THE RIVERMAN. (2004) DIRECTED BY BILL EAGLES. BASED ON ROBERT KEPPEL’S 2004 BOOK THE RIVERMAN: TED BUNDY AND I HUNT FOR THE GREEN RIVER KILLER. STARRING CARY ELWES, BRUCE GREENWOOD, SAM JAEGER, KATHLEEN QUINLAN, SARAH MANNINEN AND DAVE BROWN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘That guy’s sure a piece-a work. Talking to him’s like having a slug crawling over your face.’
Florida State prison officer about Ted Bundy.
This is a fantastic film. It’s a film initially about the Green River Killer, otherwise known as blue-collar worker Gary Ridgway, the American murderer who killed so many prostitutes in the 1980s and 1990s that he had ‘a hard time keeping ’em straight,’ as he said himself.
It turns out then to be a film about the relationship between criminology professor Bob Keppel and Ted Bundy, a certain serial killer whose name you might know, and that’s when the film goes from being already very good to bloody brilliant. Let’s start at the beginning and see how things pan out.
Dave Reichert is the promising young detective who’s just been assigned the post of lead detective on the case of the Green River Killer in ‘Eighties America. The killer is known as the Riverman because so many of his victims’ bloated corpses ended up in or the banks of the mighty Green River. He operates in the Seattle-Washington area.
Dave Reichert himself discovered one of the bodies. He literally stumbles over the heavily decomposed remains on the overgrown river bank while investigating the case of another victim found floating in the Green River.
The Riverman only kills prostitutes, and often only very young ones at that. The girls are vulnerable, desperately impoverished and frequently under-aged runaways who are estranged from their families. It’s very hard to keep tabs on girls like that. If one goes missing, who’s to say whether or not she’s been abducted and murdered or simply packed a bag and moved on?
Even if someone reports such a girl missing because, say, she doesn’t phone home on her birthday or Christmas one year like she’s been accustomed to doing, it’s hard to imagine the police doing much more than making a note of her name and promising to keep an eye out for her.
How would you even begin to look for such a girl, who could have hitch-hiked a lift with some trucker and been several States away by the time the investigation into her disappearance gets underway?
The killer, of course, was counting on either this lack of interest on the part of law enforcement or the difficulties the cops faced in tracking down the missing girls. Their problems were his opportunities, as it were.
Dave Reichert is stumped, anyway, as to who’s killing these girls and dumping them in the river or on the river banks or in the most depressing, deserted stretches of waste ground known rather gruesomely as ‘dump sites.’ The killer himself referred to them as ‘clusters.’
Sometimes the horrible smell of decomposing flesh might alert a passer-by to the existence of something terrible in the bushes or behind the pile of rubble. More often than not, the corpse would turn up in the Green River, floating silently along all bloated and discoloured.
The killer treated the Strip where the prostitutes would ply their trade as his own personal playground or ‘supermarket’ for roughly two decades before he was finally collared in 2001. He more or less ran amok and there was nothing, really, to deter him for long.
The guy who plays Gary Ridgway in the film is exactly right for the role. He captures precisely the ordinariness, the sheer nothingness of this little weasel of a guy who played God with the lives of so many women for so long. The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, was another such nondescript loser, with a boring blue-collar job and a so-so marriage, whose wife knew nothing of his crimes.
Anyway, Dave Reichert calls in Robert Keppel to help him to find the killer. Bob Keppel, a professor of criminology at the University of Washington, was a member of the Task Force responsible for tracking down Ted Bundy.
Ted, of course, was the handsome, charismatic law student-cum-serial killer who in the 1970s murdered several women in America, usually beautiful young college co-eds with long straight hair parted in the middle to resemble a woman he’d once loved who had rejected him.
For a long time, Ted’s victims simply disappeared into thin air. A college girl would go to sleep in her bedroom in her sorority house while her sorority sisters slept in their own rooms all over the house and, by the next morning, she’d be gone. How had he done it without alerting anyone to his presence in the house?
Or maybe a college girl would set out to walk home late at night from her boyfriend’s fraternity house to her own sorority house and she’d never get there. Even though there’d be just a short walk between the two buildings, somewhere along that short walk Ted had found her and spirited her away with him forever.
