Between 1978 and 1979, Los Angeles was rocked by a series of sex murders and the police searched for what the newspapers dubbed “The Hillside Strangler”. It wasn’t until one man was caught that they learned the killer was actually two people, cousins, named Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi.
Bianchi, a loser who dreams of being a policeman, only to continually fail the psychological (and procedural) evaluation, moves in with his angry, twisted cousin who, according to the film, leads him down a road of pimping, drug abuse, drug dealing and ultimately murder. But Bianchi isn’t an unwilling dupe here—he genuinely gets off on each one of his cousin’s new schemes. He particularly excels at the murder part.
Made with the same no-nonsense style as “Ed Gein” and “Ted Bundy”, director Parello ups the pace in “The Hillside Strangler”, and the viewer is taken on quite the unpleasant ride. But like the former, and unlike the latter, this film proves that serial killers just aren’t that interesting as people. “Gein” was a backwards dullard, and Bianchi and Buono were just unpleasant, according to their onscreen personas. They were also so dumb that it’s a wonder they got away with murder for as long as they did. Howell, however, is outstanding and completely shatters his nice-guy image. Turturro phones in a performance as Buono that’s all seething rage and profanity, which only adds more weight to Howell’s Bianchi.
The movie itself is grim, gritty, well-shot and seems quite authentic. That doesn’t make it entertaining, but on the other hand, are movies like this supposed to be entertaining? It doesn’t quite fit into the sub-genre of indie horror where you find yourself rooting for the killer. Of course, in this case, you’re not quite rooting for the victims, either, who are also equally unpleasant. Perhaps that’s the realism at work.