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The Killing of America (1981)

2:14 | Trailer
A documentary of the decline of America. It features footage (most exclusive to this film) from race riots to serial killers and much-much more.


Sheldon Renan





Credited cast:
Chuck Riley Chuck Riley ... Narrator
Ed Dorris Ed Dorris ... Self (as Sgt. Ed Dorris Ret.)
Thomas Noguchi ... Self
Sirhan Sirhan ... Self
Wayne Henley Wayne Henley ... Self
Ed Kemper ... Self
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Susan Atkins ... Self (archive footage)
David Berkowitz ... Self (archive footage)
Kenneth Bianchi ... Self (archive footage)
Lawrence Bittaker ... Self (archive footage)
James Brady James Brady ... Self (archive footage)
Arthur Bremer Arthur Bremer ... Self (archive footage)
Sam Brown Sam Brown ... Self (archive footage)
Louise Bundy ... Self - Ted Bundy's Mother (archive footage)
Ted Bundy ... Self (archive footage)
Learn more

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A documentary of the decline of America. It features footage (most exclusive to this film) from race riots to serial killers and much-much more.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


WE DARE YOU! To see the most shocking film ever made See more »


Documentary | Crime


R | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Reportedly, under pressure from the film's Japanese financiers to finish off the film's ending on a more positive note due to the documentary's high negativity content of documented real-life crime and murder, Leonard Schrader inserted footage related to peace vigils that were held to commemorate the late John Lennon of The Beatles. See more »


[last lines]
Narrator: While you watched this movie, five of us were murdered. One was the random killing of a stranger.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The Japanese version of this film runs 116 minutes long. It's called "Violence U.S.A." and is narrated in Japanese. Among the additional things featured in the Japanese version are shots of the Grand Canyon, footage of people surfing, skiing, and playing with Frisbees, and a long tribute to John Lennon. See more »


References Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) See more »


For What It's Worth
Written by Stephen Stills
Performed by Buffalo Springfield
©1966 Cotillon Music, Inc
Ten East Music Springalo Toones
Used by permission. All rights reserved
Courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corporation
See more »

User Reviews

The Story of Violent America, Circa 1980
9 November 2016 | by gavin6942See all my reviews

A documentary of the so-called "decline" of America, said to begin with the Kennedy assassination. It features a lot a great footage (most of it exclusive to this film) from race riots to serial killers and much, much more.

This really does show it all: cops shooting suspects, political assassinations, the Jim Jones cult and such notorious figures as Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. The most disturbing part is an interview with Edmund Kemper, an "American who killed Americans". Although not as famous (or infamous) as Manson or Bundy, Kemper talks of killing his victims in a very casual way, and is rather intimidating -- he looms at almost 7 feet in height!

As an interesting side note, the narration is done by Chuck Riley (known for his movie trailer dialogue), who coincidentally had known Jack Ruby. What it was like to narrate a scene of Ruby killing Oswald when he had a personal connection is something we can only wonder about.

Although not mentioned in the film, a Los Angeles police officer claimed that every officer who shot and killed a suspect would retire within four years because of the psychological damage it caused. This would be an interesting stat to look into. Is it true? Has it changed?

"The Killing of America" was initially shown in New York City in 1982 at the Public Theater, but never received a commercial release in the United States. It did receive a home video release in Britain, and a wide release in Japan, where financial backers reportedly pressured the director to add footage of peace vigils for John Lennon as a way to make the documentary less depressing. Years later the documentary would receive a 2013 North American release at Fantasia Festival in Canada (which is a bit odd, as the film has no "fantastic" elements). And in 2016, thanks to Severin, it now gets a full Blu-ray treatment.

Critic Eleanor Minnikka wrote, "Rather than an in-depth study of the reasons for and effects of the rising murder rate in the U.S., the director has chosen to emphasize the violence and the need for gun control to help lower the appalling amount of mayhem that distinguishes the U.S. from its European counterparts." Minnikka raises a good point that the film is more a showcase of violence rather than any actual study of it. Perhaps more interesting is how violent crime today (2016) is actually on a decline from the 1970s and 1980s -- what happened since this film was made to change the trend?

The Blu-ray from Severin features new interviews with editor Lee Percy and director Sheldon Renan, and an audio commentary from Renan, who explains in detail his background, his association with the Schrader brothers and the genesis of the film. Who knew that renting the Zapruder film cost an astounding $20,000? Renan, who (rightly) considers Kennedy a "hawk", suggests he is not a believer in the lone gunman theory. While this has no bearing on the film, it is interesting to note because of the central role JFK plays in the narrative.

One of the more interesting inclusions on the disc is a brief discussion of "Mondo" films and the place of this movie in that trend. While I would hesitate to put "Killing of America" in the same category as "Mondo Cane" or "Faces of Death", a case can be made for a connection. Not only do each feature real scenes of graphic violence, but "Killing", like "Faces", had its biggest success in Japan. Why Japan? Hopefully the Blu-ray allows "Killing of America" to be properly appreciated in its home country, as it has some shocking lessons to offer.

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USA | Japan



Release Date:

5 September 1981 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

The Killing of America See more »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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