Written by: George Pacheco on November 17th, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: USA | Japan, 1981
Directors: Sheldon Renan, Leonard Schrader
Writers: Chieko Schrader, Leonard Schrader
Cast: Chuck Riley, Ed Dorris, Thomas Noguchi, Sirhan Sirhan, Wayne Henley, Ed Kemper
BluRay released: October 25th, 2016
Approximate running times: 95 Minutes (English Language Version), 115 Minutes (Japanese Language Version)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English, DTS-HD Mono Japanese
Subtitles: English (For Japanese audio track)
BluRay Release: Severin Films
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $29.95
The Killing of America may be one of the more obscure and under-criticized films from the era of mondo exploitation, thanks largely in part to its unavailability in the past. This Japanese/American co-production did receive an edited home video release in Britain, as well as a number of Region 2 DVD releases and grey market bootlegs, but this new edition from Severin Films serves as the definitive high def presentation of the film’s controversial glory.
The Killing of America, directed Sheldon Renan and Leonard Schrader focuses largely upon the epidemic of violence which erupted in America after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film starts off by comparing rising crime and gun violence to the comparative times of peace found within post-war America in the 1950s before diving into its main narrative of how societal consciousness shifted from 1960s optimism and peace to the sometimes gritty and nihilistic view of the 1970s into the 1980s.
This is show through news footage and first-hand accounts, some of it unique to this documentary, of how mental illness, poverty and dissatisfaction with the status quo contributes to some of the decade’s most troubling stories and statistics. The synth musical score of Mark Lindsay and Michael Lewis (known for their re-score to the classic Shogun Assassin series, a.k.a. Lone Wolf and Cub) lends a sense of dark dread to footage of race riots, snipers and serial killings featured in the film, while the narration provides expository info and hypotheses behind much of the footage.
The material is often graphic, and sometimes slowed down for investigation and effect, yet the overall tone is balanced between thought provoking commentary and obvious exploitation. The Killing of America is depressing, overall, yet nonetheless quite indicative of what was actually going on during the 70s and 80s with regards to rising aggression and conflict. One of the more unique focuses of Renan and Schrader’s film is placed towards more obscure, localized killers and crimes, some of them forgotten when compared to the film’s more high profile subjects, such as Charles Manson.
Still, the overall effect manages to make The Killing of America feel more like a legitimate documentary, as opposed to the staged and sometimes un-PC nature behind many of its Italian contemporaries, such as Goodbye Uncle Tom or Africa, Blood and Guts! This isn’t to say that America is a better film than the works of Jacopetti and Prosperi and their undeniable influence, but rather that it stands alongside them as an excellent example of the harsh and sometimes controversial nature of the mondo film..
Severin have outdone themselves with a stacked presentation here, including not one, but two versions of the film. The Japanese cut is titled Violence USA and is a twenty minutes longer with a somewhat more academic tone. Much of the footage reappears here, but the subtitles offer a different and deeper analysis at times, while also focusing, perhaps more luridly, upon the film’s violent nature.
The AV quality on both presentations is solid, especially when dealing with the age of the source material used within the film, while the audio tracks are clear and without error. Extras are plentiful on this disc, and include commentary with Renan, as well as an interview with the director. A separate interview with editor Lee Percy is also included, as well as a history lesson with mondo movie historian Nick Pinkerton, as well as the film’s original trailer, making this an outstanding release overall from Severin Films.