. This is the most creative, and successful, re-telling of a true crime that I’ve ever seen.
Meade gets the title of his latest film from the shop Bob Berdella owned and operated in Kansas City called Bizarre Bazaar. Those who fond of the darker things in life could always find something they fancied at Bob’s shop as he hustled over the counter ghoulishness such as replica skulls and other occult items. You know the type of store I’m talking about. And if you frequent them, you also know that the people that run these shops are some of the nicest people around, even if they are a little strange. Not the case with Berdella. Between 1985 and 1988, he acted upon his love of the sick and twisted by kidnapping, torturing and murdering six young men, slowly, in the privacy of his own home, only to leave their dismembered corpses out by the trash for the garbage men to take away. Torture methods involved cruel experiments such as injecting Drano in the throats of his victims and administering electric shocks to sexual abuse such as rape with various objects such as vegetables and Berdella’s own fist. When his last victim managed to escape his grasp, running through the street, naked, except for a dog collar and a leash, Berdella’s reign of terror ended and that’s when authorities finally uncovered this torture den where Berdella also resided and kept note of all the demonic things he had done. While behind bars, reporters, psychologists, authorities poked and prodded at Berdella until he finally croaked from a supposed heart attack four years into his life sentence. “Bazaar Bizarre” is his story.
This isn’t a documentary as much as it is an experimental re-telling of Berdella’s grisly tale utilizing archival news footage, as well as recent interviews of those associated with the case, including the victim that got away. Between these interviews, James Ellroy pops up now and again to act as the “voice of reason” or as I like to call him “The Bullshit Detector”. After comments are made by various interviewees, Ellroy will stop in for a moment to add his own two cents and it’s always the most levelheaded view – cutting through the bullshit.
Gluing this all together is re-enactment footage shot by Meade of Berdella’s hideous activities. This footage blends seamlessly with the rest of the material, fleshing out the gruesome story. But it’s Meade’s own penchant for the bizarre here that makes the film stand out. Featured here along with the graphic re-enactments of torture and slaughter are musical numbers and staged footage of Berdella just being a fat, sick pig. It’s not that Meade is making light of the situation, it just seems that he’s rubbing Berdella’s face in his own misery by poking fun at him just in case he’s watching from his spot in burning hell. It’s just enough that it doesn’t come off as ridiculous, but it is enough to create an all new experience in handling this sort of documentary subject matter – with just a hint of a sense of humor. Meade’s approach makes the facts all the more grisly.
If you’re sick of all the lame true crime serial killer flicks clogging the shelves of your local video store that are essentially dull TV movies with boobs, blood and bad words, then you’re advised to check out “Bazaar Bizarre.” It provides creativity in a genre of film that has long since run dry of imagination.