Feb 5, 2014
If infamous serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen is the “British Jeffrey Dahmer” as he has been dubbed by the mainstream media, Cold Light of Day (1989) is the Brit Dahmer (2002), at least as far as cinematically empathizing with a corpse-copulating serial killer is concerned. Indeed, like the uneven but not uninteresting Dahmer biopic starring a rather then-unknown Jeremy Renner, Cold Light of Day dares to wallow in the messed up mind and perennial loneliness of a gay lunatic lustkiller. The very first and ultimately last film directed by mysterious female auteur Fhiona-Louise—a woman whose only other credentials include starring in two short obscure films, Metropolis Apocalypse (1988) and Sleepwalker (1993), directed by British actor and entrepreneur Jon Jacobs (a man whose greatest claim to fame is mortgaging his house in 2005 to buy a virtual asteroid for $100,000, the most expensive ‘virtual item’ ever sold at that time)—Cold Light of Day is the sort of malignantly melancholy and superlatively stark and grating celluloid work that could have only been directed by a dangerously introverted individual who has entered the darkness and cannot manage to find their way back. And, indeed, auteur Fhiona-Louise would never make another film after her debut as she apparently committed suicide not long after creating her debut feature at the tender age of 21, thus making it all the more morbidly eerie that Cold Light of Day concludes with the following tribute from the director: “For those too sensitive for this world.” Undoubtedly, one would expect the auteur was uncommonly sensitive and empathetic if she managed to possess any understanding for a necrophiliac sodomite serial killer like Dennis Nilsen who, between late-1978 and early-1983, killed no less than 15 men and boys whose bodies he molested and mutilated before he either burned or flushed pieces of their putrefied flesh down the toilet. The son of an alcoholic Norwegian father and a pious Scottish Catholic mother, Nilsen would lose his father to divorce when he was only four-years old and would go on to describe his early childhood as being a “female dominated world,” so when the killer’s beloved grandfather and sole father-figure died of a heart attack when he was just shy of being six-years old, it had totally traumatic consequences that forever changed the way he viewed the world, especially in regard to death. Forced by his pathologically Catholic mother to see the corpse of his grandfather, Nilsen had what he would later describe in his autobiography as “my first encounter with the fact and mystery of ‘Death’,” which would ultimately become the biggest obsession of his pathetic life as a man one might describe as God’s loneliest nancy boy necrophile.
Dennis Nilsen (played by Bob Flag, who has played in diverse roles ranging from Werner Nekes’ kraut avant-garde flick Uliisses (1982) to Calendar Girls (2003) starring Helen Mirren) leads a rather unremarkable life as a soldier (he worked in the catering unit of the army, which is where he gained the expertise to butcher bodies) turned cop turned civil servant, but after making the major mistake of flushing the remains of his gay male victims down the toilet and causing the drain in his apartment building to block, he is arrested for multiple murders of the rather grizzly blood-guts-limbs-organs-bones-ridden sort. Told in a series of oftentimes ominous and macabre yet realistic melodramatic flashbacks that are mostly set in the pernicious poof protagonist's dilapidated apartment, Nilsen meekly describes to a prick police inspector named Simmons (Geoffrey Greenhill) how he became a flesh-fucking fag serial killer. Always willing to help a neighbor, Nilsen is such a nice fellow that he helps an elderly war veteran, who “had a little accident” (i.e. he pissed himself), with cleaning up his soiled “old soldier” body. When Nilsen begins a relationship with a young bum hustler named Joe (Martin Byrne-Quinn), his lonely loser life seems to be looking up, but as one can expect from such dubious romances, the good times do not last long. On top of giving blow jobs to other men in sleazy tearooms, bitch boy Joe starts heated arguments with the seemingly meek and cuckish Nilsen. When Nilsen accuses his swarthy boy toy of being an “ungrateful bitch,” Joe retorts with, “God, you sound so fucking camp, you do.” Needless to say, Nilsen kills Joe by strangling him until he is unconscious and then proceeds to drown him in a bathtub. Although gay, Nilsen tries to 'straighten' himself out and goes to a prostitute, but he ends up