Once, he’d even removed two women, separately, from a crowded National Park of picnickers and sun-worshippers on the same day and brought them both to a hideout in the woods where one of them was forced to watch him murder the other. One of them had her bicycle with her, which vanished into thin air also, just like its owner.
Then, high on a cold lonely mountain, some remains were finally found. The manhunt for the man who actually told his victims he was called ‘Ted’ was one of the biggest America had ever known.
The police even had a photo-fit that closely resembled Ted and Ted’s friends would tease him about how much he looked like this man that the whole of the American police force was trying to catch.
I think it was the first time too that American law enforcement came up against a serial killer who travelled across various State-lines to hunt his prey. Now that everyone had their own transport, a killer could be in one State in the morning and in another in the evening. It made the job of law enforcement that much more difficult than, I suppose, in the days of travel by a horse and cart.
Anyway, when the then-incarcerated Ted Bundy, on Death Row in Florida State Prison at the time for only a fraction of the crimes he’d actually committed, found out that his old Nemesis Bob Keppel was on the case of the Green River Killer, he wrote to Bob at his family home asking Bob to come and see him. What was Ted offering? Insight, he claimed, into the mind of a serial killer. It was too good a chance for Bob to turn down.
Bob’s wife Sandie goes ballistic, though, when she sees the letter with Ted’s name and address on the outside of it. How did this man find out where we live? Are you seriously going to let this evil man back into our lives, after all the trouble he caused last time? Burn his letter, burn it! I don’t want anything of his in this house! Bob, you must be out of your mind if you’re considering getting mixed up with him again!
You couldn’t really blame the wife. The men and women on the Ted Bundy Task Force ate, slept and breathed Ted for weeks, months and even years, presumably leaving Bob little time for his wife and three young children.
On the other hand, I assume she knew what job her husband did when she married him. If his job is to help track down serial killers, then that’s his job. A lot of little families like hers end up making sacrifices for the ‘greater good.’
Bob and Dave go to Florida State Prison to see Ted, brilliantly played by Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, the SAW franchise). Ted, even heavily guarded on Death Row, is still sarcastic, constantly sneering, constantly goading Bob.
He’s arrogant, haughty, desperate to show off his superior knowledge of the serial killer’s mind, desperate to prove that, even locked up as he is, he ‘still matters.’ He’s still important. He’s still a big wheel down at the cracker factory. (THE SIMPSONS!)
Ted has little insight really into the mindset of the Green River Killer, so Bob wisely uses the time to find out more about Ted’s own criminal activities. Ted is initially cagey but the closer he gets to his execution date, the more information he coughs up, thinking it might land him another stay of execution, which it doesn’t.
Bob learns a lot from Ted. He learns that full possession and control of the woman and, afterwards, her corpse, are the things that help Ted to ‘get his rocks off,’ to use Ted’s own words. Once she’s inside that car, that VW Bug, she’s his. To do with as he wishes. Just get them in the car. Ted will do the rest.
Ted would return many times to ‘his’ corpses to spend time with them and have sex with them till, presumably, they became too heavily decomposed. One can almost imagine that he would love to have lived with them in his house, if such a wild aberration had been permissible by law.
I’ve watched a few of the ‘Ted’ movies and they’re all really good, but none is as good as the five-minute segment in ‘THE RIVERMAN’ which shows us the terrible fate of pretty college co-ed Georgann Hawkins, the girl with the Spanish test in the morning.
The night-time bits see Ted pouncing and making off with his prey, but the bit in the cold sharp light of morning, the bit in the woods on the isolated mountain when an exhausted, satiated Ted is returning to his car really tells us so much more.
Did he drive home then to sleep for the whole day? What did he normally do after a kill? Did he wake up in the evening after hours of a dead sleep, starving with the hunger, and go and see his girlfriend Liz for a bite to eat with her and her daughter?
Did he have sex with Liz that night while re-living in his mind what he’d done to Georgann or the other women he took and killed? Did he smile to himself as memories of that night on the cold, lonely mountain or other similar nights came back to him? Ted took many of his secrets to the grave with him. Some things about him we’ll never know.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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