Every month I pay for Netflix, but I don’t spend a lot of time watching movies on it; I’m more likely to spend time adding movies to my ridiculously long Netflix queue. So I decided that I’m going to take advantage of what’s on there since my family won’t let me discontinue it (that would stop them from watching cartoons and wrestling docs). Since today is TV Tuesday I did a search for TV movies, and found that the selection is pitiful.
Why are there so many recent made-for-TV movies with a Christmas theme, specifically “it’s Christmas and I have no one to date?” Is that the new meaning of Christmas, getting your candy cane licked? I liked Love Actually, but we don’t need 87 ABC Family clones of it. Besides the Xmas schmaltz, there are the usual Sci-Fi channel Look Out, It’s Bleeding Sewer Tornadoes of Electric Eels offerings, two 70s TV movies I’ve already seen, and tonight’s movie, a police procedural from 1989 that’s surprisingly not bad.
The solid and likeable Richard Crenna stars here as the detective who worked on the Hillside Stranglers case in the 70s and early 80s, opposite Billy Zane and Dennis Farina as the killers. It was weird to see Farina not playing a cop, but damn, he made a scary killer. Billy Zane, in a bad Beatles wig, was not so much scary, but more like a guy who would attention whore you to death. The Hillside Stranglers, if you’re not up on your serial killers, were a pair of cousins who murdered their way through several young women in the late 70s in L.A., until the younger one got caught up in Washington, and the other guy kind of had to be tried back in L.A. on circumstantial evidence. You can look up the case and see how this went, so I’ll just concentrate on The Case of the Hillside Stranglers itself.
Crenna plays a cop whose wife has thrown him out because he’s always working. Man, I love a police procedural, but it’s always sad to see how these guys are painted as being very unappreciated in their personal lives. Although The Case of the Hillside Stranglers is a TV movie, so there’s not as much over the top crap going on as in a movie like Vice Squad, there are still some pretty entertaining scenes, like Crenna going through the local scumbags’ bar insulting all the hoodlums in a desperate search for leads. He does eventually get some leads, including a surprisingly accurate one from a psychic, but doesn’t always know when to follow them. He also gets a love interest who may have been targeted and then let go by the Stranglers, who were posing as cops. She has fabulous 80s hair for someone he was supposed to have met in 1978; in fact, nothing in this movie looks very 70s, but at least people aren’t drenched in neon.
As for the killin’ cousins, Zane’s character is a liar and an idiot, while Farina’s is an evil brute. Ironically, we see Farina twice talking about what a good father he was, once describing how he warned his daughter not to hitchhike because of the active serial killers at the time! Zane’s character actually made me laugh when he pretended to be a psychologist, going as far as setting up an office and seeing clients, but Farina was pure terrifying entitlement, especially during the scene in which he tried to kidnap a woman off a bus stop bench in the daytime! We don’t actually see any of the killings, for which I was grateful, because seeing their torture instruments laid out was enough. And I liked that The Case of the Hillside Stranglers does not try to make you feel sorry for these two assholes in any way.
But you have to wonder, how does that conversation get initiated at the family reunion, when you find out that your cousin also likes to stalk and kill women? Could be awkward if you invite the wrong one on a hunting trip, especially if your grandmother finds out. Cause you know she will beat you with the first thing she picks up, a hairbrush or a flyswatter or whatever, if she finds out you’re not only the Hillside Strangler, but you’re being a bad influence on your younger cousin.
There’s a great scene towards the beginning of the film which I think might answer the question I have asked myself regarding why I even like this type of cop movie. I’m not particularly interested in serial killers, although I will admit a fascination with why women get married to them after they’re in jail. Nope, I think it’s the voyeuristic element of being able to look in on male camaraderie in the police station. Women are capable of camaraderie at work sometimes, but there’s a lot of relational aggression to wade through much of the time. So scenes like the one where Crenna and his captain (the principal from Back to the Future) are drinking vodka on an early morning at work and laughing about how Crenna’s wife left him because he didn’t wear pajamas gives me a peek at a man’s world. Now if I could just figure out why I watch too much horror…
Anyway, The Case of the Hillside Stranglers is no reason to sign up for Netflix if you don’t have it already, but for fans of Crenna, Farina, TV movies, cop movies, or even serial killer movies (you sick bastard), this is a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes.