The film has been compared to Taxi Driver and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as a study of social alienation and in my opinion is worthy of the comparison. At the heart of the film is a startling performance by Peter Ferdinando as Tony, a character loosely based on real life London serial killer, Dennis Nilsen. But whereas Nilsen, by all accounts, was a dominant personality, Ferdinando plays Tony as a timid, passive-aggressive rather ‘nerdish’ man who vents his anger and frustration by quietly, and sometimes unexpectedly, hammering, strangling and suffocating his victims to death.
Like Nilsen though, Tony seems both sexually and socially confused – one is never quite sure of his orientation – if he has one – and over the course of the film we see him variously trying to make sexual/social contact with a prostitute and a gay man who picks him up in the pub he frequents. What Tony clearly is though, is desperately lonely, and the great insight of the film is that it makes clear how human relations suffer in such dire economic circumstances. The only people Tony encounters are all equally desperate as he is and see him as someone to use and abuse. In a darkly humorous sequence, Tony tags along with two junkies as they go to score some heroin and then invites them back to his flat for a beer and a smoke. However by the time the two scag-heads have zonked out on the settee, Tony has had enough and out come the plastic bag and duck tape.
The theme of exploitation is extended to the portrayal of authority in the film. In one of the most effect sequences, Tony (who perhaps not surprisingly is long-term unemployed) is sent for an interview by the job centre to work as a billboard man for a tanning shop. The owner of the shop wants Tony to work fourteen hours a day for a pittance and threatens to have the Job Centre cut off his benefits if he refuses. In the next scene Tony visits an east European prostitute who rebukes his offer of five pounds for a ‘cuddle’. The clever juxtaposition of these two scenes deftly underlines the exploitation that faces people like Tony and the prostitute who are living on the fringes of society.
Although Gerard Johnson shies away from labeling Tony as a horror film, preferring instead to describe it as a work of social realism, the film quietly gets under the skin. Less overtly shocking than Man Bites Dog, the shock here is ideological and thus creeps up on you. As Tony wanders aimlessly through Kings Cross at the end destined only to repeat his actions, I was left wondering if in Tony: London Serial Killer I had seen the true face of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.