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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: The Alphabet Killer



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#1 of 1 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted January 18 2009 - 12:51 PM

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MAIN FEATUREVideoWidescreen 2.35:1AudioDolby Digital: English 5.1SubtitlesEnglish SDH

The Feature: 2/5
"The Alphabet Killer" is based on the Alphabet or Double Initial Murders, a case from the early 1970s involving the sexual assault and killing of three girls from the Rochester, New York area. The killer's m.o. was to target pre-teen girls whose first and last names started with the same letter and to use that letter to decide where to leave the bodies (e.g. Carmen Colon was the first victim and she was found in Churchville). The killer was never caught and the primary "person of interest," a firefighter who committed suicide six weeks after the last murder, was cleared by DNA testing in 2007.

The film keeps the serial killer's m.o. from the actual case, but the rest of the details are fictionalized, including the lead investigator, Megan Paige (Eliza Dushku). When the first victim is found, Paige becomes obsessed with the case, to the point she begins seeing and hearing the girl's ghost. As the body count increases, so do the ghostly appearances, though they never become more than just figments of her mind. The girls are done up like the apparitions from Japanese horror films "Ju On" and "The Ring," which seems like a lot of trouble just to show the main character feels haunted. But it's the least of the film's problems. Paige has a nervous breakdown 18 minutes into the film, which is hardly enough time to introduce her character let alone convincingly establish what leads to her mental collapse. The film also telegraphs the identity of the killer by casting a well known actor in a seemingly inconsequential supporting role. Finally, as discussed in one of the commentaries, the filmmakers struggled with how to end a film whose source case had no conclusion. What they came up with was ultimately unsatisfying, both narratively and emotionally. They set things up as if there would be a sequel, but practically speaking there's no chance of that happening. The character's final circumstances are also so bleak that her vows to find the killer (expressed in a voice over, which is rarely a good sign) ring false.

By all appearances "The Alphabet Killer" was slated for a standard theatrical release, but it wound up getting a limited run and then punted to the video market. Wise decision. Though it has a pretty reliable "true crime" premise, its storytelling is uneven at best and ultimately doesn't come off as anyone's best work.


Video Quality: 3.5/5
The film is correctly framed at 2.35:1 and blemish-free, short of a few instances of speckles. Wide shots exhibit a noticeable drop in detail compared to the closeups and suffer from mild to moderate edge enhancement (EE). Closeups seem to have very good detail however, despite the likelihood that EE is present there also. Black levels and shadow detail are solid, presenting the steely, almost monochromatic color pallette and moody cinematography quite well. Compression noise is visible at times, though not extensive enough to be a distraction.


Audio Quality: 3/5
The 448 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is front heavy, with occasional activity in the surrounds for environmental and atmospheric effects. However the presentation of those elements, whether ringing office phones or chilling mood compositions, is lacking in subtlety and proves to be a distraction. Dialogue, however, is consistently clear and inteligible. LFE is non-existent.


Special Features: 2/5

Commenataries: The release is generous in its commentary options, offering two separate tracks. The first is by Producer Isen Robbins and Director Rob Schmidt and the second by Writer/Producer/Actor Tom Malloy. It's hard to recomend commentaries for a film that itself is not recommended, but sampling the two tracks there seems to be plenty of information to satisfy the curious or for those willing to be swayed about the film's quality. Malloy seems to lapse into scene description more frequently than the others, though he is also the most enthusiastic.

"A to Z: The Making of THE ALPHABET KILLER" (6m05s): A montage of behind-the-scenes footage, set to music and intercut with actual scenes from the film.

"First Victim" Alternate Scene (3m01s): An alternate version of one of the film's early scenes.


Recap

The Feature: 2/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 2/5
Overall Score (not an average): 2.5/5

A problematic supernatural thriller/true crime film gets acceptable technical treatment and a modest set of extras.
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