Bob Berdella. Does the name ring a bell? I know it didn’t for me. But for Kansas City, the name meant something vile and totally evil. To most, Bob Berdella was the guy who owned a weird booth at a flea market, who dealt with trinkets from around the world. But to a select few men, he tortured, raped, killed and hacked them up and put them in trash bags for the garbage men to take to the dump. He was a despicable man, but one that hasn’t reached the status of a Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy.
And that’s what Bazaar Bizarre attempts to do to this serial killer you haven’t heard of. The title refers to Bob Berdella’s shop at a flea market in Kansas City. He would sell trinkets from around the globe, telling the people he traveled to acquire them all. Ranging from tribal masks to bone necklaces, he became a slight celebrity in the city for being a quirky shop owner. We also get recollections from people who frequented the flea market and telling the filmmaker that this man was ‘kind of an asshole’. If only they had known what was going on in his home.
The documentary itself is a revealing account of Bob Berdella, but the only problem is that it doesn’t know what kind of documentary it wants to be. Many films show varying ways to tell a story but this one doesn’t know which to stick with. At one moment it is compelling, such as when we get actual footage of Bob Berdella speaking about his crimes candidly from prison, reminiscent of Ted Bundy or David Berkowitz. But this gets shoved to the side by Troma-esque reenactments that border on parody, and takes you out of the film completely. It’s not that the people acting in the film are bad. It just kills he mood, pardon the pun.
James Ellroy hosts the film, giving his two cents every so often. Being a big fan of his novels such as L.A. Confidential, he gives the film some weight, but again, it seems to be a bit biased on his side. I’m not saying to side with Bob Berdella. On the contrary, the stuff he did and admitted to is disgusting and reprehensible. Ellroy just says his ‘piece’ every so often, and while I agree with him in some ways, it just come across as very sensationalistic. We also get a series of performances by the band Demon Dogs. I really wish this wasn’t in it, but for some reason this film decides to pad as much as possible throughout its running time.
There is one other intriguing part of this documentary: a conversation with Chris Bryson, the man who escaped the prison of Berdella and survived to tell the tale. His recount of the time spent is intense and at times nerve wracking. And that is the bit of heart in the film that keeps you watching. And that’s the hook throughout it all. There’s roughly 45 minutes of interesting, enlightening and harrowing footage that keeps you interested enough to keep the DVD on throughout the 89 minute running time. But that doesn’t make a good documentary, especially one that wasn’t designated for Tru TV. There’s a glimmer of a fantastic documentary but it becomes bloated just like Bob Berdella himself.