Berdella | Varied Celluloid

Berdella

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 5 - 2010
The Plot: Bob Berdella, a real life serial killer and the subject of this feature film, was a hidden menace within the Kansas City community. A homosexual man with homicidal tendencies, he took the lives of six men who he raped and tortured for weeks on end. Berdella is this story fleshed out, focusing primarily on the period that saw Bob Berdella at his most violent. We follow this odd character during the day where he looks after his own occult book/item store and we follow him at night where we see him try to socialize within the gay community where he hopes to find a new victim.



The Review
I found myself contacted a few short weeks ago by independent filmmaker Bill Taft who asked me to take a look at his indie feature: Berdella. Although I do not review as much independent film for Varied Celluloid as I do for RogueCinema, I have never been opposed to giving any film a fair shake. Berdella had a couple of key advantages going for it that immediately perked up my ears like a dog looking for a bone. First of all, it deals with a fairly obscure serial killer. I think the majority of horror fans are ultimately interested in the “serial killer” phenomenon. If one is interested in the macabre, then it is suffice to say that they are interested in those who live macabre lives. The second aspect that drew me towards the film was the interesting marketing. The artwork and posters for the film give it the appearance of being a grizzly shocker or at the very least a violent character study. I don’t want anyone to get their hopes up at this point however, a disgustingly violent gore film this is not. However, if one has the patience and the inclination to sit through a truly independent film – they might find something of interest here.

The real Bob Bordella was as interesting as most serial killers tend to be. The DVD for this film actually comes with a biography about the man as well as a time-line that describes his crimes and life. This very mundane man was, as they often seem to be, an exemplary citizen with a rough past who for the most part would not turn any heads on a day to day basis. Like most serial killers, his killings came about due to his intense sexual desires. A homosexual with a control disorder, his sadistic killings were the definition of cruel. The feature film Berdella looks to examine this character and delve into his psychotic mind, but they do it in an interesting way. Although it at times is not the most obvious point about the film, there appears to be a certain tongue-in-cheek quality that carries the film along. The comedy doesn’t come right up and bite you on the lip, but there are moments (mostly instigated by the character of Bob Berdella) where these tiny seeds of humor and entertainment seem to frolic and keep the film afloat. The filmmakers manage to keep this film as dark and bleak as the material certainly calls for it to be, but this character of Bob Berdella simply will not be contained in the mold of your average sociopath.

Played by Seth Correa, Bob Berdella comes across as a rather quirky and pathetic little creature who ultimately takes advantage of those around him who slip up and fall into his little games. The performance, while certainly not earth shattering, is interesting and different enough that I felt that he was able to carry the weight of the project. Giving his voice a slightly feminine quality, Correa plays the role without going over the top and making the character a stereotypical “queen”. The character walks the line between feminine and masculine, and could seem either orientation in a public setting. However, there is something slightly off about the way Correa brings Berdella to life, and I loved it. Donning a false-mustache that is as obvious as eye liner on Marilyn Manson, the character comes across as being utterly bizarre and out of his element at all times. In the same way that the beards were obviously fake in Cannibal: The Musical, I found it easy to forgive the cheap looking prosthetic due to how much it added to the quirky qualities of this character. While it may not be perfect, a lot of the enjoyment you will derive from the feature may very well come from these strange aesthetic choices.

The violence is likely to be a key issue for many who read this. The artwork for the film, which seems to scream out “torture” and “violence”, obviously declares some depraved content will be on display. However, that ultimately doesn’t prove to be the case. Although Berdella is most assuredly a violent film, it doesn’t load the audience down with gore. From their not being able to afford the FX or simply a conscious choice to avoid the exploitation in such an obviously sexual case, much of the violence is shown offscreen. There are still several choice moments where we see Berdella taking part in extremely brutal activities. Including the disposing of a body and a sequence involving a drill, some draino and a miniature axe!

Knowing the independent film world as I do I already knew what to expect in terms of acting and production, where some of you reading this may not. Although it does its best to hide its budgetary restraints, there is no slipping it past the audience that this is indeed a piece of independent film. The filmmakers did do a nice job in adding color, varied lighting and canted-angle photography, but the budget is obvious from the outset. Most of the actors are stilted in their delivery, due likely to inexperience, but there are a few actors who actually craft something out of their roles. It is a sad fact, but no-budget cinema does not offer the comforts of decorated cast members or high quality camera work. So, if you are a film-goer who criticizes the acting in big budget Hollywood features – this level of acting may come as a shock to you. However, if you have suffered through a few independent films then you likely already know what to expect.

The Conclusion
Although it has its issues, I did ultimately like Berdella. The filmmakers took what they had and they actually managed to deliver a dramatized version of this obscure murderer and they made it work. There are some facts that they shied away from, mostly in terms of the sexual mutilation and torture that Berdella put his victims through, but that is understandable as it would be difficult to find five male actors willing to strip nude and be demeaned for either no money at all or very little. This remains a seedy little number and a interesting watch if you run across it. You can read more about Berdella as well as order it from the official website at: BobBerdella.com



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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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