Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
Crossing Over: “ZODIAC” (2007)Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome, FANGORIA Readers, to CROSSING OVER, our newest column that highlights the films, series and content out there outside of horror that is fashioned towards or pays tribute to our beloved genre. By shining a light onto these projects, FANGORIA hopes to open a world of entertainment perfect for fright fans that lies just beyond the borders of the horror community. So without further ado…
While not traditionally considered a “Master of Horror,” there’s undeniably something in the work of director David Fincher that draws his work towards the eerie, the depraved and the macabre. Whether it be the more outwardly horrific ALIEN3, the effortlessly perturbing THE GAME, the shocking inhumanity of SE7EN, the brutal social commentary of FIGHT CLUB, or the lurid segments of PANIC ROOM, GONE GIRL & THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Fincher rarely pulls punches when it comes to shining a light on the darker side of mankind. And yet Fincher’s scariest effort to date is also the film in his oeuvre with the greatest tie to reality: 2007’s ZODIAC.
Even though ZODIAC contains many of the things that run through many of Fincher’s films, including gorgeous visuals, palpable suspense, haunting interpersonal drama and a fair share of bloodletting, ZODIAC is likely the most frightening Fincher film because it’s based on true events, most of which are unflinchingly replicated. By being unable to give a face to the horror, despite Fincher & writer James Vanderbilt’s overt suspicions towards Arthur Leigh Allen, there’s something even more restricting and engulfing about ZODIAC outside of the standard protagonist/antagonist tension. And while the most harrowing scenes put the ZODIAC’s crimes front and center, the scariest scenes are the more quiet ones, which keep viewers unfamiliar with the Zodiac case on their toes throughout.
In fact, the scariest moment of ZODIAC is one that nearly relies completely on the imagination of the viewer as the camera remains solely on the potential victim: a young woman driving at night is flagged down by a driver who claims her tire is loose. Allowing the man to fix it, she takes off only for the tire to go bust less than a mile later. With her baby in tow, she reluctantly takes a ride with the good samaritan to the local gas station. After a brief, terse exchange, the man says, “Before I kill you, I’m going to throw your baby out the window.” The film fades out, only to reveal the woman threw herself and her cild from the moving vehicle and flagged down the nearest passerby for help; was she almost a victim of the Zodiac or a random maniac, and even so, would it make the experience any less terrifying?
However, ZODIAC is also quite terrifying in its more subtle implications as well, especially as it shows how complicit serial killer culture was to turning the Zodiac case into a near-unsolvable puzzle. While Fincher is careful to posit certain qualities of the Zodiac near Allen (particularly in voice and body stock with the phenomenal John Carroll Lynch), things such as the broadcasted phone call and the contradictory evidence. And the other frustrations of the case from the ineffective collaborations between government branches to the panic-stricken public make it loud and clear just how easy it was to let a serial killer (and potentially other copycat killers) get away with murder.
Even though ZODIAC clocks in at nearly three hours long, the film is a terrifying immersion into a horrific time in American history, where the public was consumed in fear over a terrifying, taunting maniac. Though ZODIAC is much more than your standard horror film, acting as a character study of those whose lives were torn apart by the case as well as a genuinely gripping crime tale, there’s no doubt that even a hardened horror fan could sit down with the film and easily get chills up their spine. And in any case, ZODIAC shows that even if the Oscar voters are cautious to embrace Fincher’s penchant for dark drama, horror fans can always find entertainment in the director’s wicked ways.