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Berlinger and Sinofsky's documentary of a gruesome triple murder in West Memphis, Arkansas and the subsequent trials of three suspects, takes a hard look at both the occult and the American justice system in 'small-town' America. Three teenagers are accused of this horrific crime of killing three children, supposedly as a result of involvement in Satanism. As in their previous documentary, things turn out to be more complex than initial appearances and this film presents the real-life courtroom drama to the viewer, as it unfolds. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Based on what you've heard up there, do you think Damien might have killed those three boys?
[after a long pause]
They make it seem like he did.
Do you think he did?
I don't know.
Would you have a hard time letting him go if you were on the jury?
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I'll admit that I've never been too crazy about documentaries. For one thing, I think that they are generally biased and you are only seeing what the film-makers want you to see. Now, I watched Paradise Lost for several reasons. One, I've always been intrigued by peoples' ignorance and I'm still amazed at how quick they are to point a finger at something they know nothing about. Several years ago, I remember this story being all over the news, and the way it was presented then, it was very easy to believe that these three outcasts were the killers. I've been through West Memphis numerous times since the killings and I still get the chills everytime I pass by the Blue Beacon truckwash.
I sat down to this three hour film with a pretty open mind. While the film doesn't really answer any questions, it does bring a lot to mind and never takes sides on whether the boys did or didn't do it. That's what I admire about the film-makers. They managed to stay almost completely neutral, no matter what their feelings or opinions may have been on who the actual murderer(s) were.
Watching this movie is scary. I've polluted my mind over the years with just about every junk-horror movie that I could find and nothing has given me that icy feeling quite like this has. I've seen it three times now and it never loses its impact.
For those who don't know, here's the story: In West Memphis, three young children are found mutilated in a patch of woods just off the interstate. For no real reason whatsoever, three nonconformist teens are brought to trial, one of which has an I.Q. that is somewhere in the 70s. When he gives a very phony sounding confession, the trials begin with absolutely no other evidence to prove that the boys are guilty. Throughout the film, we meet each of the deceased boys parents, the defendents, and the defendents' families. Most angry of all are the parents of the Byers boy who was murdered. Now, before I get started on the step-father Mark Byers, I really want to say that I can totally empathize with the guy and his rage is completely understandable. However, what I really can't get past is the guy's bizarre behavior and the impression that he left me with. The guy takes up a lot of screen time. I know that the guy is a jeweler by trade and acting may not be his thing, but this is a DOCUMENTARY and while watching him, on more than several occasions I got a little confused. Yeah, the guy has some mental problems, he's on numerous medications, he's suffering from a brain tumor and he's going through some major grieving. But why does he act like he's been watching TOO much WWF? His lines are straight out of a BAD movie and if this is how the guy really is, I'm staying the hell out of this guy's way. Throughout the film there are several subtle (or not so subtle) indications that he may be a suspect. The fact that he gave one of the film-makers a bloody knife as a Christmas present more than proves that the guy is a little off his rocker. He even admitted to having beat the child the day that he was murdered.
Remember, there is absolutely NO physical evidence to pin on the accused and the only thing that got them there was a false confession given by a legally retarded teenager who had been interrogated for hours. Oh, and did I mention that his story KEPT changing? Listening to Jesse Misskelly, the time that the boys were murdered takes place all over the clock. Once, he states that the boys were murdered in the A.M. hours, then during broad daylight, then at night. I don't get it. It didn't matter to the jury. Two of the boys still got life sentences and the other (Damien Eckols) got the death sentence. His crime is that he had a fondness for wearing black, had a bad haircut, and a slight interest in Wicca...Not a whole lot different from myself. Anyway, there is also mention of another mysterious person who made an appearance in a Bojangles restaurant restroom, covered in blood. Oh yeah, that is another issue that is barely mentioned, and then dropped.
After seeing this movie, I was still terribly confused and my questions were still unanswered, but I guess that is the sign of a good documentary. I'm really glad that the film-makers stuck with the facts and never let their opions get in the way of making the film. The sequel is also very good, but still leaves nothing answered. Now, it's been several years since the first time I watched this but the boys are still in prison, still trying to get out. I reccomend this film to anyone who has ever been criticized for their appearance. It'll make you realize just how lucky you are, while questioning the justice system at the same time.
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