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Mr. Death: The Rise & Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. (2000)

Fred A. Leuchter Jr. , Robert Jan Van Pelt , Errol Morris  |  PG-13 |  DVD
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Fred A. Leuchter Jr., Robert Jan Van Pelt, David Irving, Caroline Leuchter, James Roth
  • Directors: Errol Morris
  • Producers: David Collins, Errol Morris, Caroline Kaplan, David Schisgall, Dorothy Aufiero
  • Format: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • DVD Release Date: June 6, 2000
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 0783240260
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,690 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Mr. Death: The Rise & Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr." on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

A cinematic portrait of the life and career of the infamous American execution device designer and holocaust denier.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Non-Documentary-Feeling Documentary. October 7, 2005
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I think it goes without saying that most of the general public don't go wild for documentary films. The masses, that is, generally prefer a fictional cliffhanger/thriller with cleverly prefigured twists and turns.

That said, this is one documentary that would most certainly please those very masses. It plays like the highest rate cliffhanger and while the twists and turns are real, they are as clever as any fictive ones I've seen.

"Mr Death" is the story of Fred Leuchter, a self-taught but obviously intelligent "engineer" of execution equipment that is more humane than that currently in practice. The first part of the film is largely a biography of his rise from working on an electric chair in Tenessee, to redesigning a lethal injection room, a gallows, and even a gas chamber in other states.

If the first half is about his rise, the second half - the title suggests it - pertains to his fall. This happens when Ernst Zundel, a holocaust denier out of Canada, hires Luechter after being brought up on arcane charges by the Canadian government, where it is illegal to deny the holocaust on paper(?). Luechter's job is to go to Auschwitz to determine whether Zundel's claim that there were no gas chambers there is in any way rational. The film chronicles Luecther's travels and ultimate judgement that Zundel is correct.

From there - and Zundel eventually loses the case - Luechter's buzzing career enters a tail spin. No one in the states, that is, wants to work with a holocaust denier, much less on execution equipment. He is blackballed.

Most of the film consists of interviews with Luechter interspersed with scentery pertaining to the events being discussed.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Creepy and beautifully filmed November 25, 2000
Without ever hard-selling the point, this film juxtaposes one system of state-sanctioned murder (U.S. death penalty) with another (Nazi-era Holocaust). This pairing is almost beside the point, though, as the filmmaker brings us down into the life of Fred Leuchter, a man who seems malleable and dim-witted on one level, although perhaps far smarter than he lets on. Leuchter at times seems merely a simple, ultimately compassionate individual (he believes in the death penalty but wants to make it dignified and humane); at other times the glint in his eye hints at a far different character and motivation.
Altogether "Mr. Death" is a fascinating study of a man whose macabre career notwithstanding comes across as more sympathetic than one might expect given the subject matter. Occasionally, I felt as if Leuchter were Chance Gardner in "Being There," or perhaps Zelig from the Woody Allen film of the same name: essentially a guiless person who wants to belong. That may, in fact, be rather too charitable in the case of Leuchter, though one of the movie's charms is that it leaves possible this ambiguity even as the credits roll.
Some wonderful editing and camerawork throughout. Intoxicating and creepy--a film that's hard to turn away from.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
If you watch this film thinking that it is about capital punishment or Holocaust denial, then you will have missed it. The film is not even about Leuchter. In Errol Morris's own words, it's about the exploration of a man almost completely lacking in self-knowledge.

You can see through his subtle use of language -- "accommodate the executee," "make it more comfortable," "dignified execution" -- that Leuchter has convinced himself he's a good person doing a good deed. But you can also hear in his contradictions and see in his home photos -- posing with his electric chair like an amusement park attraction -- that his intentions are less than pure.

* "20% mark-up, which is very reasonable"
* "It's distasteful. The body is oozing so the guards have to get the bodily fluids on their hands." (He pronounces "guards" like "gods," by the way.)
* "Beautiful!," he says in response to chiseling a sample off of an Auschwitz gas chamber wall.

