Schlockmania considers James Glickenhaus to be an unsung auteur. Starting with The Exterminator in 1980, he made a series of unique and action-packed films over the next decade and a half (he also started up a production/distribution outlet that allowed Frank Henenlotter to make his satirical grindhouse classic Frankenhooker). If you look at films like The Soldier and The Protector, you’ll see a distinctive mix of unusual plot hooks, casually offbeat humor and a crisp visual style used to capture elaborate action.
Of The Innocents was Glickenhaus’ next-to-last film. In this one, he turns his attention to the
serial killer thriller subgenre that had become so popular in the wake of The Silence Of The Lambs.
Appropriately, he got Scott Glenn from that film to topline here as Stephen
Broderick, a maverick FBI agent who specializes in tracking down serial
killers. Unlike his fellow agents, he has a unique secret weapon: his brainiac
computer-whiz son, Jesse (played by the writer/director’s son, Jesse
Jesse makes a connection between a recent murder in Utah
and an older unsolved murder in the same state, theorizing that both are the
work of a previously undetected serial killer.
When the wrong man is executed for the older killing, Stephen makes a
point of finding the real killer. As he hunts for the culprit, he finds an
underworld of cultists and child abuse.
Jesse is determined to help, bringing himself to the killer’s attention
as he sneaks out on his own to uncover more clues. This sets the stage for a
finale that is action-packed and unusual in the trademark Glickenhaus style.
Critics often slag off Slaughter Of The Innocents for a lack of realism, like a federal
agent taking his kid to a murder scene and allowing him to contribute analysis
and clues. To Schlockmania, this un-reality is what it makes it fun: some
viewers have described this film as a combination of The Silence Of The Lambs and Encyclopedia
Brown. That should clue you in to the fun available here: it combines
hard-hitting action, a dollop of horror and procedural elements with a
completely unexpected story of a father trying to impart life lessons to a
precocious son who is growing into his teen years.
This esoteric stew of elements shouldn’t work but it
does. The first reason why is the professionalism of Glickenhaus behind the
camera: by this time in his career, he understood how to put together a film
with production values slick enough to compete with Hollywood and had developed
a flair for staging suspense and eye-popping action with a sleek visual style. This
results in highlights like a creepy moment where the killer stalks an agent in
a library and a jaw-dropping finale that mixes kids in peril, fisticuffs, sharp
instruments and a curious interpretation of biblical scripture.
The second reason Slaughter
Of The Innocents works is because there is a genuine sense of conviction
driving its eccentric premise.
Glickenhaus has said in interviews that the story was inspired by the
experience of having a son and all the concerns that come with raising him.
Thus, even though this has periodic splashes of blood and grim plot elements
about cultists and a serial killer, it’s ultimately a sentimental story about a
father and his son. It even closes with
a walk-and-talk scene between the two that plays like something out of a very
unusual afterschool special. These
moments are delivered with heart and sensitivity that just add to the film’s
If you’re already a fan of Scott Glenn, his work here
adds another attribute. He clearly was having fun carrying a film here, drawing
on his tough guy side when he needs to but also digging into the scenes where
he has to be fatherly and displaying a charmingly low-key sense of humor that
fits the movie’s sensibility. He’s the
calm eye of the storm that keeps this unusual combo of elements anchored.
Some viewers cry nepotism about the casting of
Cameron-Glickenhaus here but given that he was the inspiration for the film,
his casting seems oddly apropos. He gives a quirky, deadpan performance that
works for the strange conceit of a kiddie serial-killer profiler/sleuth: for
example, he has a legitimately funny scene where he interrogates a crook who
has some information he needs.
Elsewhere, Kazaan is compelling as a killer who is as tormented as he is
scary and the eclectic supporting cast includes Darlanne Fluegel, Kevin Sorbo
and a young Aaron Eckhart.
In short, Slaughter
Of The Innocents furthers Schlockmania’s theory of Glickenhaus as
auteur. Only he could come up with a
serial killer thriller that doubles as a father-son story – and the mixture of
conviction and polish he brings to the proceedings ensures that it feels like
the work of someone with a singular vision.
Blu-Ray Notes: Synapse recently reissued this on blu-ray. The transfer does well by the slickness of the production, delivering color and detail in the style expected from this company. It also includes a barrage of supplements, including a director’s commentary, new interviews with FX designer Gabe Bartalos and DP Mark Irwin, vintage interviews and a neat EPK from when the film debuted as an HBO original feature. Recommended for Glickenhaus fans.