Arrow Video: Cold Light of Day (1989) - Reviewed

Cold Light of Day, the one and only feature film from female writer-director Fhiona-Louise, is without question Great Britain’s answer to John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  A loose dramatization of the life of serial killer Dennis Nilsen with the name changed to Jordan March and played by 1984’s Big Brother actor Bob Flag, Cold Light of Day is a gritty and rough-around-the-edges serial killer film which starts out brooding with tension before making an abrupt jump into gory and violent murders.  It’s an effective swan dive into sick and twisted serial killer antics and an open playground for Bob Flag to sink his teeth into a reprehensible character.

As with Henry, the film is a searing dose of unvarnished truth telling with many scenes observing the antagonist committing a murder without passing judgment on the proceedings.  We’re simply a fly on the wall bearing witness to these atrocities.  Unlike Henry which lets the viewer know out of the gate what they’re in for, Cold Light of Day closes in on the viewer like a venus flytrap waiting to strike its prey.  The film gives you time to let your guard down before the unexpected attacks ensue.  Visually and sonically this is pretty drab looking and sounding fare, lensed on rough 16mm loaded with heavy grain levels though that only adds to the discomforting feel of the film.
Where the film soars is with Bob Flag’s performance and attire.  Though the names have been changed, Flag clearly is meant to look like Nilsen with his thick rimmed glasses and dark hair.  Nilsen rather infamously murdered at least twelve people before flushing their remains down the toilet while hiding the rest in the floor.  Louise’s film looks on unblinkingly at these perverse horrors unfolding though the film makes the wise decision of standing outside of the perpetrator’s plight, regarding his evil doings from afar.  While chilling and at times deeply disturbing, as a crime drama we’re only given glimpses into the killer’s childhood with a rough outline for why these crimes take place and by the end of the film we’re nowhere near being close to understanding what made this man tick.

Years later there was a more direct television series entitled Des chronicling the 1983 arrest of Dennis Nilsen, referring to his actual name this time around.  Naturally this earlier stab (no pun intended) at the story of Nilsen was going to resurface as Des made the rounds.  The film in question doesn’t really bring anything new to the table we haven’t quite seen already in other movies about this topic but as a serial killer film entry it does manage to provide a few jolts of its own that will catch you off guard.  This isn’t easy viewing with some scenes that will leave their mark yet overall isn’t revelatory viewing either.  Bob Flag is good in the role and some scenes are good at testing the gag reflexes, but chances are you’ve seen this kind of movie a dozen times over already.

--Andrew Kotwicki