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Movie Details

Title:   Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Director:   Nick Broomfield
Year:   2014
Genre:   Documentary
Times Seen:   1
Last Seen:   04.28.15

Other Movies Seen By This Director (0)

Notes History
Date Viewed Venue Note
04.28.15Internet Nick Broomfield docs have always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand they always feel a bit sensational and skeezy like I'm watching the cinematic equivalent of an ambulance chaser, but on the other hand I admire his courage to go into situations that could be dangerous and the way he presents his films as his experiences rather than some message-y statement. Plus I think his interview style (I'm convinced he acts like a much slower, less intelligent version of himself to get people to open up to him) is really effective and I always find his movies very watchable.

So with all that said, HBO aired this doc last night dealing with South LA's Grim Sleeper serial killer. I lived in the valley from 1978 to 1986, spending my early childhood there, and I have a lot of vague memories of serial killers being all over the news the whole time. I think maybe the late 70s and early 80s were the golden age of serial killers in the media. Even light comedies like Ruthless People had serial killers thrown in because they were so topical. The Night Stalker The Hillside Strangler(s) were the big ones locally but John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Son of Sam and even Charlie Manson were all very much in the news.

So I guess crack cocaine came in just as I moved out because I don't remember any news about any of this stuff in South LA while I was there, but I feel like it was definitely in the air back then for whatever reason. So watching an aging Nick Broomfield rolling around the hood talking to crackheads and neighborhood folk about this guy who was arrested (still no trial) for murdering 10 women is familiar to me in some very strange way.

So... I really liked this. It gives you the chills and gut-churning feeling of exploring humanity's evil side and everything you'd expect from watching a true crime doc, but I also got - and please don't judge - a surprising amount of humor from a lot of the interviews. Broomfield talks to neighborhood friends of the murder suspect as well as ex-crackhead prostitutes that had close calls with the man before he was caught. That means we get to see a lot of really characteristic faces telling us things in interesting ways.

An overshadowing theme of the film is that, due to societal and cultural divides, the LAPD never spoke with victims and witnesses that had crucial information and didn't do anything with the clues that they were given back in the 80s. One particularly infuriating moment comes from the one confirmed survivor (Broomfield speaks with several others who never came forward and spoke with the police) where she describes leading the police to a house two doors down from where the suspect would be arrested twenty years later. It took them TWENTY YEARS to check two houses down the street.

But anyway, back to the humor. I couldn't help but laugh at these guys who first appear as adamant supporters of the suspect but soon start to share little tidbits like how the suspect showed them the gun he used to kill 10 women, or showed them polaroids and pictures of missing women, or paid dudes to clean blood out of cars or burn blood-soaked cars for insurance money. Or that it might make sense that he did it because they got his DNA from saliva left on the breasts of the dead girls and the suspect did in fact "like the titties." I mean, that's like Homer Simpson territory right? When he goes to work for Hank Scorpio and fails to realize that he's an evil genius?

And one lady in particular was super fun to watch. An ex-prostitute now four years sober, she leads Broomfield around town looking for many of the women that appeared in pictures taken from the suspect's house. This involves a lot of them pulling the car to a stop so she can shout out at prostitutes on the corner. One young woman walks down the street with no pants on and this ghetto guide describes her as "asshole naked." Asshole naked is a phrase I dearly hope that I remember for life and if I forget everything else about this doc it will be worthwhile just because it taught me about being asshole naked.

So... those are a few gems. HBO Has really been killing it with their docs this season. This was no exception. I'm not mentioning all the pathos and heart-wrenching sadness involved, or the implications of what impact must have been brought to bear on the suspect's son, or all the really heavy stuff that goes on here. Really good doc.
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