REVIEW: ‘The Sons of Sam’ Profiles Journalist Maury Terry

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The Sons of Sam

Netflix is back with another fascinating (but chilling) true crime documentary series: The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness. Directed by Joshua Zeman, what initially seems to be about the violent shootings David Berkowitz confessed to under the moniker “Son of Sam” spirals quickly down a rabbit hole of the occult and disturbing murder cases across the country. It expands the case into that of the story of journalist Maury Terry, who was determined to prove that there was a lot more to the case than initially presented and consistently clashed with the NYPD, who wanted to close the case quickly.

Director Joshua Zeman introduces The Sons of Sam documentary, explaining how in the summer of 2017, he received three boxes from Maury Terry containing all of Terry’s research into the Son of Sam case. A bit of background: in New York City, between 1976 and 1977, a series of seemingly indiscriminate murders (and attempted murders) continuously occurred. The predominant targets were young couples parked in lover’s lanes or sometimes kissing goodbye on their front porches after a night out. A disturbing letter was left at one of the crime scenes directed to the police, and many residents were afraid to go out at night. Additionally, every eyewitness account resulted in a significantly different police sketch. When Berkowitz was finally arrested, he immediately admitted to being the ‘Son of Sam.’ He also claimed that he was told to commit these acts by a demon that manifested in his neighbors’ dog.

However, not everyone was convinced, namely rising investigative journalist Maury Terry. Terry early on found inconsistencies in the police investigation. Additionally, he discovered that eyewitness accounts placing Berkowitz meant he couldn’t plausibly commit at least some of the murders independently. He suspected Berkowitz’s neighbors, the Carr family who owned the dog, and believed the police didn’t look into statements in the letter that mentioned them. Additionally, disturbing discoveries in the park behind both houses pointed Terry towards digging into the occult. As the documentary unfolds, instead of centering Berkowitz’s story, it is a presentation of Terry’s investigation and interviews family members and friends who worked with him. Terry would spend his entire life trying to prove that there were multiple offenders and that there is a violent group across the country linked to many murders, possibly even the Manson family.

All of this in The Sons of Sam may sound like a big conspiracy theory, especially since none of it has ever been proven. The reasons for this are vast and equally suspicious. While the documentary is clearly on Terry’s side, the evidence is there and compelling. At many points, the viewers will have to ask themselves just how much can be chalked up to coincidence. Zeman’s format of essentially telling Terry’s life story through his life’s obsession allows viewers to investigate the case alongside him. It also paints a portrait of a man who was the pure definition of an investigative journalist. Terry was obsessed with this case for literally his entire life, at the point of costing him his health. While he did write a book and appear on television multiple times (some shows may have actually ended up damaging his credibility), it never appears like he was looking for fame or fortune. Any recognition Terry sought was purely to put pressure on the NYPD to reinvestigate the case. Terry believes the victims didn’t receive closure and deserved it. He also believed that solving this would stop future crimes.

It is ultimately very tragic. It is the definition of a man’s descent down a rabbit hole. This is fantastically framed by a wonderfully symbolic opening credits sequence. Normally that would make the content feel sensationalized, but it all helps present Terry’s story, including the fantastic song choice of “Season of the Witch” by Joan Jett. Additionally, Terry kept meticulous journals and footage. Very few (if any) footage in this docuseries looks staged. It is a phenomenal archive. Paul Giamatti provides an incredible narration as the voice of the deceased Terry.

The Sons of Sam definitely needs a content warning for graphic footage. There are videos and photos showing crime scene footage and survivors being loaded onto an ambulance. Additionally, Terry discovers mutilated bodies of dogs, and there are photographs. It is incredibly unsettling and graphic. However, it still manages not to feel gratuitous or simply for shock value, unlike other series.

The Sons of Sam is a fantastic but incredibly disturbing true crime docuseries. It is not the story of killer Berkowitz but of investigative reporter Maury Terry. It is Terry’s earnest commitment to finding the truth, even if it means pushing against those in power, that will propel viewers forward, even through all of the darkness.

The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness is streaming now on Netflix.

 

The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness 
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

The Sons of Sam is a fantastic but incredibly disturbing true crime docuseries. It is not the story of killer Berkowitz but of investigative reporter Maury Terry. It is Terry’s earnest commitment to finding the truth, even if it means pushing against those in power, that will propel viewers forward, even through all of the darkness.