William Friedkin is the true undisputed Master of horror for his amazingly scary, brilliant THE EXORCIST. While he returned to horror less successfully with THE GUARDIAN, he also made a scary, extremely underrated chiller called RAMPAGE.
Stockton, California has a series of brutal daytime murders on their hands. A handsome young guy with long hair and sunglasses roams neighnorhoods and calmly follows people–including women and children–into their homes before they can close and lock the door, then cuts them to pieces, eating parts and bagging some to take home for later.
This is Charles Reece (Alex McArthur), a vicious serial killer who drinks his victims’ blood. He sees himself as being like a stalking tiger, put on Earth to devour people. The mentally disturbed Reece is captured, and a prosecutor (Michael Biehn) seeks the death penalty. Although he has misgivings about the death poenalty, the unrepentant, feral Reece is practically the poster boy for it.
Alex McArthur is excellent as the animalistic Reece, as is Biehn. Ironically, Biehn played the same exact type of character in his next film, Demi Moore’s THE SEVENTH SIGN, and he’s really good in that, too.
As with that film and EXORCIST, Biehn is a conflicted Catholic, struggling with wanting to put a man to death. He resolves to, when he sees the savagery Reece inflicted on a family, killing the mother and son, who are discovered by her husband and surviving son, who keeps asking “What’s the matter with Mommy?”
Reece murders a parish priest and reclines naked on the altar like Baccus. In custody, the cops are as puzzled by the killer as the audience. When the paranoid Reece asks a policeman for one of his Winchell’s Donuts, he complains, “He won’t eat prison food because it’s poisoned, but our donuts are alright?” Another cop asks the maniac, “What’s it like to drink blood?”
Friedkin shoots the movie with a scary versmilitude and based his Charles Reece on serial killer Richard Chase, the infamous “Sacramento Vampire”. While RAMPAGE is based on a book by William Wood, Friedkin made it a point to add a lot of Chase into the Reece character. If anything, the onscreen Reece is NOT as brutal as his real life counterpart. While Reece kills three women, a guy and boy, the Sacramento vampire Chase murdered two men, two women–one pregnant, a boy and a baby.
To the writer/director’s credit, he had wanted to direct Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon” long before serial killers became Hollywood’s bad guys of choice. Michael Mann even wanted to cast Friedkin as his Dr. Hannibal Lecter. When Jonathan Demme made his SILENCE OF THE LAAMBS, noyte how he imitates the framing of Regan and Karras during the exorcism with the way Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins confront one another. He shoots it like a master class of Friedkin 101″.
Friedkin used to be anti-death penalty, but had a change of heart. This film is one opf the scariest serial killer movies ever made and is NOT on dvd. Alex McArthur makes an excellent killer–he looks innocent and likable until the moment when he goes into his psychotic state.
Great Ennio Morricone score, this film is well worth seeking out. There are two different versions of the film–I prefer the scary ending to the ‘safe’ one. You will know which ending is creepier depending on which version you see…The original ending has Reece commit suicide like Chase did, the other announces the killer’s impending parole. Friedkin is a genius, capable of scaring the hell out of an audience and this film is a great reminder of that.