Kennedy, Kemper, and The Killing of America (1981)

December 15, 2016 | By

KillingOfAmerica_Sp_posterThe provocatively titled The Killing of America (1981) makes its American home video debut more than 35 years after its overseas theatrical release, and besides connoisseurs of mondo and shockumentary films, it’s more than likely most film fans have never heard of Sheldon Renan’s film.

Produced by a Japanese firm about America yet never sold to a U.S. distributor, Renan’s film developed a legendary status as a kind of forbidden fruit, and perhaps its inclusion of grisly crime scene footage and stills made it a tough sell, especially for TV. Why no home video firm picked up the film is a mystery, given the videotape market in the 1980s was flooded with every kind of taboo production from around the world.

Killing is a peculiar film because it’s part social documentary on a culture’s decline, a mondo film that packs together themed montages and vignettes for crime aficionados, and shockumentary that repeatedly delivers the goods in gory details – the perfect kind of forbidden fruit.

Even Renan mentions the challenge curious genre fans had in tracking down his film, scouring the web for digital clips and rips to see some version of his film which was co-written with Leonard Schrader, brother of writer-director Paul Schrader.

Severin’s Blu-ray is the definitive release for this long unavailable work that still resonates because violence and lousy human behaviour continue to thrive. More ugliness is showcased in more media streams today than in 1981, and anyone can call up footage of the most heinous acts in HD. It’s a significant leap, because in 1981 degrees of gory details in film were kept in check by the MPAA, and on TV by network Standards & Practices.

Anything extreme on home video had to be tracked down using mail order catalogues, or in indie shops that made a point of stocking the oddest, weirdest, strangest, nastiest material curated from around the world, sometimes bootleg copies or poor PAL-NTSC transfers from Asian or European releases lacking subtitles.

KillingOfAmerica_pic2Killing is a genuine artifact of that era, but as Renan also admits, the film is a rare cultural snapshot of forgotten footage from TV local stations that captured some of the strangest events that occur locally but don’t make national news unless the level of weirdness and horror are especially sensational.

Bad shit happens in big cities, medium sized towns, and sometimes pops up in sleepy communities, and that’s Killing’s most frightening message: the horror is ongoing because it’s a natural element in a society’s evolution – one of the most starkly pessimistic views ever burned onto celluloid.

Coming next: I’m finishing up on a podcast with Out of Print (2014) director Julia Marchese and a batch of related documentaries on film exhibition, but next is a review of Robert Aldrich’s last film …All the Marbles / aka California Dolls (1981).




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Tags: , , , , , ,


Comments are closed.