Do you know everything there is to know about the Boston Strangler? Really?!?! The Boston Strangler is an incredibly complicated tapestry of lies, mistruths, deception, greed, murder, and avarice. Using beautiful early 1960s Boston as its backdrop, this story is the pure embodiment of truth always being weirder than fiction.
Now 60 years on, the Boston Strangler is a story that continues to fascinate generation after generation, and a story that also continues to put some serious fright in even the most hardened Bostonians.
The basic tenet(s) of the Boston Strangler are fairly simple. From 1962 to 1964 there were 13 women murdered in Boston. Some strangled. Some stabbed. Inconsistent ages. Inconsistent motives. Weirdly a wide range in age. The Boston Strangler ended up killing women between the ages of 19 and 85. Not your typical serial killer with an obsessive fixation on the order or type of killings.
Some referred to this terrifying murderer as the “Mad Strangler”, the “Phantom Fiend”, and even the “Phantom Strangler”, but it wasn’t until 1963 when two plucky young female reporters did a four-part series in local paper where they finally landed on the monicker “The Boston Strangler.”
At the heart of this horrifying mystery was one individual — Albert DeSalvo. Bostonians rested all their fears, hatred, and insecurities firmly at his feet. By some accounts he was a brilliant serial-killing machine, but by other accounts he was a simple and philandering creep. Throughout the history of the Boston Strangler films Albert DeSalvo is given these opposing characteristics and many more juxtapositions.
More weird is the fact that even though DeSalvo confessed to all the murders he actually may only be responsible for a handful of them, and possibly as a few as one. Given the wildly varied styles and motives some have even theorized that the Boston Strangler was two, three, or even more killers!
No matter your take on the Boston Strangler or how deeply you’ve crawled down in the Boston Strangler rabbit hole, it’s safe to say that people are still raptured by this story lo these many years. The fear is real. The uncertainties are real. The Boston Strangler is real.
To celebrate this year’s most recent take on the Boston Strangler, aptly titled the Boston Strangler, the Scariest Things went back and looked at each and every film adaptation of the Boston Strangler story and ranked ‘em all!
Without further ado, here’s our take on the Boston Strangler films — from worst to best!
This might be one of the laziest adaptations ever laid down on celluloid. Lazy might even be too kind considering how many strange choices, ill-fitting scenes, and incredibly poor acting is put forth. This version follows Albert DeSalvo during his time in prison where he’s befriended by George Nassar — in this case named Frank Asarian — to who he “confesses” the entire Boston Strangler plot. George Nassar allegedly helped Albert DeSalvo concoct the entire story, he himself, may have actually been the Boston Strangler. Or, at the very least, responsible for a handful of the killings.
The film uses awful aerial footage that’s clearly shot in the modern era. It doesn’t bother to shoot around the ADT home security stickers that wouldn’t come around until decades later. It doesn’t bother to edit out the hotel room key car on the door. Offers some incredible lazy costuming that’s clearly doesn’t resemble anything from the early 1960s. Faustino turns in a weird performance that seemingly requires viewers to empathize with the Boston Strangler.
Let’s be honest. You probably shouldn’t watch this. Unless you’re a Boston Strangler completist there are very few reasons to watch this film. Sure you get to see David “Married with Children” Faustino as Albert DeSalvo, but beyond that, this is a very unmemorable affair.
Slightly better than 2008’s adaption of the story, this version follows a detective who interrogates Albert DeSalvo extensively. The film hones in on the fact the DeSalvo doesn’t have his facts straight and constantly changes his tone which, in turn, causes the detective to become increasingly obsessed with the DeSalvo’s story and where the truth lies.
While slightly less lazy than the 2008 adaption, this version is still filled with questionable costuming, sets, and haircuts from the modern era. Some of the items fit the period, but many aesthetic choices are clearly uninformed and dopey.
Maybe the most interesting element of the film is actor Mario Lannini’s portrayal of DeSalvo. He’s an Italian actor who manages to spray out a series of lisp-y accents. Sometimes DeSalvo is clearly Italian. Sometimes it sounds like he’s from Brooklyn. Sometimes it’s British. Sometimes it’s an inaudible mishmash of lisps. And sometimes it’s a wild amalgam of all the dialects swirled together.
Again, unless you were fooled by the cover art that tries to crib the 1960s poster, you probably shouldn’t watch this version either. While this version of the Boston Strangler does attempt to create a 1960s period piece it fails on many levels. Most importantly, the likely inaccurate story involving the detective obsessed with Albert DeSalvo is a cloying bit of business that distracts from the main event — the Boston Strangler.
Turns out a couple bucks and the backing of Hulu will substantially ratchet up a film’s credibility, and more importantly, it’s watchability. The most recent installment in the story is a fascinating one with a modern sensibility that will have you Googling many of the real-life facts in the case.
While Albert DeSalvo — deftly played by David Dastmalchian — is sprinkled throughout the film, this version largely follows two female reporters who hooked the case and established the moniker, the Boston Strangler. One is the plucky young upstart Loretta McLaughlin (Keira Knightley), and the other is the slightly grizzled veteran reporter Jean Cole (Carrie Coon). The two work their way out of the less desirable facets of newspaper reporting into infamy and a web of conspiracy theories about DeSalvo’s true motives and desires and the fact that there may have been one, two, three, or even more Boston Stranglers.
The 2023 adaption is a pitch perfect rendering of the era, both stylistically and tonally. The film hits nicely on showing the misogyny and sexism of the time without being too focused on bringing forward a narrative from the modern era. The only real problem with the 2023 version is that it too strays away from some of the Boston Strangler terror and instead puts the accent on the procedural elements of journalism.
Knightly and Cole and Dastmalchian all turn in great and understated performances that neatly feed all the various Boston Strangler theories. The film juggles these theories in enthralling ways that will surely have audiences compelled to do their own research about the Boston Strangler.
The first and absolutely best version of the Boston Strangler story! While many of the historical elements of the film have since be debunked, it’s still a fascinating and exciting story about the time the Boston Strangler gripped Bostonians.
The film, released two years after DeSalvo’s blockbuster book, is an incredible production that employs DePalma-esque split and multiple screen perspectives, weird angles, and a chilling score from Lionel Newman (Alien, Omen, and Omen II). The film’s cinematography puts the audience up close and personnel in the killings often and terrifyingly uses a first person perspective.
It’s star packed! It’s a perfect capsule of the time. Most importantly, this version has a clear and undeterred vision that perfectly balances the procedural elements with the terror. Tony Curtis’ version of the Boston Strangler is the most nuanced and studied of the bunch. Certainly this version has the benefit of being able pull directly from clothing styles and locations of the time, but it’s the wonderful performances that really bring the horrifying story of the Boston Strangler into our deepest and darkest fears.
Not to mention, this film adaptation has the coolest poster of the bunch!