The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness
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The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness is a sensationalized true crime documentary series with alternative theories about the crimes that serial killer David Berkowitz committed in 1977. Expect many discussions about the occult and satanism, as well as descriptions and illustrations of disturbing, violent rituals associated with them. There are gruesome crime scene photos, images of mutilated corpses, and dead animals. Cursing is frequent (including "s--t" and "f--k"), nudity is visible in imagery and photos, and drinking, marijuana use, and drug dependency are discussed.
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What's the Story?
THE SONS OF SAM: A DESCENT INTO DARKNESS is a true crime documentary about late writer/journalist Maury Terry's personal investigation into the murders committed by David Berkowitz, a.k.a. Son of Sam. In 1977, after a string of killings throughout New York City, Berkowitz was arrested and eventually convicted of murdering six people and wounding seven others. Based on his own research, Terry believed that there was more than one killer and that the killers were connected to a satanic cult. With the help of archive footage and Terry's written notes (read by Paul Giamatti) and recordings, his theories about the Son of Sam murders are deconstructed. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials, journalists, Terry's family members, and others associated with the case share their thoughts about his theories -- and his fixation on the closed case.
Is It Any Good?
This sensationalized true crime series delves unconvincingly into the flimsy argument that multiple people were responsible for the 1977 New York City killing spree. It breaks down the events leading up to Berkowitz's arrest and conviction, including the language used in his letters to the public while he was at large and the remarkably different eyewitness sketches that were produced during the search for him. Terry later connects some of these details to, among other things, Scientology-infused satanic practices and people like Charles Manson.
The Sons of Sam doesn't offer any new information about the case, and it relies on graphic, violent images and detailed descriptions of bizarre rituals, animal killings, and brutal murders to make Terry's argument more compelling. Much of what's offered here feels gratuitous and tabloid-like, which only serves to make the writer's assertions, which were published in his 1987 book titled Ultimate Evil, feel even more far-fetched than they did years ago. Some may enjoy the show's lurid nature, but others will find it hard to take seriously.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about true crime documentary series. Are they produced to inform or to entertain? Has any true crime show ever resulted in the reopening/reinvestigation of a criminal case? Do you think that's the goal?
It's important for documentaries to share important facts about a subject, even if they're violent or sexual in nature. But when do they go from being informative to being sensationalized or exploitative? Does The Sons of Sam cross that line?
- Premiere date: May 5, 2021
- Cast: Maury Terry, Paul Giamatti
- Network: Netflix
- Genre: Reality TV
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
The 'Law & Order' formula gets an OK true-crime makeover.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Gory, talky true-crime surprisingly riveting for grown-ups.
Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer
Chilling, graphic crime docu has violence, swearing.
Flawed, feminist take on the Manson story has violence, sex.
For kids who love murder mysteries
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