The Killing Of America
Severin // Unrated // $29.98 // October 25, 2016
Review by Kurt Dahlke | posted November 30, 2016
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Killing Of America:
The Killing Of America saw a two-week theatrical run in New York, in 1982, before drifting into the realms of the unseen. A longer, more graphic version enjoyed popularity in Japan, but for the rest of us, there were no VHS releases, nothing, until now, thanks to Severin Films, which is releasing this definitive Blu-ray edition. For scholars and lovers of Mondo Movies, this is a holy grail, and now that it's available for all to see, we can finally find out if the movie's release is worth the quest.

The Killing Of America represents something of a highbrow 'reality death' movie, graphic and unrelenting, but with aspirations to resemble a Public Broadcasting examination of violence in America. In practice, the movie is a bit like a hard version of one of those When Animals Attack FOX TV specials from the late 1990s. As though building a wall of outrage, director Sheldon Renan and co-producer/writer Leonard Schrader artfully stack the atrocities, with sparse, grim narration by Chuck Riley. A chronological progression, generally starting with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, intertwines with evolving thematic content, culminating with serial killers and the assassination of John Lennon. As a thematically focused documentary, it churns a bit. The writers search for meaning, though, while piling on the shocks, seemingly understanding that Killing is more a coattail-riding, art-house version of Faces Of Death than anything else.

To that end, The Killing Of America's measured approach yields astounding interview footage with serial killer Ed Kemper, (filmed exclusively for the movie) a mild-mannered, soft-spoken freak of the highest order, as well as jaw-dropping sequences of kidnapping at gunpoint. James Hoskins holds a newsroom hostage for several hours, airing his reasonable grievances before his raw descent into real hopelessness ends the interview. Tony Kiritsis marches his hostage around town for almost three days with a shotgun strapped to the back of his hostage's head. The 'real-life gore' and death aspects can't possibly bowl over those weaned on the glut of such movies launched by FOD and ultimately superseded by Internet beheading videos. But after a sobering viewing, maybe viewers won't want that anymore.

The Japanese version, titled Violence U.S.A., is included in this release. Running 20-minutes longer than the American cut, this version features an almost entirely different structure, a sensationalistic narration, and a greater focus on gore. Autopsy footage (de rigueur for such movies) is much more lengthy and gruesome, while footage of Kennedy's death is rammed down our throats almost a dozen times. Illustrating our quixotic nature as unrepentant pleasure-seekers unable to control our dark side, Violence U.S.A. intersperses the gunfire with shots of the surfers and roller-skaters of the California coastline.

As a 'death movie', the long unreleased The Killing Of America has been surpassed in atrocities countless times since its brief 1982 theatrical run. As a documentary, its modus operandi of presenting uncut, genuine footage of people getting shot overwhelms the message that America, born of violence, just can't seem to get enough. This timely release serves now to remind us that guns are still a problem, and that violence continues to hold us in fearful thrall. This movie isn't a fun watch, but it might serve to remind us what a lack of compassion looks like. It looks a lot like a protestor lying shot on the ground, convulsively gasping for air; the spirit is dead and gone, the body just doesn't know it yet. Sadly, Recommended.

The DVD

Video:
Flying out the barrel of the Blu-ray gun, The Killing Of America hits some sort of target in an MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p transfer in a 1.33:1 ratio. Though cobbled together from a variety of archival footage sources, much presented here comes from news camera video, and of course looks the part. Abe Zapruder's Kennedy assassination footage is probably the roughest looking, of course, but there is much that looks like old video transferred to film. Interviews of Sirhan Sirhan and Ed Kemper, while not terribly crisp, look pretty good. Both versions are new 2k scans from the original negatives, and Severin Films makes them look almost as good as new.

Sound:
Severin presents LPCM 2.0 Mono Audio Tracks in English and Japanese, which do the best that they can with the source materials. Ominous narration tracks come through loud and clear, while audio from the clips themselves varies in preservation level and quality. Makes things feel gritty, and authentic.

Extras:
I'd call the inclusion of the 115-Minute Japanese Version, Violence U.S.A. an extra in and of itself, but you also get a Commentary Track from director Renan, which accompanies the US cut of the film. This track is at least as engaging as the movie itself, if not more, though I found myself really tiring of the images of death by my third viewing. An Interview With Director Sheldon Renan runs 22 minutes, expanding on things discussed in the commentary track. An Interview With Editor Lee Percy keeps things cracking for 16 minutes, while an Interview With Mondo Movie Historian Nick Pinkerton should be longer than its 14 minutes, if you ask me. Lastly, enjoy the grim Theatrical Trailer.

Final Thoughts:
As a 'death movie', the long unreleased documentary The Killing Of America has long since been surpassed in atrocities, though showing 'real gore' isn't really the intent. As a documentary, its modus operandi of presenting uncut, genuine footage of people getting shot overwhelms the message that America, born of violence, just can't seem to get enough. This timely release serves now to remind us that guns are still a problem, and that violence continues to hold us in fearful thrall. This movie isn't a fun watch, but it might serve to remind us what a lack of compassion looks like. It looks a lot like a protestor lying shot on the ground, convulsively gasping for air; the spirit is dead and gone, the body just doesn't know it yet. Sadly, Recommended.



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