“He puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again.” Name that film, name that serial killer. Not hard is it? It’s the gender-bending, skin-weaving, puppy-dog-petting, Buffalo Bill from The Silence Of The Lambs, of course. Thomas Harris is a horror author with some serious skills when it comes to imbuing characters with a curious killing instinct. And as if Buffalo Bill wasn’t kooky enough for one film (and book), then Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lector breaks the mould – wielding both psychology and unbridled physical violence against his foes.
As Agent Starling adroitly says: “They don’t have a name for what he is.” His unforgettable liking for fava beans, Chianti and a nice slice of human liver was made immortal by Sir Anthony Hopkins when he won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the killer in Jonathan Demme’s truly terrifying 1991 film.
Another mend-bending weirdo with a deceptively friendly face is Hannibal’s predecessor The Talented Mr Ripley, played by Matt Damon in Minghella’s 1999 film, and cult French actor Alan Delon in René Clément’s fifties version. Both blonde, well-built and almost facelessly handsome, Mr Ripley uses his creepy charm to turn killer chameleon on unsuspecting friends to steal their lives and their identities. Smart.
In Gerard Johnson’s debut feature Tony : London Serial Killer, in cinemas on 5th Feb and out on DVD on 8th Feb, Tony also plays on his innocence to lure everyone from heroin addicts to TV License men into his unassuming Hackney council flat. Cursed with a morbid interest in seriously bad 80’s beat-em up B-movies but with a rancid rotten-body odour emanating from his bedroom cupboards, Tony, like Buffalo Bill or Mr Ripley, is not your average killer. He wears NHS glasses for starters. He looks like a loner, a geek, but you’d never imagine the things he can do with a phone line or a plastic bag…
Tony’s pretty much the opposite of Patrick Bateman, the designer-label wearing yuppie in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron in 2000. Although Bateman’s a man who’d kill you for the colour of your business card, Tony’s mindless killing sprees are also born out of a similar inner-city alienation. And there lies the fear, right? Just as swapping digits with Bateman could get you a date with a chainsaw as much as a classy dinner , reaching out to help Tony and his shaky, extended hand could just as likely get you a lovely cup of tea as easily as a date with death. It’s the not knowing that kills you – literally.
Tony is being talked about as the UK equivalent to Henry, Portrait Of A Serial Killer, John McNaughton ‘s no-budget horror flick released back in 1986. Like the former, Tony was British writer-director Gerard Johnson’s first feature and was made on a shoe-string and could well be en route to similarly cult status following its release. And like Henry or Taxi Driver before it, it uses uber-realist insights into the grimness that is contemporary life. Just don’t let it knock the humanitarian out of you – not every man with cheapo glasses and a dodgy mustache is out to kill you. Or are they?