Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness
The opening shot of this four-part true crime docuseries shows three boxes that were sent to director Joshua Zeman after investigative journalist Maury Terry’s death. Within those boxes is evidence that he collated in relation to the infamous “Son of Sam” murders, which occurred in New York during the late 1970s. It is this personally accumulated evidence that forms the basis of this compelling documentary.
Zeman frames the narrative as if it were a first-person account from Terry himself. Paul Giamatti provides the voiceover, reading passages from the journalist’s notes and passages from his book Ultimate Evil: The Search for the Sons of Sam. As viewers discover from the second episode onwards, Maury became obsessed with proving that the convicted killer David Berkowitz did not act alone and was part of a satanic cult that was, as it transpired from his research, responsible for further killings.
The first episode is the most captivating of the series. The mildly grainy archival footage from the era starkly depicts a crime-ridden New York City whose citizens are driven to fear, whose police force is overworked and whose newspapers are saturated with coverage of the “.44 Caliber Killer” (as the perpetrator was originally known). The hysteria surrounding the case is altogether stunning, engrossing and palpably recreated.
Once the archive footage of the investigation itself has been used up, though, the series relies on past interviews conducted by Terry and present-day interviews of victims, former police officers and/or associates of Terry, who try to vindicate some of the more outlandish claims surrounding the truth of the case. Beyond that, the only footage that recreates the captivating chills of the first episode is that of Berkowitz’s Attica prison interview from 1993, where he admits to being a member of the satanic cult The 22 Disciples of Hell.
Much like Terry himself, director Joshua Zeman sometimes gets caught in a rabbit hole that leads to nowhere, particularly in the tenuous attempts to connect the case to the infamous Charles Manson family. It is the choice to follow such paths as this in detail that mildly frustrates viewers, who might have been more interested in the police ineptitude surrounding the conviction of Berkowitz.
Nonetheless, unorthodox theories aside, The Sons of Sam: A Descent in Madness is worth watching just to delve into New York’s lurid past, which is so far removed from its modern-day grandeur.
Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness is released on Netflix on 5th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness here: