A shocking portrait of a serial killer who strangled 16 prostitutes in the Iranian city of Mashad, Maziar Bahari’s disturbing docu interviews the murderer and those impacted by his crimes. The result forms the core of this unforgettable excursion into the minds of those raised in religious intolerance. Made more for the outside world than for domestic consumption, pic’s indifferent video quality and 53-minute length will keep it out of theaters, but explosive topic renders it must-see small-screen fare, with extensive fest exposure also assured.
The killer, a 39-year-old contractor named Saeed Hanaei, dubbed “the spider” because he lured the women to his “parlor” and dispatched them there, feels justified in his actions. Indeed, when an area-wide drought lifted after his 12th killing, he took it as a sign from God to keep up the good work.
Helmer Bahari briefly delves into Hanaei’s personal history: the physical discipline by his mother, the fact he didn’t speak to a woman until he married, his grisly journal entries about killing during the Iran-Iraq war — and the immediate trigger for his crusade: the taxi driver who mistook his wife for a whore. Hanaei appears to be a textbook psychotic, dressing up his compulsion to kill in the self-serving cloak of religion.
Shocking part of the docu, at least to Westerners, is the fervent belief of his family and numbers of others in Mashad, a holy city, that his was a heroic quest — that the women he killed were less than human, a “waste of blood.” Hanaei’s mother says she could cut such women “to pieces,” his wife expresses the belief that women who ride on motorcycles with strangers deserve to die, and his young son (about the same age as the moralistically confrontational boy in Kiarostami’s “Ten”) finds deep pride in the support of admirers who ask that he continue his father’s noble work and eradicate such vermin from the land. Photos of the women — B&W mug shots and color records of their violent deaths — punctuate these interviews in mute denial of such summary dismissal.
Aside from relatives of the slain women, Bahari finds few interviewees who support the victims, though the judge who condemned Hanaei to death speaks of the conditions — including poverty and abusive husbands — that forced the women into prostitution. One prostitute, interviewed in silhouette behind a sheet, prays for death, a photo insert of her body disclosing self-mutilation.
Background and context are concisely supplied by English narration, while a female Iranian reporter who interviewed Hanaei provides the otherwise missing perspective of an enlightened woman.