The story of the ‘Son of Sam’ is probably well known by now. In the summer of 1977 a mysterious murderer tormented the collective consciousness of New York City after a killing spree mainly targeted at young brunette women and the killer’s game of cat-and-mouse with the local police and news media. Retracing those notorious events and the accompanying media frenzy is Heath Benfield’s engrossing short doc No One Is Safe From Son of Sam – a film focused on the fear and paranoia NYC felt at the time of the ‘.44 Caliber Killer’.
What’s most fascinating about No One Is Safe From Son of Sam it how is manages to encapsulate its whole narrative within an 8-minute running time, using only archival footage and a few interspersed interviews with journalists from the New Yorker station PIX11/WPIX.
Whereas recent trends in the true crime genre tend to “go big or go home”, from the Oscar-winning magnum opus O.J.: Made in America to the Netflix series How To Make a Murderer, Heath Benfield’s No One Is Safe From Son of Sam takes a different approach and conveys its story within a very condensed framework.
As much as the film tells the story of ‘Son of Sam’, it’s also a contemplation on the nature of (American) news media. The fascination with violence and a certain mystification of the criminal minds behind them have a long tradition in narrative culture, including journalism.
An affection for these themes in combination with an inherent amount of hysteria have been a decade-long staple in TV reporting. Either to keep the viewer engaged and drive ratings or for any other reason, little has changed since the ‘Summer of Sam’, aside from more extreme tendencies in its sensationalism.
Although No One Is Safe From Son of Sam uses an almost calm narrative method within its fast-paced found footage-style framework, the short doc helps to show that the current state of the media landscape is nothing new, just a progression of its fundamental methods.