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Wisconsin Death Trip (2002)

Ian Holm , Jeffrey Golden , James Marsh  |  NR |  DVD
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Ian Holm, Jeffrey Golden, Jo Vukelich, Marcus Monroe, Marilyn White
  • Directors: James Marsh
  • Writers: James Marsh, Michael Lesy
  • Producers: James Marsh, Anthony Wall, Carol Hirschi, Maureen A. Ryan, Nancy Abraham
  • Format: Anamorphic, Black & White, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 24, 2004
  • Run Time: 76 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0000BWVL3
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #282,181 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Wisconsin Death Trip" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Commentary by the Director of Photography
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Midwestern Gothic: The Making of Wisconsin Death Trip
  • Essay by Greil Marcus

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Inspired by the Michael Lesy book of the same name, Wisconsin Death Trip is an intimate, shocking, and sometimes hilarious account of the disasters that befell one small town in Wisconsin during the 1890s. The town of Black River Falls is gripped by a peculiar malaise and the weekly news accounts are dominated by bizarre talk of madness, eccentricity, and violence amongst the local population. Suicide and murder are commonplace, and people are haunted by ghosts, possessed by devils, and terrorized by teenage outlaws and arsonists.
Featuring music by Debussy, Blind Mellon Jefferson, John Cale, and DJ Shadow. Narrated by Ian Holmes.

Inspired by the cult-favorite book by Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip is an eerily dreamlike film about the moral, spiritual, and physical collapse of a small American town in the 1890s. Stricken by economic depression, harsh winters, and a diphtheria epidemic that decimated the local infant population, the citizens of Black River Falls, Wisconsin--primarily German and Norwegian immigrants hoping for a better life in America--fell victim to a rising tide of insanity, murder, arson, and moral breakdown. By creating moody black-and-white reenactments of the horrid events chronicled in Lesy's book (which includes the haunting vintage photographs of the town's official photographer), director James Marsh conveys, through chilling detachment and the subtly sardonic narration by Ian Holm, the impression of sly bemusement, as if Black River Falls was preordained by fate to become a village of the damned. It's both fiendishly macabre and yet strangely compelling, weakened only by Marsh's suggestion (through color sequences of present-day Wisconsin) that things have never really changed since those creepy, ill-fated days when death was seemingly everywhere. Apart from that half-baked attempt at irony, Wisconsin Death Trip is a film you won't soon forget. --Jeff Shannon

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Misunderstood in the States, Ironically September 28, 2009
I've never written an Amazon review before, but was just too tempted when I saw the very poor reviews this film has received on this site. I am an American living in England, and I bought this DVD here in the UK. It has fairly good reviews here in England, but I was surprised by the number of narrow minded, prissy reviews it has on the Amazon US site.
I found this film moving, sad, funny, and beautiful to watch. It is extremely well-filmed, and unlike other reviewers here, I think it is also very sensitive considering the subject matter.
This film is a must for REAL history buffs (who aren't afraid to see reality) and for all lovers of....just well-filmed films.
And as for other reviewers pooh-poohing the fact that this has photos of *gasp* DEAD PEOPLE - grow up and get some perspective on this time in history, or don't watch! Post mortem photographs were as common as going to Olan Mills for the family portrait is today - any true history buff will already know this - and those photographs were not so much *private family photographs* as they were on display, proudly, above mantelpieces, for all to see. Post mortem photography was de rigeur in a society where death was much more open and most people died at home.
All in all, I highly recommend this film. No, it's not for everyone, but it is an excellent film for some.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The not so "Good Old Days" December 11, 2004
The most striking features of this little dark gem of a film that make it emminently watchable are the beautifully composed black and white shots, often rendered through unusual angles, and the simply elegant soundtrack composed of classical tracks mixed in with modern classical/folk. I found myself being pulled back in time as the film unravelled its stories and slowly steamrolled me over by the sheer volume of misery experienced by the northern immigrant communities. It makes one wonder how much of the small town, everyday life variety of American history is glossed over and forgotten about. Sadly, I think you could have made this film about any number of areas of the US and the human experience between 1850 and 1950 and you would find similar tales of suffering, strife and moral collapse. This should be required watching for those who still believe that there ever was a such thing as the American dream.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cursed Or A Typical Town? June 20, 2004
It is the late 1890's in the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin and everything is going to hell. There is a diphtheria epidemic that wipes out the children and a long lasting economic depression. Soon after, many of the residents lost their grip on reality and commit suicide and murder in some bizarre and startling ways. James Marsh's documentary pulls the viewer in with these macabre tales and underscores them with color reenactments of some of the events. These reenactments, however, tend to take away from the mysteriousness of the story and keep reminding us that we are over a century away from this event and this is, after all, just a documentary. If only Marsh had kept it all black and white and interspersed more of the real photographs of the townspeople (Black River Falls had its own resident photographer), then it might seem more eerie. It also raises the question that this might not have been that unusual during this period of time in rural America. Black River Falls just happened to have well documented these events. Still, as a reflection of a time when life was hard and times were tough, Marsh succeeds in finding some truly strange occurrences. It's almost as if a curse was placed on this one small town. Iam Holm narrates and his foreboding voice is perfect.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical journey August 9, 2003
By A Customer
This great film will stamp an indelible image into your psyche. I saw this at a cinema last year and it has stayed in my mind ever since. A more hauntingly beautiful film has not bettered this faux documentary about the lives our ancestors lived...and how things really have not changed.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Macabre journey into Wisconsin's bizarre history... March 13, 2004
Wisconsin Death Trip is a journey back to the late 19th century into the town of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, where poverty, hunger, and a grueling winter are assaulting the inhabitants. The population of the small town is mostly of immigrants from Norway and Germany and they are suffering to the point of madness where murder and bizarre behavior results from their anguish. This anguish is often blamed upon witchcraft, ghosts, and other evils as it brings many to the Mendota Asylum for the Insane. As the film unfolds it becomes an expedition through Wisconsin and the many macabre incidences that took place between 1890 and 1900. In the end, it offers some interesting insight to the state of Wisconsin and it offers a truly grisly, yet well done, cinematic experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taking a "Death Trip" to Wisconsin April 3, 2011
I just finished watching the eerily haunting documentary, "Wisconsin Death Trip." The documentary was recommended by my friend, Bob Leonard.

