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The Killing of America (1981) - Blu-ray Review

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The Killing of America (1981) - Blu-ray Review

5 beersShocking. Poignant. Tear inducing. Whatever word I could use to describe this 1981 exploitation documentary that STILL resonates with its intense look at the far-reaching impact of homicide in America would simply not do it justice. The Killing of America deserves more than its reputation; it deserves your appreciation. There are lessons to be learned here because, as the film suggests, the price of living in fear is far too expensive.

Directed by Sheldon Renan but structured and edited by Lee Percy, The Killing of America develops an engaging thesis about violence in America that came into its own with the assignation of President Kennedy.   Using footage now familiar of that famous day, the film underlines its point with each new assassination of a public figure. It begins with the violence on the streets in the late 1970’s and early 80’s and, with an unblinking eye, SHOWS us the impact of each and every kill.

The footage is raw and – as it was shot by Robert Charlton, Tom Hurwitz, Willy Kurant (who shot for Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Robbe-Grillet), and Peter Smokler – mixes some truly cinematic stylings. We get point of views in ride-alongs with Los Angeles cops in Watts that are disturbingly frenzied and real; some shot from the hip level for some strikingly brutal looks at murders. There are static interviews with a burned out police detective in the back room of a cop bar and one with mass killer Wayne Henley. Both are beyond disturbing for the truth they expose about killing.

Most of the footage Renan got ahold of was especially licensed for use by the film. This means that it has not been edited or censored in any way and, let me tell you, it is BEYOND intense. You know that war photo of the South Vietnamese officer shooting his prisoner in the head? Well, the actual COLOR film footage shows that the moment – forever immortalized in a black and white photo – was actually for no reason whatsoever. The officer did it to flex in front of the cameras and when you see just how quickly the prisoner drops after getting shot in the head (along with the amount of blood gushing out of the wound), you cannot deny its truth.

Percy – who edited together the film that Chuck Riley would later narrate – has put together a film with a crystallized center expressing concern about the growing number of handguns in houses. We go from Kennedy to Vietnam to Reagan and more…actually ending the documentary on the death of John Lennon, which happened while the film was in post-production. Renan assembled a team and actually shot – the only film camera there – the memorial and the moment of silence (while birds flew overhead) that the gathered audience all shared for the fallen icon.

Severin Films has issued The Killing of America on blu-ray with fantastic results. The documentary might be considered part of the mondo genre of filmmaking, but that doesn’t keep it from being thoughtful or engaging. You’ll just flinch from time to time at the brutal images continuously on display during its running time. While it was never shown in America, the film left an impact on Japan – where audiences got an inside look at just how disgusting we truly are – and continues to be a point of reference for the culture.

If there’s nothing else, The Killing of America gives you an upfront view of what drives these murders: racism, poverty, and mental illness. And, you guessed it, America has done NOTHING to help alleviate the issues. If anything – as the gulf between the rich and the poor continues to grow – things have only intensified and that might be the most disturbing thing with the entirety of the film.

Forget the inside view of the coroner’s office on a busy day; forget the inside look at the Jonestown Massacre; forget the street violence; forget the footage of the picketing union workers getting mowed down by Klansmen with automatic weapons. The most shocking thing about The Killing of America IS THAT THINGS HAVE ONLY GOTTEN WORSE.

Maybe The Killing of America should have been shown in the United States after all. Maybe it would have won an Academy Award (which it should have) and maybe we could have done something to change the direction we were obviously headed.

But probably not. Thanks to Severin Films, though, we can finally see one the most brutal studies of violence in the United States to have ever been assembled. It doesn’t get any uglier than with this release; it also doesn’t get any more serious.

Hollywood might have dealt with this film by dismissing it, but its truth wins in the end.

The Killing of America (1981) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: Not rated.
90 mins
: Sheldon Renan
Chieko Schrader, Leonard Schrader
Chuck Riley, Ed Dorris, Thomas Noguchi
: Documentary | Crime
A stunning eye-witness experience of the growth of violence in the United States
Memorable Movie Quote: "While you watched this movie, five of us were murdered. One was the random killing of a stranger."
Theatrical Distributor:
Embassy Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
February 13, 1982 (New York)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 25, 2016
Synopsis: A documentary of the decline of America. It features a lot a great footage (most exclusive to this film) from race riots to serial killers and much-much more.

The Killing of America (1981) - Blu-ray Review


Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Severin Films
Available on Blu-ray
- October 25, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
: English; English SDH
English: LPCM 2.0; Japanese: LPCM 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc
Region Encoding: Region A

Severin Films has issued The Killing of America with a 1080p transfer that, as it was assembled from all sorts of elements (some even 8mm), looks as good and as sharp as it possibly can. This is a new, detailed-rich 2K scan. Black levels are strong, but not great and some of the night footage of people running in the dark gets lost due to the murkiness. There are a lot of talking heads and there are a lot of 16mm shots that are grainy as hell. It’s all here and, put together, it has moments that looks as rough as you can imagine. None of this; however, takes away from the film and its impact. The soundtrack is a 2.0 stereo track that is strong, just not immersive.



  • Provided by director Sheldon Renan, the commentary covers how this film – well, any film – is actually made three times. One time while it is being written. Another when it is being shot. And the final when it is edited together. Renan details how he got the footage for the movie and why – even on the historical bits – we’ve never been shown the truth on the news reports. The commentary is a strong one and comes highly recommended.

Special Features:

Severin Films provides the release of this important movie with both the American Uncut Version and the Japanese Version (which added about 20 more minutes to the feature). Along with the director’s commentary, there is an on-screen interview with him, a separate one with editor Lee Percy, and one with Mondo historian Nick Pinkerton who covers the history of the genre and not so much the film itself.

  • Interview with Sheldon Renan\
  • Interview with Lee Percy
  • Interview with Nick Pinkerton
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Killing of America (1981) - Blu-ray Review


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