Joel – USA, 2018

‘New York’s most notorious serial killer’

Joel is a 2018 American true crime drama horror thriller feature film written, edited and directed by John R. Hand (Forest of the Vampire; The Synthetic Man; Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare). The micro budget JRH Films production stars Arnold Odo, Fernando Cano and Bri Bynon McGregor.

The film is the story of Joel Rifkin, New York’s most notorious serial killer, who murdered at least seventeen female sex workers in the late eighties and early nineties…

Review:

In 1989, Long Island native Joel Rifkin killed his first victim in what was the beginning of a four-year murder spree. By the time 1994 rolled around, this prolific serial killer had killed seventeen prostitutes and would have kept going if it hadn’t been for a minor traffic incident that caused him to be pulled over one dark evening.

The film, Joel, captures the cold and desensitised persona of a man trapped within in own monstrous conviction. Rifkin grew up in the upper-middle class suburbs of East Meadow, NY with a learning disability and lack of social skills. Often teased and bullied, he became the quintessential loner, finding solace with his mother and watching television endlessly.

During a viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, Rifkin allegedly had an epiphany that drew him closer to the darkest point of depravity. And he suddenly found himself obsessed with both sex and strangulation.

Joel is a well-made film told in first person, which dives head on into the complexities of a killer’s intents. While an immediate detachment from his shocking confession from the start of the movie leaves you chilled, it’s hard to imagine an ounce of warmth exists within this malicious man.

While most of the serial killer followers know all about Joel Rifkin’s horrific murder spree between 1989 and 1993, many are simply unaware of his upbringing. Joel’s birth parents were twenty-something year old college students, the father being an army vet.

According to the film, Joel was never fully accepted by his father, thus adding to his darkened retreat into a deeply horrifying world. However, the movie neglected to mention that Rifkin was adopted as a baby by an upper class Jewish couple who were very attentive to his rearing.

As previously mentioned, Joel Rifkin had learning disabilities, was frequently bullied at school and eventually became a recluse. His relationship with his mother as per Joel seemed to be the most stable area in his life. Which leads to the question – what made Joel Rifkin embark on a killing spree targeting women? In particular… prostitutes?

Joel is an interesting case study from the killer’s POV. The aloofness, detached and sedated mentality which occupies his mind allowed him to justify his morbid actions and essentially… how it managed to catch up with him. He faults himself for his carelessness which lead to his capture and the discovery of the dead body in the back of his truck (victim #17). Through this random traffic incident, Rifkin’s bloody carnage had abruptly ended.

The only negativity about Joel is the lack of interaction between Rifkin and everyone that surrounds him… family, colleagues, or even street strangers. Viewers only get to see his contact with each victim (some of which are mere numbers and not named) and are left with very little homage paid to his casualties.

Basically, there is no connection amongst the characters portrayed. The audience is left to judge whether or not Joel really did have a decent relationship with his mother, as there is literally nothing else to go on. That was a bit disappointing, however the movie is still highly recommended.

Meredith Brown, MOVIES & MANIA

Other reviews:

“The story is told in a narrative style, with icy voice-overs accompanying most of the tragic action. Despite this approach (or maybe because of it) the movie has the aura of a crime documentary. The original music by The Grey creates a foreboding atmosphere that will leave you feeling on edge. A stylized opening scene, period footage, and great POV shots, all help to make events seem more real.” John Migliore, Indie Horror Online

“There’s no real gore to speak of, and serial killer junkies may find this a bit too tame and restrained for their tastes. In fact, Joel feels more like a documentary than a feature film. Personally, I enjoyed the stripped down storytelling and appreciated the thoughtful way Hand approached the material. This film is well researched, thought provoking and brilliantly acted.” Morbidly Beautiful

Cast and characters:

  • Arnold Odo … Joel Rifkin
  • Fernando Cano … Detective Moretti
  • Bri Bynon McGregor … Star
  • Ella Stryker … Jamie
  • Julia Golden … Lola
  • Alyssa Klein … Bibi
  • Caitlyn Moore … Amber
  • Billionna Olivia Reyes … Kerri
  • Carrie Harden … Randi
  • Laurel Thomas … Candy

Trivia:

Joel features clips from Carnival of Souls (1962).

Release:

Joel is available to rent or buy via Vimeo or on DVD direct from JRH Films

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