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UBA buys rights to the ‘Devil’

Peter Shaw’s London-based United British Artists has optioned the film rights to Richard Lourie’s unfinished “Hunting the Devil,” the tale of KGB detective Issa Kostoyev’s pursuit of Russia’s serial killer Andrei Chikatilo.

Shaw optioned the rights to the non-fiction tome, to be published by HarperCollins later this year, for an undisclosed six-figure amount. Shaw is in Los Angeles this week, he said, to meet with executives with all major studios to score domestic distribution rights.

The pic, which will probably cost $ 14 million to $ 15 million produce, will be filmed in Eastern Europe with lensing expected to start early next year. Most of the cost will go to salaries for the actors playing Chikatilo and Kostoyev, Shaw said.

He is reportedly in final negotiations with two Hollywood-based screenwriters who have teamed before on a similar project, but declined to name them.

Robert Bierman (“Vampire’s Kiss”) will helm the project. Bierman and Barbara Zitwer will executive produce, with Shaw producing.

Chikatilo is estimated to have killed more than 50 people, torturing and eating some of them. “What this man did to his victims is too horrific to put on the screen. … But we are not going to make a slasher movie. What will be in this film is a lot of ‘Psycho’ suspense elements.”

While the book is a non-fiction work, Shaw said, “We’re not making a dramatized documentary. This is a movie and it will be told from the detective’s point of view, which is what makes this work unique since Lourie has exclusive rights to the detective’s story.”

He noted there are other accounts of the killings being pursued by journalists as well as a dramatized documentary by U.K.-based Central Films, crafted from court records, police and public accounts.

“When Kostoyev, a KGB agent, arrived to solve the crime, he was obstructed by the local cops, who wrongly executed one man for Chikatilo’s crime,” Shaw said. “A second man also wrongly accused had committed suicide and a third wrongfully imprisoned for the same crimes attempted the same fate.”

Lourie, who has written episodes of “Miami Vice,” wrote the book “First Loyalty”; he’s reportedly a Russian historian, fluent in the language, who spent six weeks over the last six months researching the hideous account.

“Hunting the Devil” represents the fourth major project undertaken by UBA, which Shaw and actor Richard Johnson formed in 1983. They were later joined by Albert Finney, Glenda Jackson, Maggie Smith and Diana Rigg.

Other UBA films include “Champions” with John Hurt; “Turtle Diary” with Ben Kingsley and Jackson; and “Taffin” with Pierce Brosnan.

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