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February 3, 2011

Movie Review: Dear Mr. Gacy (2010)

Have you ever wanted to see inside of the mind of a serial killer? Well in the case of Jason Moss, an audacious university law student who chose homosexual pedophile-child killer John Wayne Gacy as the topic of his thesis paper, it is possible. It takes a certain type of individual who possesses an extraordinary amount of conviction to do what Moss did, and do it as well as he did.

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Yugoslavian director Svetozar Ristovski’s Dear Mr. Gacy chronicles the events that transpired within the six-month period of Moss’ relationship with Gacy. What starts out as a simple handwritten letter spirals out of control into the abyss of neurosis, manipulation and obsession. What we are seeing here is a glimpse into the deepest, darkest corners of the human psyche. A kid determined to get the story of a notorious killer from an angle that hasn’t yet been covered, a notorious killer living out the last six months of his life in solitary confinement. Each possesses what the other wants… one can only imagine what this particularly twisted game of cat and mouse will lead to.

Based on the true story of the university student who chose Gacy as the subject of his final paper during the killer’s last six months on death row, Jason Moss devises the ultimate plan to do what no other authority figure or psychologist has been able to do—that is, to get inside the mind of Gacy. Moss writes to Gacy as a troubled teenage boy suffering from parental abuse and sexual confusion. His intent is to appear to his subject as a na├»ve, easily manipulated potential victim so that he can get the facts from the killer as never described before. He never thought that maybe, just maybe, he would end up falling in his own trap.

The exchange of hand written letters evolves into late night telephone conversations between Gacy and Moss, where Moss has Gacy believing that he is a troubled, sexually confused boy who is hard up for cash. In turn, Gacy suggests that he venture out onto the streets and sell himself. As a way of making him self seem legit for his and Gacy’s next conversation, Moss actually goes out and attempts to interview a flamboyant, young male prostitute. Moss is drugged at a gay club but manages to escape. He describes his exploits to Gacy in lurid detail, and sure enough ol’ Pogo the Clown gets off on that sort of sick sh*t.

True crime/serial killer flicks have all been done—from BTK to the Zodiac, if you’ve read enough information on the events that transpired during each of these notorious killers’ reigns of terror (which you probably have if you’ve gone out of your way to hunt down the movies), then you really won’t get anything out of these B-grade, terribly cast and horrendously scripted cinematic reenactments. Clive Saunders’ 2003 movie, Gacy was yet just another unbearable, cheap serial killer-slasher flick. So it’s a relief to say that Dear Mr. Gacy shouldn’t even fall under the same category as these hardly viewable others.

Ristovski’s work here is captivating. From the moment we are introduced to Moss, it is certain that this kid is going to get himself in deep—deeper than any cop, detective or psychologist would ever dare to go. Dear Mr. Gacy is a story within a story. We get a few details about the Gacy murders, but Ristovski was strictly set on making a film based on the relationship between Moss and Gacy. It’s safe to say that he succeeded—and then some. My only complaint about the film is the casting of William Forsythe as John Wayne Gacy. I look at him and I can’t see past a dirty redneck Sheriff named Wydell (thanks to Rob Zombie). His acting wasn’t all that terrible, he’s just hardly believable as a man who sexually tortured and murdered over 30 young men. (I think he should take that as a compliment.)

Of the many serial killers and psychopaths that Moss had gone on to develop relationships with for his research—including Richard Ramirez, Henry Lee Lucas, Charles Manson, and Jeff Dahmer—Gacy was his greatest achievement. Moss is often referred to as “the last victim", and I don’t intend on giving out any spoilers, instead I recommend going out and renting it to understand why.

Moss was a courageous and determined man who surely made a significant impact on each and every one of these notorious killer’s lives. If more movies were to be made on his research projects, we might actually be able to get a little bit closer to figuring out what exactly makes these kinds of people commit such heinous crimes.

The real Jason Moss committed suicide in June of 2006. He will forever be remembered for the work that he did in the field of criminal law and true crime studies.

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