The most stomach-churning moment comes just a few seconds shy of the hour mark, when Leuchter, escaping with his Auschwitz samples, says, "I was never so relieved when we passed through the West German Passport Control because at least I hadn't chiseled at any of the West Germans' national shrines."

And then there's that goofy grin.

If you're paying attention to these things, then this film will unmask the friendly face of evil. This is not an evil that means to harm people; it is an evil that is so absorbed in self and so lacking in self-knowledge that it can through psychological gymnastics convince itself that it is in fact good.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragically engrossing December 11, 2000
"The human body is not easy to destroy."
And so Errol Morris introduces us to the latest intriguing character to sit in front of his Interrotron. Fred Leuchter is a slippery guy. He's a self styled engineer in an industry consisting almost solely of himself: consulting prisons on instruments of execution. Leuchter himself is not even sure how he got there. "I built helmets for electric chairs, so now I could build lethal injection machines," he says. "I now build lethal injection machines, so now I'm competent to build a gallows. And since I'm building gallows, I'm also competent to work on gas chambers, because I've done all the other three." He almost laments that he's been shoe horned into an area that few others would be willing to go, but he does so anyway. He clearly enjoys his line of work and comes to see himself as a real expert. This belief in his own propaganda would be his downfall.
He's a proponent of the death penalty but has a strong conviction that it should be handled "humanely." Those awaiting execution, after decades of imprisonment, are "just like you and me" he argues. He would like to see lethal injection performed in molded seats like a dentist's office has. The condemned could watch TV, listen to music or look at pictures on the wall. Furthermore, execution could be a safe and painless process for the executioners as well. "Nobody should have to place his life in jeopardy because an execution is being conducted." And the beguiling thing about Leuchter is that he is absolutely sincere. He is completely without guile. He clearly wants us to like him.
Errol Morris tends toward the fringes in his selection of subject matter, but he rarely goes wrong.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
Dr Fred Leuchter was arguably the first researcher to examine the HCN (Hydrogen Cyanide) penetration levels in the masonry of alleged ‘homicidal gas chambers’. Read more
Published 1 month ago by TroyofHellen
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Truth
This is the story of a simple, capable man who exposed the hoax of the twentieth century - and of what happened to him for being so bold. Read more
Published 10 months ago by john thames
1.0 out of 5 stars A deceptive documentary
Fred Leuchter, a leading expert in gas chamber executions, conducted an examination of the alleged gas chambers at Auschwitz and concluded that they could not have been gas... Read more
Published 20 months ago by HolocaustHistory channel
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Offbeat Documentary from Errol Morris
There's no one quite like Fred Leuchter. After all, there aren't many people who earn money designing ways to execute prisoners while pursuing holocaust denial on the side. Read more
Published on October 30, 2010 by stoic
5.0 out of 5 stars Twist and writhe!
Utterly compelling documentary that follows a self-appointed "executions expert" as he gets hired, first, by various US states to service killing machines, and then, by Holocaust... Read more
Published on March 13, 2010 by Frank Gorshin
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical questions
This excellent and disturbing documentary leaves us with two practical questions.

(1) Auschwitz is a national monument and a tourist destination. Read more
Published on January 27, 2010 by Doreen Appleton
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly structured
What made this movie so great was its structure. It begins as a fascinating portrait of an expert on capital punishment, then, without a hint of fanfare, during the course of a... Read more
Published on January 11, 2009 by E. Woodard
5.0 out of 5 stars Ironies upon ironies
Irony: Leuchter does what he can as an engineer to make electric chairs and other killing devices more humane for the person being put to death. Read more
Published on August 3, 2007 by Viva
5.0 out of 5 stars Malignant Nerd
Fred Leuchter is vain and pathetic. He can easily be imagined jury-rigging the toaster to electrocute the family pet. He is Cree-pee, with a capital "C". Read more
Published on May 22, 2007 by Smoten
2.0 out of 5 stars frustrating documentary
Because it doesn't know what it wants to be. First they show you Mr. Leuchter in a good light--who goes about redesigning electric chairs (and other ways we have of putting death... Read more
Published on May 15, 2007 by Kirk Alex
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