I’ve sat through some truly awful serial killer biopics in my time, so I was initially reluctant to cast my eye over The Last Victim. Sure, John Wayne Gacy’s an interesting subject, but it’s all too easy to go TV MOVIE on films like these. Then I found out that William Forsythe would be playing the “killer clown”, and I just couldn’t resist. No matter how bad the movie is, I always find his performance strangely hypnotic, like he could reach out of the screen at any point to grab me by the throat and make me stare into those dead eyes. In short, he scares the living bejeezus out of me.
This film isn’t to be approached lightly – those of you expecting a gore-fest, exploitation film should look elsewhere. This isn’t a Rob Zombie movie, so you’re not expected to root for the bad guy (no matter how many families are left butchered and sexually abused in their wake). The Last Victim is set while Gacy is safely incarcerated in death row, and acts as an adaptation of Jason Moss’ infamous memoirs. In reality, Moss befriended a number of incarcerated serial killers as a means of researching his Honors Thesis (Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Henry Lee Lucas and Richard Ramirez make the list), but this film focuses purely on the strongest, and some could argue the most affecting, relationship he was able to develop.
It all starts simply enough – Moss is a somewhat naive and idealistic student with a slightly morbid interest in the inner workings of a serial killer’s mind. When choosing the subject for his end of year thesis, he decides to befriend the notorious serial killer, and child molester, John Wayne Gacy (aka The Killer Clown – just when you thought he was creepy enough), in an attempt to get the killer to admit to his crimes. Gacy maintained that he suffered from a form of paranoid schizophrenia that manifested itself as a multiple personality disorder, and claimed he had little to no knowledge of the murders he carried out. By posing as one of Gacy’s disciples, Jason will get closer to Gacy than anyone else would dare.
My initial fears of this being a so-so, should-have-been-made-for-tv, run of the mill biopic were blown away as soon as Forsythe walked on screen. His presence fills this movie, and his ability to juggle the subtlety of Gacy’s external persona with the pure unbridled hell of the predatory killer hidden inside is nothing short of terrifying. It’s a masterclass in character acting, and it’s hard to remind yourself to breathe when those washed out lizard eyes shift from side to side during his performance.
Moss provides the perfect foil to Forsythe‘s Gacy, with the young actor capturing Jason’s descent from bright and exuberant student, to paranoid and unstable obsessive in a manner that takes the audience along for the ride. It’s very easy to empathise with his portrayal, and as a result you can’t help but feel the bitter twist of Gacy’s manipulation at every turn of the plot.
Manipulation plays a key role in the film. Jason plans to manipulate Gacy for his own ends and as a result he ends up way over his head and, ultimately, manipulated by Gacy. It’s uncomfortable to watch this cat and mouse game develop over the course of the movie, but it’s also incredibly hard to tear your eyes away from the screen.
The film has some violence, but what does occur is shot in such a way that your imagination makes the reality of what’s happening off screen all the more difficult to cope with. There’s a scene in particular (where the victim survives) that made me clench every single muscle in my body – and all that’s shown on screen is the victim’s face, and Gacy’s leerful grin.
I’ve already mentioned that this isn’t a gore-fest, nor has it any potential for comedy. This is a well made film about a disgusting, beast of a man, and the student who thought himself intelligent enough to befriend and exploit him. There are some movies that I will gladly say I will never watch again, and this is one of them. That isn’t to say it’s not a well made, or even a good film. It elicited an emotional response – at times I was disgusted, angry and terrified – fist clenched while the action unfolded in front of me with an almost painstaking inevitability. And that’s exactly what a film like this should do. If any of you still have an inkling of serial killer fascination left in your system, check this out. You’ll soon be over it.