Bazaar Bizarre

Bazaar Bizarre

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Benjamin Meade’s “Bazaare Bizarre” is a documentary film about the Missouri serial killer Bob Berdella, who kidnapped, raped, and murdered anywhere from six to 48 young men in the mid-to-late 1980s. Berdella was a horrifying criminal. He looked like a particularly sleazy version of John Goodman’s character from “The Big Lebowski.” He would cruise around in a van, pick up young male prostitutes, and then drug them, tie them to a bed or into a bathtub, and subject them to all manner of sexual horrors. He would inject their throats with Drāno to make them mute. He would caulk their ears shut. He would take pictures. He kept a detailed log of his actions, complete with a twisted shorthand. He would then kill them, and put their dismembered bodies in trash bags out by the curb. Some he would bury in the woods. Some he would bury in his basement. He got away with this for years. His reign of terror ended when one of his victims, a kid named Chris Bryson, was able to escape from his prison by burning through his ropes with a pilfered cigarette lighter. He was found running madly through the streets, streaked with blood, wearing a dog collar and leash.


Berdella was arrested and taken to court. He felt no remorse for his crimes, and claimed that the local police were to blame for allowing him to continue killing. He was convicted for six deaths, and was sent to prison where he promptly died of a heart attack. Many lament his passing, as he was sure to eventually tell where more of his victims were buried.

This is a sad and violent story, but I’m not sure in “Bazaar Bizarre” is the film to tell it. “Bazaar Bizarre,” you see, was put out by Troma Team International, that infamous New Jersey-based production company, marked by their open acceptance and gleeful promotion of the weirdest and silliest gore films you can imagine; Troma, and their head honcho, the charismatic Lloyd Kaufman, are responsible for “The Toxic Avenger,” “Terror Firmer,” “Poultreygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead,” and hundreds of others. So it’s kind of bizarre to see a reportedly frank documentary coming from their wacky stable.


On the one hand,”Bazaar Bizarre” is hosted by famed crime author James Ellroy, who wrote seminal L.A.-based crime works like The Black Dahlia, Brown’s Requiem, and L.A. Confidential. Ellroy’s presence lends weight and pedigree to our story; surely he knows a thing or two about serial killers. But on the other hand, the film is punctuated by weird, dank (and incredibly long) re-enactments of the crimes, including sensational gore-splattered slaughters, and campy, fake-looking cannibalism scenes. It’s unclear if “Bazaar Bizarre” wanted to be a dark cautionary fable, or a wacky Mondo-like crime-fest.

What’s more, “Bazaar Bizarre” (a title taken from Berdella’s swap-meet curio booth, where he would sell doomy knickknacks and homemade chili), contains numerous musical numbers performed by a band called Demon Dogs. They would sing inappropriately aggrandizing and strangely silly songs about Berdella’s crimes. They wore long cloaks, and looked like that band of dumb, mopey, wrestling-obsessed clods you used to stay away from in high school, but all grown up. It’s one thing when a local DJ sings a spoof song about Berdella on AM radio (which actually happened), as it is a tasteless-yet-funny song on topical events. It’s another thing entirely when some group of death-shrouded hipsters sing rubber phantom songs about a local boogieman.


It’s when these musical numbers are unspooling that you being to get a sense of what “Bazaare Bizarre’s” actual MO is: This is a film for Unhappy Mutants. The kids who lionize serial killers, and memorize details of their crimes to repeat them in casual conversation. The kids who have Mayhem posters on their walls. The kids who wear black every day, and threaten to beat you up, before they go home and re-watch their “Faces of Death” videos. The kids who own exotic knives and swords. This is a movie for them.


Despite the presence of Ellroy, and the actual documentary footage of Berdella himself at his inquest, as an interview with his one surviving victim, despite the comment that serial killers need to be looked out for, and sequestered from humanity where they can get help, despite the tragedy of the deaths and the horror of the crimes, this is a film that, at the end of the day, is celebrating death in a wholly unwholesome fashion.


It’s bizarre.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Bazaar Bizarre « Three Cheers for Darkened Years! This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink. ← 'Strange Sex' Exploring More Bizarre Bedroom Behavior, Mysterious … […]

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