First, a spoiler warning: it’s impossible to discuss the new black-comic chiller I Am Not a Serial Killer with actor Christopher Lloyd without revealing the exact nature of his role in the movie. The disclosure arrives about a half hour in, and that’s where this already morbidly funny film really takes off into gruesomely intriguing directions, while keeping you guessing about where the story and its principals are going to go.
Currently in select theaters and on VOD from IFC Films, I Am Not a Serial Killer is based on the first in a series of books by Dan Wells focusing on John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records from Where the Wild Things Are), a high-schooler with a job at his family’s funeral home and an obsession with violent criminals. He himself struggles with homicidal urges, and has found ways of tamping them down—even as someone in his small Midwestern town has started racking up a body count. Lloyd plays Mr. Crowley, John’s neighbor and one of his few friends, for whom he shovels the ever-present snow that visually enhances the movie’s chilly tone.
“We shot it in Minnesota,” Lloyd recalls. “They wanted the cold weather and the snow, and they got their wish! They had plenty of snow [laughs], and that very much contributed to the feeling of the film. The night shoots were bitter cold, and we did our best to deal with that, but it wasn’t overly unpleasant.”
Certainly, it wasn’t as unpleasant as the deeds Mr. Crowley gets up to on screen, for as John and the audience discover at the end of the first act, this harmless-seeming old man is in fact the murderer plaguing the community. For Lloyd, who previously went bad as Klingon Commander Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s Judge Doom, I Am Not a Serial Killer offered something different. “I’ve played villains before, but mostly they’ve been cartoonish or exaggerated characters in an unreal world. This is very real, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to play a character who’s kind of a villain in that environment. It’s difficult to simply label Mr. Crowley as a bad guy, because I always felt that he doesn’t really understand what drives him to do what he does. It’s almost as if he himself isn’t complicit; he’s genetically determined to commit the acts he does, and he doesn’t really understand why.”
For that reason, Lloyd chose not to research actual serial killers in preparation for his role. “I felt that was more Max’s concern, to establish that his character isn’t a serial killer,” Lloyd points out. “The title applies to him more than to me. Mr. Crowley doesn’t think of himself as a serial killer, since he’s doing things he’s predisposed to do without really comprehending the moral issue. Whereas Max had a role where he’s endeavoring not to follow his worst instincts into the realm of being a murderer. He has the symptoms, and if something happens to trigger him, he doesn’t want to give in to them, and has to watch himself very carefully.” The two actors have an interesting dynamic in I Am Not a Serial Killer, though Lloyd notes, “We didn’t talk about it too much; we took what each other gave and let it proceed. He has a wonderful presence and aura about him, and we just sort of fit together.”
We now come to a point where even those who have read this far without seeing the movie may want to skip to the next paragraph. There’s another revelation near the end of the movie that throws the entire story into new relief: Mr. Crowley, it turns out, is the human disguise of a very inhuman monster, which surprised Lloyd when he first read the script. “I was totally intrigued, and I thought, ‘How do I justify this guy now? What kind of rationale do I come up with to explain him?’ And I’m not sure I ever answered those questions for myself as thoroughly as I would have liked. Mostly, I felt he’s a creature who may have existed for hundreds or even thousands of years, and has assumed different forms. He may be the residue on planet Earth from some alien race out there in the cosmos, or a kind of prehistoric monster. Maybe he comes all the way from the age of the dinosaurs, and by some freak quirk of nature or circumstance, he has continued to survive and evolve into human form. All those speculations were fun, to try to explain where this guy came from, and how he has existed for so long without being caught.”
In a career that has endured for just over 40 years, Lloyd is still most remembered and beloved for a part that also spans the decades: the wonderfully mad inventor Doc Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy. “Somehow, young people continue to become as totally enthralled with the Back to the Future series as they did when the first film came out in 1985,” he says. “Children who saw it then grew up and had children who saw it, who in turn had children; it’s kind of a cycle that just keeps going. The nature of the films is such that they haven’t aged; they still have the same impact on a 10 or 11 or 12-year-old today as they did way back then. So the audience for them just keeps going; I meet a lot of kids and their parents who are total fans, they’ve watched the films 10, 20 times, and I think they’re going to keep playing that way for a while.”
With that enduring popularity, of course, has come occasional talk of a reboot or sequel, though Lloyd cautions, “From what I hear, from the inside, there’s no way they’re going to be making another film. I think the producers feel that the story concluded with Part III, and they’re not disposed to go and write another movie. I suppose that could change, but there’s nothing out there happening now to make another sequel.” However, if such a project ever was to get off the ground, Lloyd says he would enthusiastically jump back into the Doc Brown role. “Oh, I would love it! I would be right there; I’m ready right now!”