With a true crime story you would think the goal is to show what happened and to try and explain why it happened. The standard for such endeavors would be films like "In Cold Blood" and mini-series such as "Helter Skelter." There will be inevitable questions about how much you actually show and whether the explanations will prove at all satisfactory. "Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck" is about the murder of the eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966, which happens to be the first headline crime that I remember after the assassination of JFK. Way back then I was unaware of the story of Ed Gein or the way everything would seem to change after the Manson murders, and long before Michael Meyers) upped the ante in teh cinematic world of splatter flicks. After watching this direct-to-video 2007 film I know a bit more about the murders and the murderer, but not enough in either regard to have a better understanding, assuming, of course, such a thing is possible in such a case.
This film tries to weave together three time lines with the murders, the aftermath involving the investigation and Speck's conviction, and Speck's early life. Just playing with the chronology takes away from the sense of "Chicago Massacre" documenting a true crime story, but what we see does not really follow the murders laid out by the prosecution at the trial. Speck stabbed and strangled his victims to death, with seven of the women found dead in their beds, but the movie shows him using a gun to shoot one woman in a bathtub (Speck did have a gun, but used it to control the women). Writer-director Michael Feifer ("Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield") focuses much more on the eyes of the victims than the blood, so you get more of an impression of the murders than any graphic details. How Speck (Corin Nemec) is eventually captured and convicted is the most historically accurate parts of the film, but seems secondary to the depiction of the killings and it is their muddled depiction that stands out in your mind.
Even less successful is the effort to try and explain why Speck became a killer. The scenes from his past do not come together to create anything close to a psychological profile that would constitute such an explanation. Speck had been arrested previously for burglary and stabbing, as well as having been a suspect in a rape, a beating death, the disappearance of three women, and the murders of four other women. I do not know the specifics, so it could be just a case of Speck become a suspect for every unsolved crime with any similarity to what happened in Chicago after he was caught. Still, the question of whether the murder of the student nurses was the culmination of his career as a serial killer or more of a massive one-time explosion would strike me as being pertinent. However, that is not part of Feifer's agenda and is probably too lofty a goal for a low-budget movie filmed in just 10 days.
Connecting the dots to form a coherent picture becomes infinitely more difficult when you take into account the bizarre video of Speck in prison, recreated in the film, sporting female-like breasts grown from smuggled hormones and boasting, "If they only knew how much fun I was having, they'd turn me loose." The quote appears at the start of the film, out of context, and then again at the end, I think the line is privileged as explaining Speck, when it does no such thing. The incongruity of seeing Speck on that video, snorting cocaine and parading around in women's panties, as the man who raped and slaughtered these young women as depicted in this film, is simply too great despite a valiant effort by Nemec. When this film ends all you can do is dismiss Speck as a freak and flush him from your mind, wishing that this film had made his victims more memorable (and not so nameless). It may just be that no matter how great of a number you multiply by zero, in the end all you get is zero.