DATELINE: MOVIES TO SEE
Carl Panzram: the Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance is one of the most chilling documentaries about a serial killer and vile human being. It is worth every uncomfortable and squeamish moment to study.
Panzram wrote 40,000 words at the behest of a guard named Henry Lesser who encouraged him in 1928 to tell his twisted and horrifying life story. The guard smuggled the pencil script out of the prison (against regulations) and unsuccessfully tried to publish it for 40 years. No one wanted to read it or to believe it.
Now on DVD and streaming video comes a documentary film, reenacting the scenes related by Lesser as an elderly man in an interview from the 1970s.
Panzram will haunt you for his timeless sense of life and death. He was self-educated, brutal and brutalized, and admitted to sodomizing thousands of men in his life, most by rape. He is the epitome of 21st century violence and hatred, caught in a time warp that defied credibility in the early years of the 20th century.
If man’s inhumanity to man ever needed confirmation, the life of Panzram provides definitive evidence.
John DiMaggio reads the words of Panzram during the re-enactments with chilling effect. Henry Lesser, the man who encouraged the autobiography and smuggled it out of the prison, is seen in archival interview footage. Their unlikely ‘friendship’ bespeaks of someone seeing an unusual quality in the killer—which we would never call redeeming. Lesser made the right decision to document this bizarre case of human psychology.
A battery of psychologists and criminologists weigh in, but their words are hollow next to the sharp, clear, incisive prose of Panzram.
The story is so disturbing that no traditional movie version with a big name star has appeared, though we would never rule it out as time marches on.
In the meantime, real horror is far beyond the manufactured stuff of moviemakers. This is not for the squeamish.
You may sample William Russo’s movie reviews in MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE, now available in softcover and e-book formats on Amazon.com.