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Killer - A Journal of Murder

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Product Details

  • Actors: James Woods, Robert Sean Leonard, Ellen Greene, Cara Buono, Robert John Burke
  • Directors: Tim Metcalfe
  • Writers: Tim Metcalfe, James Long, Thomas E. Gaddis
  • Producers: George Linardos, Janet Yang, Lisa Howard, Lisa Moiselle
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Letterboxed, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Republic Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: September 29, 2006
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6304517548
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,489 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Killer - A Journal of Murder" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews


James Woods gives one of his finest performances in this flawed but fascinating film about imprisoned serial killer Carl Panzram, who was hanged in 1930 after he beat a prison worker to death--the last of a reported 21 killings. The film centers on the tentative trust and friendship between Panzram and prison guard Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard), whose attempt to understand Panzram's violent life leads him to believe that Panzram could redeem himself from a life of crime. Told primarily in flashbacks, Panzram's story unfolds as Lesser reflects upon its significance. In reality Panzram's life was a constant succession of unspeakable acts and violent crimes; for the purposes of the film, writer-director Tim Metcalfe attempts to humanize Panzram's story, leaving the viewer to decide if Panzram was deservedly executed, or the victim of his own miserable past. The film's ambivalence--and its tendency to leave crucial questions unanswered--lessens its impact as a biographical drama, but Woods and Leonard work superbly together, and Metcalfe's script paints a vivid portrait of the criminal mind. The DVD includes a full-length director's commentary that fills in some of the factual details that the film leaves out. --Jeff Shannon

Customer Reviews

James Woods performance is truly amazing.
Arthur McGary
Carl Panzram and Henry Lesser come from very different backgrounds, yet it becomes clear to the audience that both men are similarly alone.
jake pantel
While I wasn't expecting an awful movie, by any means, I really didn't expect this film to be as good as it was.
Eric D

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "dluxcheez" on January 3, 2002
Format: DVD
Based upon a true story by Thomas E. Gaddis and James O. Long, this film stars James Woods (Citizen Cohn, Ghosts of Mississippi) as Carl Panzram, a convict who admits to multiple murders. The film opens with a narration by Henry Lesser (Harold Gould, best known as a television actor on shows including Rhoda and The Golden Girls), recounting the Panzram's story. We then see the young Lesser (is that lesser Lesser?), played by Robert Sean Leonard (Swing Kids), about to start his new job as a prison guard at Leavenworth -- it is the late 1920's. Panzram has been incarcerated at Leavenworth for burglary. He is a wise-ass and the more he mouths off the more the guards beat on him, and the more they beat on him the more he mouths off, and the more he...well, you get the picture.
After one particularly brutal beating that leaves Panzram's face a bloody pulp, Lesser -- the guard with a heart -- encounters him and takes an interest in him. He wants to know more about him -- what has brought him here, why is he being beat upon by the other guards, etc. Lesser even breaks the rules and gives him a dollar, enough to buy him a hefty supply of cigarettes and candy bars. Panzram tells Lesser that he is in fact a brutal killer, and wants to document his life and turn it over to him. Problem is that pencils and paper are also forbidden. Fear not, for Mr. Lesser comes through again, after some initial trepidation.
What Lesser reads is horrifying. Panzram admits to killing 21 men, which we see flashed in kind of a newsreel fashion. He recounts a time when he was incarcerated under a Warden Charles Casey (Steve Forrest) who tried to rehabilitate him and the system. He allowed him to go on unsupervised furloughs, so long as he returned that night, which he always does.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Schtinky VINE VOICE on April 18, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Carl Panzram (the talented James Woods) is arrested and jailed for theft, but while in prison confesses to killing 21 men (while being beaten by the prison guards). Newly appointed prison guard Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard) feels sorry for Carl after seeing how badly he's been beaten, and gives the prisoner a dollar (a lot of money back in the 1920's). Thus starts up a very strange friendship.

Lesser, against the rules, provides Carl with pencil and paper for Carl to write down his life story. We're taken back through Carl's life, mostly with flashbacks, to the mayhem his life had been. It seems the only time he attempted normal behavior was under a warden named Casey who actually trusted Carl until Carl, while out on one of his daytime trips, rapes an innocent librarian (played by Ellen Greene - Little Shop Of Horrors).

While 'Killer' isn't a fast paced movie, it's nonetheless a very good movie. James Woods plays his role as a sociopath to perfection. The use of occasional black-and-white photography, the costume design, the props, and the old stills really create the atmosphere of the era. The dialogue is sharp and realistic. (Carl: "I do not intend to plead for pity or sympathy or mercy. What I demand is justice. You created me. Now you kill me.") The scene where the preacher comes to Carl's cell is priceless.

Overall, if you liked 'The Green Mile' or just like James Woods' work, you should pick up or rent a copy of this film. Though obviously low budget, it works very well. Enjoy!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jake pantel on August 23, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant Video
James Woods crawls into the mind of Carl Panzram; in fact, James Woods gives such a dark performance that I could not imagine the man in another way. Themes of isolation are poignantly displayed through contrasting characters. Carl Panzram and Henry Lesser come from very different backgrounds, yet it becomes clear to the audience that both men are similarly alone. Lesser is fascinated by prisoners, choosing to be a prison guard when, in fact, he is well educated and a "tailor by trade." He feels disconnected from his family and the bulk of society, bored and searching for the darker side of life behind prison walls. In the prison, it becomes clear that he is disconnected from this world of people as well. He is not like the other prison guards, and easily spotted as an outcast amongst these devilish men. Both guards and prisoners candidly ask Lesser what he is doing there. When Lesser is at home, his family urges him to quit his job as a prison guard and earn a livelihood more suitable to the way he was raised. However, he ignores his family and shuts himself in his office with the smuggled, horrific stories penned by Carl Panzram. Stunned by Panzram's confession, Lesser bewilderingly asks Carl if the story he tells is true. He is shocked by the evil born into man, and morbidly loses himself further in his attempt to discover another side of life amidst abusive guards and murderous prisoners. In fact, it becomes clear to the audience that Lesser is more confused about his social role than Carl Panzram.
On the other hand, Carl Panzram is disconnected from man as a result of the evil done unto him, and it is his sole endeavor to return the favor to whomever will satisfy his urge for vengeance. He says, "I don't believe in man, God nor Devil.
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