Rampage (1988)


Rampage (1988)
Cast: Michael Biehn, Alex McArthur, Nicholas Campbell
Director: William Friedkin
Nutshell: Based on real life “Dracula Killer” Richard Chase’s grisly murder spree


A non-descript, boy next door kind roams the streets of suburban Sacramento with an ominous ticking sound of a time bomb as accompaniment. The wild eyed young man arrives at an ammunition store to buy a pistol and moments later a spree of the most depraved bloodlust is enacted with a series of random attacks on innocent, unconnected people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Friedkin’s film is based on the murderous spree of the notorious “Sacramento Vampire” Richard Chase – a man who seemingly snapped one day for no apparent reason and unleashed untold horror upon those misfortunate enough to come into his path. Friedkin’s film gets straight down to business tracking the killer as he prepares for his deadly assault. Then the action cuts to the “law” and a parallel and rather turgid moral issue is presented – the death penalty and its rights and wrongs and when it should and shouldn’t be applied. From the moment Friedkin’s writing comes into play, the film deteriorates into something akin to a bad episode of Kojak.

The film rapidly declines from a potentially absorbing study of a deranged mind on the rampage (as the title suggests) to a dull, mealy-mouthed court room drama that fails to enlighten or entertain in any manner at all. Richard Chase’s grisly story was inbuilt with a riveting if horrible magnetism to it in the sense that he was like a human time bomb wandering through suburbia – a potentially devastating accident waiting to go off at any moment any place without any logic or motive whatsoever. Chase was a disaster wandering around the streets of pristine suburbia – his heads full of a thousand crazed, murderous thoughts – yet wearing an exterior of calm and normalcy…..this very scenario itself is loaded with the most extreme tension yet Friedkin’s treatment of the film plays like a flaccid TV detective-courtroom drama.

The acting is ordinary with Friedkin’s own script not helping matters along. To think that this is the same director who provided the world with one of the greatest and most stylishly presented horror films of all time is almost unimaginable yet the mind truly boggles when one considers just how dreadful the overwhelming majority of William Freidkin’s work has been. The more one encounters his post Exorcist work the more one is forced to believe that his seminal horror classic was indeed a fantastic fluke and that perhaps William Peter Blatty may be due more credit than he has been due?

Though The Exorcist remains a masterpiece and apparently The French Connection was also a solid effort but numerous other films bearing Friedkin’s directing skills have been bordering on the unwatchable though this particular one isn’t perhaps quite that dreadful.  Despite the lightweight script and the uninspired direction Alex McArthur as Charles Reece (Richard Chase) makes an impression with his blank stares and cold recollections. It is a pity that a potentially gripping film with a potent subject turns out to be such a forgettable viewing experience.