Welcome Back, One And All,
It's 2017, the World is slowly going to hell what with Brexit and Donald Trump filling our newspapers and social-media feeds every day, and whilst I've not updated this blog in a fair while, I can only offer my apologies - for the lack of updates, at least. My MA degree is consuming most of my time, and that has to take priority above anything else.
For now, though, let me get on with posting this review of one of the best genre releases I've ever seen.
THE KILLING OF AMERICA (aka VIOLENCE, U.S.A.) is an infamous Mondo movie, and is notorious for being banned in the USA since its initial release, way back in 1980. Thanks to Severin Films, it has now been remastered in HD, for both US and UK Blu-Ray, and it is the latter that I will be reviewing today.
This shocking and utterly rivetting polemical, is a raw and harrowing insight into US gun crime, as well as the people who commit such heinous acts. Intended for a Japanese audience, director Sheldon Renan and writers Chieko and Leonard Schrader have crafted one of the finest documentaries I've watched in a long, long time.
Starting-off with footage of an unnamed African-American man, being shot by US police, the film discusses and debates the issue of why America suffers so much with gun crime, and why it loves its weaponry. Covering many of the most well-known serial-killers and gun crimes over the past 20 years, via events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, via the Vietnam War, the Kent State University shootings in May 1970, and featuring interviews with John Wayne Gacy, Ed Bianchi, and the likes of Jim Jones, what features will upset, offend, and reach into you, in a way no other Mondo will. And for once, everything it features is 100% real, and genuine, with not a single "fake" attrocity featured.
In 95-minutes, the film covers a lot of material, and whilst it will shock many, it should shock you. This is not a nicy, cosy, easy documentary. Even now, watching it some 37 years on, it still has an authenticity to it, that is as powerful and resonant to what is happening in the USA today, as it was when the film was originally made. In every sense, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Using unedited footage, culled from TV outlets around the globe, and often including material that was never originally broadcast - due to the material being extremely graphic or disturbing - you get a real insight into the whole concept of gun culture, Stateside. Some of the statistics will repel you. In the opening sequence, the commentary states:
"America is the only industrialised nation, with a higher murder rate, than countries with civil war. an attempted murder every three minutes. A murder victim every 20 minutes. Japan, England and West Germany, with a combined population equal to America, have 6000 murders a year. America has 27,000. Bodies, and more bodies, all-day, everyday!"
Even if you are pro-gun, this film should open your eyes to the senseless deaths of gun users, owners, and the victims. A gun is not a self-defense tool. It is a weapon, that will kill and harm anyone and everyone it meets, without discrimination. Yet, millions of Americans endorse the Second Amendment, and believe that they have the right to bear arms, and that anyone or any government who attempts to control or overturn that right, is immediately seen as "the enemy". Sadly, the USA continues to wallow in gun-deaths. In 2017 alone, until 3rd February, there have been 404 deaths caused directly by gun usage or gun-ownership - be that civilian, criminal or the police. That's roughly 100 people dying every day, every week, or more than 14 people every single day. At this rate, more than 52,000 people will die this year alone. The figures have doubled since the documentary was made!
Considering the unflattering nature of the statistics, as well as the material featured in THE KILLING OF AMERICA, it is hardly surprising the USA did not want its citizens to access this. Outside of a few initial screenings in New York, the film has been banned until October 2016 when Severin Films finally decided to remaster and release it on DVD and Blu-Ray, in a truly sumptuous version.
The UK and US Blu-Ray's are identical in terms of content. The UK release is Region B, and the US release appears to be Region A. So choose carefully, which one is best for you, before purchasing it. Although the film is made-up predominantly of VHS and Betacam material, this is never going to look amazing. However, Severin have done an amazing job, and I have to admit, that the image is far clearer than we should have any right to expect of it. Presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio that it was filmed in, and is none the worse for doing so. The sound is in English mono only, and sounds decent enough, considering the source material. Bear in mind that the vast majority of audio is taken from old TV broadcast tapes, often shot on-the-hoof, and often edited, cut, censored and then re-edited, re-cut, and re-censored by different areas of the globe. As such, it won't be crystal clear, and sound amazing. There are occasional moments where dialogue can be hard to hear, due to the original source materials being of mixed quality. However, the Blu-Ray's feature full English Subtitles, for anyone who wishes to access them, and they are all decent and error-free. I would recommend watching the film with the Subtitles on, so that you can really get to hear everything, for the first time. You can always switch them off, if you feel like it.
But what makes this an exceptional release, is that the rarely-seen, and even more brutalising Japanese version of the film, is included, also remastered in HD. Running some 30-minutes longer than the US version, this is a completely alternate version of the film, with new material, different editing and pacing, and even more repugnant material, including scenes of real autopsies. Be warned, if the US version is shocking, the Japanese version is positively grotesque, and may actually turn many viewers off. However, both versions need to be seen, and both should be treated as two very different films. Footage is shown in a different sequence. Some scenes are extended, some shortened, and some omitted altogether. The Japanese narration also adds a very peculiar tone to this edition. If I'm honest, I find the Japanese version a little too dark, and a little too extreme. Some of the points, it labours, and it's a less powerful and much more unfocussed version. But, it's still worth a watch at least once, for novelty's sake!
On top of this, you also get some decent extras as well: a full-length audio-commentary on the US version of the film, by Sheldon Renan; a 20-minutes interview with Mr Renan; a 15-minute interview with the film's editor Lee Percy, plus an additional featurette with Mondo historian Nick Pinkerton.
Altogether, this is an exceptional package, and a Highly Recommended film that should be in every horror film fans library! I cannot recommend this film enough! Watch it, learn from it, and be appalled by it too! One of the finest releases in recent years, and probably my favourite release of 2016. The US release is Unrated, but is absolutely NC-17 in terms of content. The UK release is classified 18 by the BBFC, and fully deserves that rating! Both releases are completely uncut and uncensored, and absolutely identical, except the region-coding, and minor artwork differences on the disc and case art. You will not regret seeing this film, so please, go buy it, and be prepared for something absolutely jaw-dropping that will shock and educate as well as appal you in equal amounts. If this doesn't shock you, then I don't know what will.