It's amazing how much mileage an average Hollywood Joe can get out of playing a fright film icon. Just ask Robert Englund, or Mr. Original Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen. Or how about Kane Hodder, for example. Asked to take over the role of Jason Voorhees when the Friday the 13th killer decided to draw some New Blood, the professional stuntman and stunt coordinator has parlayed said initial appearance into a big fat b-movie oeuvre, starring in everything from more 13th sequels to parts in The Devil's Rejects, 2001 Maniacs, and Hatchet.
But for Hodder, true leading man status has always been elusive, even within the genre context he is best known for. Of course, he must have hoped this would change with the all important turn as Dennis Rader in this fictionalized account of the B.T.K. killer's story. To his credit, he's the very best thing in this made-on-the-cheap thriller. Sadly, everything else around him is pretty much awful.
Playing fast and loose with the real life facts, writer/director Michael Feifer (responsible for a slew of direct to DVD serial killer efforts, including Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck, Bundy: An American Icon, and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield) tells the story of conservative churchgoer Rader (Hodder), and his socially split personality. During the day, he works as part of code enforcement for the city of Wichita, Kansas. He's also the newly elected president of his local congregation.
At night, however, he cruises around town for available women, tracking some from his job and involving them in his disgusting, deadly sex games. Taking the bodies out to a local farm for disposal, Rader racks up quite a body count before being captured by the police. Eventually, a computer disk and a locked garage lead to a litany of evidence and a date in the interrogation room. Naturally, the most devastated members of the Rader family are his wife (Amy Lyndon) and two daughters (Dru Ashcroft, Cara Sigmund). They just can't believe the mild-mannered man in their life is actually a vicious and brutal murderer -- and frankly, neither do we.
B.T.K. wouldn't be so bad if Feifer's focus had been more on what makes Rader's crime particularly disturbing -- that is, the notion that this everyday husband and working stiff could actually be a cold and calculated killer with a long history of working out his weird psychological issues on people's prone bodies. Instead, we get several sleazoid sequences where Hodder threatens and beats women, his imposing bulk making such manhandling seem redundant. While there is some resemblance to the real life psycho, Hodder always comes across as a brawnier Billy Mays. He's so earnest he often gets in the way of his character's own evil.
Of course, when compared to the non-entity acting of his completely incapable co-stars (especially the slop shrewishness of a horrible Ms. Lyndon), Hodder is Sir Anthony Hopkins. Feifer figures that his leading man can hold things together, and he does, barely. But when he goes missing from the final act of the film, when the rest of the Rader family are required to utter insane dialogue like "He NEVER helped me with my homework!," B.T.K. grows tired. Even the extended "false" ending which has Rader confessing, and then going through a David Lynch-like montage before recanting, makes the movie that much more mediocre.
Having now been the subject of at least four feature film treatments, the Bind, Torture, and Killing spree of Dennis Rader needs to be finalized, or simply forgotten. If a one-time Jason Voorhees can't elevate the material, there's really no hope (especially for the audience).