Set in the years 1890-1900, the movie is collected from an old newspaper that dates back to those years. Definitely not for children, the weak of stomach or people controlled by emotions, the stories culled from the newspaper accounts tell tales of murders, disease, adultery, many suicides and of a window smasher named Mary Sweeney. I will have to do more research on Mary Sweeney.

If you have about an hour and 15 minutes and you're in the mood for something that is more frightening than a ghost story (because this is true), you may want to sit down and watch it. If not you may just want to skip it.
I'll give it four out of five stars because it is edited so well and makes you feel like you're experiencing the same things that people were back near the turn of the century.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Creepy Dairy
This is part documentary part fiction. Make no mistake about it though; a LOT of this movie...actually...happened! Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mark J. House
1.0 out of 5 stars A Real Dull Undertaking
I expected this piece of work to at least stimulate the thirst for information but it was so dull I could not sit through it. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Bartok Kinski
5.0 out of 5 stars In other words, I loved it.
WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP (1999) is a lovely, little, dark, wisp of a film that somehow encompasses all things enigmatic and understood about early midwestern America in the 1890's. Read more
Published 13 months ago by An avid reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunted, I am.
This is a truly scary film, a surprisingly deranged rendering of Lesy's book. Lock all the doors. Prepare for nightmares.
Published 18 months ago by Michael Casarella
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, very interesting.
I have seen Wisconsin Death Trip several times.
Some people are shocked by photos of the dead.
This is not really such an uncommon thing. Read more
Published on June 14, 2011 by MatthewJP
5.0 out of 5 stars Unappreciated film
This film was absolutely incredible. I am a Social Work major and have been studying demographics, aging, death and dying. Read more
Published on June 11, 2010 by Jennifer Beadle
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as it was described ...
In a fit of morbid fascination with "collective insanity" along with my love of history of nineteenth century small town America, I watched this "documentary. Read more
Published on May 4, 2009 by C Wahlman
1.0 out of 5 stars Photos of dead people, sad and disrespectful....
I thought that this "documentary" sounded great. It's not. Private photos of children's dead bodies, poorly reenacted suicides, and a dry narrator reading old healdlines, made this... Read more
Published on November 21, 2008 by T. Steffes
2.0 out of 5 stars I think the townsfolk saw the documentary
Based upon authentic yet dry turn of the century (1890-1900) news reports from Black River Falls, a small town in northern Wisconsin, "Wisconsin Death Trip" is a brutally slow,... Read more
Published on July 28, 2008 by Jason
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious, Condescending......
I have never read the book this documentary was inspired by but the subject matter of a real life town plagued by disaster and insanity near the turn of the last century sure... Read more
Published on January 21, 2008 by Susan K. Schoonover
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