Mar 25, 2011

Killer: A Journal of Murder

Although I have known about serial killer Carl Panzram for many years now, I did not learn about his story until I read Moors killer Ian Brady's excellent work of serial killer psychoanalysis The Gates of Janus about a year ago. In the book, Brady discusses how after running away from at age 14, Panzram was gang raped by a group of hobos. Obviously marked by the event, Panzram would eventually go on to admit that he sodomized over 1,000 men and killed over 20. After being arrested for burglary in Washington D.C., and voluntarily admitting he had killed two boys, Panzram was finally incarcerated for the last time. In prison, German-American Panzram developed a close friendship with pacifistic Jewish-American prison guard Henry Lesser, who eventually convinced the unremorseful killer to write his memoirs. In the film Killer: A Journal of Murder, the relationship between Panzram and Lesser is dramatically portrayed in a most tasteful manner. James Wood, who always seems to give his greatest performances while playing deranged criminals, is excellent as Panzram. With Killer: A Journal of Murder, director Tim Metcalfe was able to assemble a cultivated serial killer bio-pic, which is certainly no small accomplishment. Metcalfe is probably best known for writing the story for Revenge of the Nerds. In Killer: A Journal of Murder, Metcalfe shows that out of all the people that tried to knock some sense into Carl Panzram, the most unlikely a person - a Jewish socialist nerd - was able to somewhat reach him.

As dramatized in Killer: A Journal of Murder, Carl Panzram openly admitted he would kill any man that bothered him in prison. After brutally beating to death prison foreman Robert Warnke in the prison laundry room, Panzram finally fulfilled his wish of being sentenced to death via hanging. Showing he would not allow his much desired opportunity of dying stoically go to waste, Panzram threatened to kill human rights advocates that attempted to spare his life. Despite his savage behavior, Panzram was a fairly intelligent and well-read man who could be described as the "Nietzsche of serial killers." In fact, as shown in Killer: A Journal of Murder, German-American sage journalist H.L. Mencken, himself a student of Nietzsche, felt Carl Panzram's autobiography was a work of brilliance, despite concluding that no publishing company would have the gall to publish such a sadistically subversive work. If one is to learn anything from Killer: A Journal of Murder, it is that once an individual is "marked" by a certain event in their life, no amount of "rehabilitation" is going correct such a life changing taint. Once Panzram was victimized in a traumatic psyche-destroying fashion, his future fate as one of America's most brutal criminals was sealed. 

Despite being far from a masterpiece, Killer: A Journal of Murder is one of few top notch serial killer films worthy of recognition. After all, even when a film director attempts to portray a serial killer in a serious manner, most of these films end up being unintentionally hilarious exercises in celluloid bungling. Killer: A Journal of Murder is not a work of comedy, but one of those very rare serial killer films that manages to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat from beginning to the neck-snapping end. Despite being two men from different species, Panzram (Woods) and Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard) have an undeniable chemistry in the film that will engage even the most uninterested of viewers. Through tragedy, Panzram was able to tap into his atavistic instincts and develop the lust for blood that brought infamy to his beserker ancestors. Through the pacifistic and nonthreatening personality of Henry Lesser, Panzram was able to reveal what was left of his pre-sadist humanity. If you hate Hollywood farces like Twins (1988), yet desire seeing a serious film containing the most unconventional of odd couples, Killer: A Journal of Murder with provide you with a delectable, yet ultimately deranged experience. 

-Ty E

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Ah, anything with James Woods is OK by me....