A courtroom drama focusing on both the horror of an apparently mad crime and the question of legal insanity, RAMPAGE is based on the real case of Richard Chase and the novel about it by California district attorney William Wood. Despite some ambiguity about the culprit's sanity, the
emphasis in William Friedkin's screenplay is on the grief of the victims' relatives and the plight of the deputy district attorney, normally against the death penalty, who is asking for it in this case.
We first spot Charles Reece (Alex McArthur) wandering through a neat, typical suburban neighborhood and taking note of one particular house. A few days later, having purchased a Luger, he enters that house and shoots a man and two women whom he later mutilates to obtain body parts. While the
police launch their investigation of this crime and the young deputy district attorney, Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn), reevaluates his opinion of the death penalty in the light of this hideous murder, Reece attacks some neighbors whose dog he had poisoned earlier. Once again he kills and
mutilates a woman and kidnaps one of her young sons, whose body is later discovered. Reece, however, has been identified and is soon arrested.
At the preliminary investigation, a weak-willed state psychiatrist, Paul Rudin (Roy London), assures Fraser that they do not have to worry about an insanity plea. Indeed, the good-looking, well-spoken Reece appears perfectly normal, as he did at the gun store, despite his household cellar with its
collection of body parts, Nazi regalia, religious icons and pornography. The prosecutor, Fraser, is haunted by the death of his young daughter from pneumonia. Fraser's memories or fantasies about her are contrasted with Reece's own bloody imagery. In the course of his transit between courtroom and
jail, Reece manages to kill his guards and escapes briefly. He is captured in a church into which he has broken in search of the sacred "blood" and apparently butchered the priest, a crime which Fraser is prohibited from mentioning at the trial.
The district attorney is not the only one with bad memories. The widower in the second series of murders, Gene Tippetts (Royce D. Applegate), leaves behind the house where his wife was killed and violated, and tells his surviving young son that they will leave the state and spend some time
travelling. When Fraser implores him to be a witness, the man cites the crime as some sort of judgment with a fatalistic acceptance.
Although the question of Reece's sanity is the subject of the trial's second part, the subject emerges in open debate between Fraser and the defense psychiatrist, Keddie (John Harkins). Although Keddie testifies that he wants to understand the nature of Reece's madness, he had been seen earlier
rather smoothly manipulating Rudin's fear of legal liability for having released Reece earlier from a stay in the local mental ward. The defense team eventually asks for a series of novel brain tests that reveal chemical imbalances, and the new findings indicate schizophrenia. The film ends with a
chilling inter-title about Reece's chances for release from a mental hospital pending a possible cure.
No stranger to controversy, William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) has tackled a far more serious topic than he can possibly handle. From the film's first quarter-hour, it seems to tip its hand and indicate that Reece is a cunning, if delusional, mass murderer, and the actual
subject of the Nazis' extermination plans is raised in Fraser's debate with Keddie. Even Reece's apparently crazy foray into the church could be interpereted as a simple, if vicious, feint to confuse the issue.
For much of his youth, Reece seems to have led a fairly normal life, even enjoying a normal love affair with a high school girlfriend and working at a gas station. It seems clear that he could control some of his impulses to kill; that may be the fine legal point that Friedkin wants to highlight,
but he doesn't quite do it. There is no apparent tension in Reece's personality, no internal struggle or debate at all, so that his calm, polite appearance seems a deception, not a thin and fragile veneer. By stressing that deceit, Friedkin has weakened his film. (Excessive violence.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: A courtroom drama focusing on both the horror of an apparently mad crime and the question of legal insanity, RAMPAGE is based on the real case of Richard Chase and the novel about it by California district attorney William Wood. Despite some ambiguity abou… (more)