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The Zodiac Killer (1971) - Blu-ray Review

3 beersImagine, if you will, a world in which a horror movie is made with the single objective to catch the killer the movie is about.  No, it’s not a premise to an episode of The Twilight Zone.  It is, in fact, what happened with 1971’s The Zodiac Killer at screenings in San Francisco, where cops hid in ice cream freezers just waiting to pounce when the Zodiac was drawn out thanks to a raffle in which a motorcycle was the ultimate prize.

Director Tom Hanson believes that the Zodiac attended one of the screenings of his movie, The Zodiac Killer, when it initially opened.  The weeklong stint, when he premiered the film in San Francisco, was a success earning audiences’ attentions due to the ongoing murders and evolving mystery of the killer itself.  The b-movie makes its debut on blu-ray thanks to the combined efforts of AGFA and Something Weird, who have given the film the 4K treatment using surviving 16mm elements.   

Hanson claims to have caught glimpse of the killer – or at least someone who looked a lot like the police sketch – in the bathroom, walking in to use the urinal.  The creepy dude told the director that blood doesn’t look like that.  As Hanson turned to respond, he saw the face from the police sketch staring back at him.  He swears by this story to this very day.  And, due to the media-loving antics of the killer, the killer might have truly stalked him.  It is entirely possible.

Unfortunately, we may never know if he did have this run-in or not.  The killer responsible for the murders is still at large (or possibly dead) and this low budget film, being the first cinematic feature to tackle the subject of the killings and the murderer, proved to be an interesting document of a bygone era when the deadly murders and the fear were both very real. 

What we do know is that, according to Hanson, after being unable to convince the authorities that the killer was in the audience (what a publicity stunt!), he was going to find out just who this man was – even if that meant letting him go and following him home.  And that is exactly what happened.  Hanson claims to have watched him re-emerge from his house dressed as a mailman, exactly the premise of his movie! 

Starring Bob Jones, Ray Lynch, Tom Pittman, and Hal Reed as the Zodiac, The Zodiac Killer cost all of $13,000 to make.  According to Hanson, it was made to catch the killer and, as it is certainly not the greatest of horror/crime movies, that much is probably true.  Hanson was, after all, owned Pizza Man fast food franchises in LA and worked a bit-part actor at the time of the movie’s release and whole premiere was essentially a rouse in and of itself to get handwriting samples from the audience. 

It’s a bit of rough movie to sit through.  You can, at one point, actually hear the director yell “cut” to his actors.  Cult enthusiasts will get through it okay and, as it’s separated into two parts, it’s highly digestible.  It’s damn credible, even if the performances are not professional.  Realistic in its gritty tone and in its weaving of storylines and characters, the liberties it takes with the story it tells are completely forgivable.

Tabloid horror gets served ice cold with the release of The Zodiac Killer.  While the story behind the scenes is more interesting than the actual movie, both make for an unforgettable journey through the sticky side of the aisle.


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The Zodiac Killer (1971) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R.
87 mins
: Tom Hanson
Ray Cantrell, Manny Cardoza
Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch
: Horror | Mystery
He may be a stranger... a friend... or the quiet guy who lives next door.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I like 'em plump and juicy and dumb!"
Theatrical Distributor:

Official Site:
Release Date:
April 7, 1971
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 25, 2017
Synopsis: The San Francisco area is beset by a series of seemingly random murders without motive or pattern. The police are taunted by phone calls and letters. Could the maniac be the violent, truck driver, or the seemingly mild-mannered mailman, or even a cop?


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The Zodiac Killer (1971) - Blu-ray Review


Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: AGFA: American Genre Film Archive
Available on Blu-ray
- July 25, 2017
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; DVD; two disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

The Zodiac Killer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.35:1.  The new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics film scanner from the only 35mm theatrical print in existence.  The print was made from the original 16mm camera negative, which is now lost.  There is a lot of grain in the image and that is to be expected.  Colors are not bright, but neither are they dull and flat.  Black levels are solid, though hard to see shadows.  Color grading was performed with DaVinci Resolve.  Every effort has been made to retain the original experience of the film.  The monoaural soundtrack was remastered using Pro Tools HD.



  •  Tom Hanson provides a very interesting commentary alongside actor Manny Nedwock and others from the original production.

Special Features:

There’s enough included to make this more than a curiosity item to own.  There is an interview with Hanson and actor Manny Nedwick, trailers from the AGFA archive, a bonus movie, and liner notes.  With reversible cover art rounding out the supplemental items, this release is pretty solid.

  • Tom Hanson and Manny Nedwick Interview
  • Tabloid Trailers
  • Another Son of Sam (1977) - NEW 2K restoration from a 35mm theatrical print


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[tab title="Art"]The Zodiac Killer (1971) - Blu-ray Review