10 Rillington Place 1971 ***


Serial killer films are not a new invention; the story of John Christie is one of Britain’s most notorious examples. Adapting Ludovic Kennedy’s book on the subject, Hollywood veteran Richard Fleischer adapts a deliberately drab, procedural style that finds an ideal centre in Richard Attenborough’s performance as Christie. Killing again and again for sexual kicks, it’s a turn highly untypical of Attenborough’s usual work, but he rises to the challenge, making Christie a fascinating but repellent character. John Hurt and Judy Geeson do good work as the husband and wife who unwittingly stay at Christie’s property, and a hanging scene, supervised by real-life executioner Albert Pierrepoint, adds to the gloomy sense of authenticity.

10 To Midnight 1983 ***


Director J Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone) was in the twilight of his career when he made this violent Charles Bronson action flick from 1983, but he deals with the lurid material with professionalism. Inspired, if that’s the right word, but a real life killing spree, 10 to midnight pitches Bronson’s rock-hard cop Leo Kessler against a new kind of low-life; a male killer (Andrew Stevens) who gets off on murdering women when he’s in the nude. Kessler’s disgust is only increased when the authorities fail to deal with the problem, and sorts out his own brand of justice in predictable but well-staged fashion. 10 To Midnight mixes the vigilante and slasher movie cycles with some skill; it’s a low-rent, nasty but effective piece of work.

Blood and Black Lace 1964 ***


One of the less celebrated entries in Mario Bava’s canon, Blood and Black Lace is a sure-footed thriller that deserves to be compared to Hitchcock; the sequence involving a handbag containing a crucial clue to a murder, left unattended during a fashion show, is as tense and elegant as any of Hitchcock’s post-Psycho work. Contessa Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max (Cameron Mitchell) are attempting to run a swanky fashion house when a serial killer strikes, and find themselves amongst the suspects. Light on violence but heavy with tension, Bava’s 1964 film is an ideal starting point for giallo fans; beautifully made, it’s an absorbing mystery with the director’s trademark flourishes all in evidence.

Zodiac 2007 ****


David Fincher has returned over and over again to serial killer lore since Se7en, and although the public found his 157 minute adaptation of Robert Graysmith’s book too much to handle, Zodiac is a hypnotic, absorbing film. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Graysmith, a San Francisco cartoonist obsessed with the idea of catching the infamous Zodiac killer. Robert Downey Jr is an interested reporter, and Mark Ruffalo is David Toschi, the real life inspiration for the Steve McQueen character in Bullitt. Fincher contributes several shocking scenes of murder in the first half of the film, and the second half is a meticulous investigation of the killer’s identity, rising to some tense set pieces as Graysmith investigates. A thoughtful investigation of the morality of law and order, Zodiac’s moody tone and feel from San Francisco street-life make it a rewarding experience for crime fans.

Road Kill 2001 ***


Also known as Joy Ride, Road Kill was one of a series of films that brought Fast and Furious star Paul Walker to the public’s attention before his tragic death in 2013. Walker plays Lewis Thomas, who joins his brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) is a cross country trip accompanied by Venna (Leelee Sobieski). Last Seduction director John Dahl, working from a script by JJ Abrams and Clay Tarver, start horsing around with a unseen trucker on the CB radio, only to find themselves targeted by him as potential victims. Similarities between Dahl’s tight little film and TV movie Duel are most likely deliberate, and the cast do a good job of conveying the terror of ordinary people who find themselves hunted by a seemingly unstoppable predator.

Night of the Generals 1966 ***


Antole Litvak’s 1966 thriller has a brilliant idea as it’s core; in the middle of the chaos of Warsaw in 1942, a Polish prostitute is found murdered, and Major Grau (Omar Sharrif) suspects one of three Nazi generals is responsible. Played by Peter O’Toole, Charles Gray and Donald Pleasance, each man has his motives, and Grau has to balance his interrogations against the feeling that the tide of the war is turning against them; what is the point of justice in a world gone mad. The script, with Paul Dehn contributing, doesn’t quite get to the core of the drama, but it’s still and unusual who-dunnit with compelling scenes, including a tense sub-plot involving Tom Courtney. Litvak’s cold, sometimes distant film would make a good double bill with Valkerie (2008)

The Eyes of Laura Mars 1978 ***


A pre-Empire Strikes Back Irvin Kershner directs this American giallo from a script by John Carpenter, amongst others, with Faye Dunaway as a model who discovers she has the power of remote vision. She’s able to see the actions of a serial killer as he makes them, and so inadvertently draws herself to his attention when the police fail to take her claims seriously. There’s early roles for Raul Julia and Tommy Lee Jones, plus uber-glam fashion sequences featuring contributions for star photographer Helmut Newton. Eves of Laura Mars doesn’t quite gel as a thriller, but it’s stuffed with period detail and evokes the edge of the late 1970’s NYC fashion scene in style.

Copycat 1995 ***


While US cinema in the 80’s bought into the slasher genre with enthusiasm, it was slow to imitate the giallo style of Italian films of the 1970’s. Jon “The Singing Detective” Amiel helmed this 1995 film that featured Holly Hunter as tough cop MJ Monahan, and Sigourney Weaver gave one of her best performances as Helen Hudson, an agoraphobic who finds herself threatened by a serial killer whose work mimics famous murders from the past. Copycat rises to some nasty killings, but also has a empathetic view of its female characters, and the investigation is kept serious enough to rise above the exploitation genre. Support from Harry Connick Jr and Will Patton.

The Mean Season 1975 ***


Kurt Russell plays Malcolm Anderson a prickly reporter who becomes a conduit between a manipulative murderer known as the Numbers Killer in Phillip Borsos’s tight little Miami-set thriller. Andy Garcia is amongst the cops who gather round Anderson’s desk as he fields the calls, but when the killer homes in on the reporter’s girlfriend, played by Mariel Hemingway, the cat and mouse game becomes personal. The Mean Season’s title refers to a tropical storm, and there’[s plenty of sweaty moodiness from the leads, married to a sensibly handled plot. Borsos pushes a little too hard to shoehorn action in, with a scene in which Russell jumps across a highway bridge stretching credulity, but The Mean Season stands up as a decent entry in the serial killer genre.

Triangle 2009 ****


Director Chris Smith has been an up and coming figure for some time, and he raised his game considerably with the complex time-shifting narrative of Triangle. Melissa George plays Jess, who sets out on a yachting trip only to dramatically capsize and then come upon a ghost ship. The crew explore the empty vessel, but it soon becomes apparent that they’re being picked off one-by-one. Who or what are picking them off is the film’s central mystery, but Smith admirably teases the narrative through a series of deft pirouettes, delivering some nightmarish imagery as he goes along. Triangle was a cult success, but it’s an accessible and intelligent film that deserves a wider audience, not least for Gilbert’s excellent performance.