The Killing of America Blu-ray Review

Severin Films release new Blu-ray of disturbing 1982 shockumentary The Killing of America

We’re filing this review under horror because there is really no other way to classify the brutal, wrenching tapestry of violence and crime and murder and death and madness that is director Sheldon Renan’s unforgettable classic shockumentary The Killing of America. The film was released in 1982, an attempt by producers Mata Yamamoto and Leonardo Schrader to ride the tide of the post “mondo” films that were saturating the video market, led of course by Gorgon Video’s hideous Faces of Death films. But unlike those notorious movies, The Killing of America was actually never properly distributed in North America, deemed both too unpleasant and perhaps even dangerous, due to the fact that it points a hard accusatory finger at the country itself for allowing such heinous behavior to foster in the first place. No matter its fate domestically, the Japanese co-production was released in Japan to great success and eventually found its way to other parts of the world where it did indeed see the light of day.

This serpentine history is relevant to this review because Severin’s Blu-ray (which comes packed with bonus features, including an essential director’s commentary) marks the first time the film has seen a proper home video release on these shores. And rest assured, its legacy is warranted and virtually everything you’ve heard about its numbing effect is true. But unlike Faces of Death, The Killing of America is not gutter exploitation aimed to churn stomachs. At least that’s not all it is. Using authentic, uncensored news footage and crime photos, it’s the socio-political manifestation of Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon” books, telling the dark, inglorious history of its subject – in this case, the last centuries amalgam of mental illness and often, its violent enabling by the barrel of a gun – without fear of catering to good taste. It’s very hard to watch. And yet you can’t stop watching.

Chuck Riley — the voice actor who also appeared in the trailer for E.T. that very same year — narrates with a cold, detached dead and non-judgemental tone and its chilling. Unlike contemporary documentary narration, there is no Morgan Freeman whimsy or A&E hyperbole here. Riley is like a zombified Jack Webb, giving us “just the facts,” whether we want them or not. For over 90 minutes (almost half an hour more if you watch the even more soul-crushing Japanese cut, also attached to this disc) Renan and his accomplices, writers Leonard and Cheko Schrader unspool a depressing cavalcade of clips charting America’s most repellent serial killers, sociopaths and delusional crusaders, often grouping their crimes into waves (particularly disturbing is the focus on snipers) and always asking the question “why?”; why do these average people, most of which who lead normal lives, transgress? What causes them to commit these crimes and why is America so choked with such repugnant behavior? At one point, the film implies that the violence inflicted — whether it be a political assassin or the sexual murders perpetrated by the likes of serial killers Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy — is a subconscious act to literally kill the country that has been their lifeline, a kind of matricide. It suggests that when we don’t keep a constant, caring eye on our children, they’ll come back, like a vengeful Frankenstein monster, to slit their parent’s throats.

The Killing of America is a depressing but hypnotic experience. It’s also an essential watch and is even more relevant an experience today, when we’re inundated by media and dire news of deadly deeds every single day of our lives. But, the movie also offers hope. Though the picture climaxes with the murder of John Lennon, it also shows the aftermath of the New York vigil, with thousands of weeping fans gathering together to find comfort and make sense of it all. This climax was imposed by the producers but it’s important that it’s there. It reminds us that no matter how sick society can get, people are fundamentally good. People generally care. If we didn’t, The Killing of America wouldn’t even exist at all.

Buy The Killing of America here