10 Rillington Place (1971)

Richard Fleischer directs Richard Attenborough, John Hurt and Judy Geeson in this true crime docudrama which recreates the serial murders of Ladbroke Grove sex killer John Christie and the miscarriage of justice that saw one of his victim’s husband’s sentenced to death.

My mother grew up in the shadow of Mister Christie. She was born just down the road from the notorious murder site and these slum buildings, where this film was shot on location, still existed on her doorstep throughout her entire childhood. When we went to the basement of horrors in Madame Tussaud’s, the animated waxwork that has stayed in my memory is Mister Christie wallpapering a body into his walls. Remembrances of the police looking for a murderer and finding the rooms at Rillington Place growing smaller and smaller as more bodies were hidden in the walls were the gruesome folk tales of my West London childhood. Don’t linger near that strange house, Mister Christie will get you. This well acted, unsensational film has the same sleazy, creepiness as Hitchcock’s Frenzy. Fleischer had done similar work with his take on The Boston Strangler case but this is the superior product. He lets the ghoulish details speak for themselves and presents the tragedies that unfold like an ambivalent god watching unfortunate fate tumble into its pre-ordained slots. There is a persuasive creepy voyeuristic tone – you do often find yourself sharing the thrill and desperation of disgusting John Christie. The legal elements of the case are just as fascinating… it doesn’t take a genius to see that Fleischer knowingly omits the moments where the police would have falsified statements and evidence to frame the wrong man. But this was made when those incompetent and corrupt figures of authority would still have been in power and a Hollywood production still wouldn’t out and out attack those the government chose to turn a blind eye to. Powerful stuff.

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