embarrassing himself terribly after ejaculating literally a second or two after the busty streetwalker touches his genitals. As a loyal civil servant at a jobcentre, Nilsen has access to various down-and-out young men and since his impulse to kill has become uncontrollable ever since wasting his lover Joe, he uses this position to recruit prospective victims, which include teenage runaways, hustlers, junkies, and bums. Indeed, like his kindred spirit Dahmer, Nilsen the murderous man-loving menace preys on people that society will not notice being missing, let alone miss. With the “beautiful” (how Nilsen describes them) bodies piling up, Nilsen must get creative with hiding the remains of his victims. On top of burning and cooking body parts, Nilsen hides limbs under his apartment floorboards and hides other parts in his furniture, but he develops a special affinity for flushing rotten flesh down the toilet. Of course, Nilsen’s warped world comes tumbling down after his busybody neighbor calls a drain-cleaning company when the dismembered parts of young men end up clogging the apartment building’s drains. When an employee from the drain-cleaning company smells something a little more fetid that does not simply reek of simple shit, he calls the cops and Nilsen does not even bother to put up a fight, wasting no time in confessing his dastardly deeds. At the conclusion of Cold Light of Day, Nilsen confesses to Inspector Simmons regarding why he committed the crimes: “I did it for me… Purely selfishly… I worshipped the act of death…over and over, it was like killing myself. It’s as simple as that. I hated the decay and dissection…there’s no pleasure in that…but I did enjoy the act. And to kill myself, I’d experience it just once…by killing others, it allowed me to feel it again and again.”
Apparently, the real-life Dennis Nilsen would go on to describe the day he got arrested as ‘The Day Hope Came.’ Personally, I doubt there ever was hope for a repugnant yet pitiful person like Nilsen and the suffocating starkness of Cold Light of Day makes that quite clear. Indeed, to call Cold Light of Day an ‘enjoyable’ film would be nothing short of absurd, but it is certainly an exceedingly effective work that is the virtual celluloid equivalent of being stuck in solitary confinement with Nilsen in a nutward. On top of the fact that lead Bob Flag bares a strikingly resemblance to Nilsen and radiates a certain perturbing patheticness that cannot be merely contrived, Cold Light of Day takes an almost quasi-cinéma-vérité approach that, aesthetically speaking, falls somewhere in between the stylized realism of films by John Cassavetes, Alan Clarke, and Vincent Gallo, albeit with the atmospheric brutality of Jörg Buttgereit. In terms of its patently pathetic and lethally lonely ‘anti-hero,’ Cold Light of Day recalls Kurt Raab’s role as the cannibalistic German serial killer Fritz Haarmann in Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (1973) aka The Tenderness of Wolves produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by Ulli Lommel. While Cold Light of Day is probably a work that will bore jaded gorehounds looking to get a cheap thrill from senseless buckets of blood and guts, as well as arthouse-inclined cinephiles who feel too cultivated and dignified to accept an obscure no-budget serial killer flick from the UK, Cold Light of Day is certainly a grimy unsung classic of sorts that dares to take a reasonably objective look at the miserable misspent life of a man who loved death so much that he literally made love with it. Ultimately, the only real recognition that the film received is winning the UCCA Venticittà Award at 47th Venice International Film Festival held in 1990. Somewhat surprisingly, Cold Light of Day is not the only artful and worthwhile film about Nilsen, as Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men (1989)—a synthesizer-driven black-and-white avant-garde flick created by members of the controversial DV8 Theater Group that uses aggressive ballet as a means to interpret the killer’s loneliness and depravity—is also worth checking out. A film directed by a suicidal artist who dared to look into the abyss and somehow found something human in the monster looking back at her, Cold Light of Day is celluloid desperation in its most decidedly deranged, dreary, and death-deifying form. Needless to say, the film is also infinitely superior to the 2012 Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver film of the same name.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 4:38 PM
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