Between July 2000 and July 2001, 16 women were murdered in the holy Iranian city Mashhad, all but one of them with a prior incarceration for prostitution or drug-related charges. When 39-year-old Saeed Hanaei was arrested and then confessed to the killings, he proudly claimed his actions were in accordance with holy teachings of preventing vice and promoting virtue. Featuring a chilling first-person prison interview with Hanaei, AND ALONG CAME A SPIDER tells the story of Iran's infamous "spider killings" - named for the way he drew victims into a deadly web.
Director Maziar Bahari received special judicial permission to interview Hanaei while he was awaiting trial. In the interview, conducted at Mashhad's Vakil Abad Prison by journalist Roya Karimi, Hanaei dispassionately relates how he lured prostitutes to his apartment in late afternoon while his wife was away, posing as a customer and often strangling them with their own scarves. A volunteer in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, Hanaei declares he is not a killer, but rather an "anti-street-woman activist" who was only doing God's will by ridding Iran of moral corruption. He believes the spider killings are acts of piety, observing, "I realized God looked favorably upon me, that He had taken notice of my work."
"Fourteen of 16 [victims] were junkies," Hanaei claims, "and two or three of them had drugs on them." Hanaei's 14-year-old son Ali, who calls his father "a great man," looks on the acts with pride, even reenacting his father's killing technique for the cameras. "Let me tell the people who are watching this film, that if officials deal with these women, then great," he says. "If not, there will be more Saeed Hanaeis in this world." In contrast, director Bahari also visits with victims' families. Ten-year-old Sahar and eight-year-old Sara tell of their devastation, recalling how their mother Firoozeh left home one day and never returned, becoming Hanaei's 14th victim.
Hanaei was arrested on July 27, 2001. Although the police did not reveal the full details of the operation that lead to his arrest, they admitted they had hired a number of prostitutes to trap the spider killer. Within a few weeks of his arrest Hanaei was charged with having "improper relationships" with his victims before strangling them. In his diary, Hanaei claims that intelligence officers subjected him to psychological torture to force him to confess to adultery.
According to Iran's Islamic penal code, certain sins punishable by death render the sinner a "waste of blood." There are no clear definitions for such sins in the law, and it is left to religious scholars to decide who is a waste of blood. During his trial, Hanaei insisted that the women he murdered were waste of blood and deserved to die. As families of the victims looked on, Hanaei said it was his religious duty to cleanse society of corrupt elements.
The close of the documentary chronicles Hanaei's hanging in Mashhad's Vakil Abad prison on April 8, 2002.
AND ALONG CAME A SPIDER has received acclaim at documentary festivals around the world, including the second annual Tribeca Film Festival, the Pusan International Film Festival, the IDFA in Amsterdam (where it was nominated for the Silver Wolf Award), the Hot Docs festival in Toronto (Special Mention), and the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
AND ALONG CAME A SPIDER was written, produced, filmed, directed, and edited by Maziar Bahari; researcher, Roya Karimi; music, Payman Yazdanian; additional filming, Abbas Kowsari; narrator, Haleh Anvari. For CINEMAX Reel Life: associate producer; Sara Bernstein; supervising producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.