Robert Gallow. A man whose terrifying acts haunted upstate New York in the 1960s and 1970s has seen a resurgence in public interest as an independent movie bearing his last name has been screened at numerous state theaters since late last year. Capital District residents, including those who lived through those fateful years, were finally able to witness the “Garrow” film at The Egg on Saturday, March 2 at 8 p.m.
Directed by Lori Kelly-Bailey, the film works to visually streamline his criminal acts and death, by offering staccato flashbacks which are interspersed between scenes of him being questioned at the Hamilton County Court in 1974. Made on a modest $30,000 budget, the director made the wise choice to film it on location across the Adirondacks region, taking advantage of the natural scenery with impressive wide shots and capturing the small-towns’ atmospheres. Vintage TV sets, police uniforms and cars all helped to recreate that time period too.
Kelly-Bailey also was able to cast numerous real-life individuals who interacted with Garrow then to portray themselves here, including former corrections officer Dominic Arena whom Garrow shot but survived. Given all these facts, “Garrow” triumphed in coming across as a genuine community-driven effort that attempted to cover Garrow’s life.
Speaking of Garrow, leading actor Jay Alan Christianson portrays the spree killer, albeit appearing a bit more slender than Garrow himself. The film uses Garrow’s time on trial at the aforementioned 1974 Hamilton County Court as the backbone of storytelling, where an interrogated Garrow recounts many disturbing episodes via flashbacks in his lifetime, including rape, murder, beastiality and kidnapping.
Appearing somewhat slumped in his wheelchair to feign partial paralysis, Kelly-Bailey’s camera offered multiple close-up shots of Garrow — Christianson succeeded in depicting his restless facial expressions, quivering mouth, pronounced frown lines, and notably, a few tears pooling in his trembling eyes whenever he felt uncomfortable or accused by the questioning lawyer. The bordering-on-invasive camera intriguingly also picks up on the sounds of Garrow’s tense breathing, throat closing up, and occasional sniffling, which could make the moviegoer feel uncomfortable in being that close to him. There is a sense of relief during his courtroom scenes as the lawyers continually badger him with queries and Garrow is unable to escape them, a welcome change from how Garrow’s victims mostly couldn’t flee from him prior.
During flashbacks, Kelly-Bailey did not seem afraid to showcase some of his violent acts, with the camera capturing Garrow’s father abusing him as a child and striking him in the face, shots of a bloodied Garrow in anguish, and Garrow kidnapping some of his victims. Intelligent decision-making was evident with this film since the camera sometimes cuts into black or fades just as Garrow is about to stab someone or when he grabs a young schoolgirl in the night, leaving the audience to imagine for themselves what happened next.
The film does contain two faults though. The background music sometimes grows too melodramatic which somewhat cheapened a few scenes and almost overpowered the actors’ dialogue. The final action sequence which features officers shooting and killing Garrow in the woods — who had escaped prison four days prior — could have been more dynamic and it did not offer much of a satisfying concluding catharsis as one would hope, since the film had been building Garrow up to be a terrifying, remorseless man. The film does end with an eerie shot, no pun intended, of Garrow lying dead on the ground though, with a notable bullet hole to his head, which all fades to black and white before the credits roll.
Nevertheless, “Garrow” is a respectable independent film which gives viewers a front-row seat into the types of horrific acts he committed in upstate New York. It also should be commended for incorporating actual photographs, court documents, crime photos and transcripts from when Garrow was alive, which helps to remind viewers that his crimes chillingly happened just a few hours away from the Capital District.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the year of Robert Garrow’s time at Hamilton County Court as 1964, but it has been corrected to 1974.