EX Film Label Manager Talks Latest Release THE KILLING OF AMERICA!
EX Film is an independent Australian home entertainment distributor that specialises in cult and exploitation cinema, with prior releases that include I DRINK YOUR BLOOD and ACT OF VENGEANCE, on both digital and analogue formats. At the helm is Leon O’Regan, label manager and lone gun at EX Film and we caught up with him for a chat about the latest release, seminal 1981 documentary, THE KILLING OF AMERICA.
In 1981, filmmakers Sheldon Renan and Academy Award® nominee Leonard Schrader (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, MISHIMA, BLUE COLLAR) created a graphic and provocative examination of America’s history with – and penchant for – senseless violence, mass shootings and cold-blooded murder. It was condemned as “exploitive and obscene” (The New York Times), acclaimed as “among the most controversial documentaries in the history of cinema” (Fantasia Festival), and never distributed, televised or made available for sale in the United States. Ex Film presents this infamous ‘shock doc’ fully restored, uncut and loaded with exclusive Bonus Features – including the even more unnerving Japanese version known as VIOLENCE U.S.A. – which remains one of the most profoundly disturbing and still chillingly relevant documentary experiences of our time.
How were you first introduced to THE KILLING OF AMERICA?
The same way most of the Australian and New Zealand audiences did: Palace Explosive Video. I vividly recall hiring I Spit on Your Grave in 1997 while visiting friends in Corowa, NSW. We took the tape over to a mate’s house which was a haven for bad behaviour. In went the tape and the trailer for The Killing of America just grabbed us. When I returned home to Albury I found it at Central Video Warehouse, which I still consider to be one of the finest video libraries Australia has ever seen. The place is gone now, but I ended up buying that tape. I was big into true crime, 1970s America and weird movies; so everything about the documentary appealed to me – it was superbly crafted, relentlessly bleak and presented with a cold frankness that straddled journalistic detachment and classic exploitation. I became a lifelong fan.
Your release of THE KILLING OF AMERICA has been highly anticipated one. How long has it been in the works?
About 3 years, way too long. I’ve been busy with a slew of other projects unrelated to Ex Film and juggling it all with full-time employment meant that I had to occasionally put the project on hold. Which I guess was somewhat fortuitous as I was able to collect quite a lot of material for the booklet.
In addition to the Blu-ray, you’ve done a run of VHS & Betamax. What’s the response been to the tape editions?
Pretty strong so far. Everyone knows about the spike in interest in the video era and video tapes in general and like all Ex Film releases, I wanted to create an item that collectors would appreciate in terms of detail and authenticity. The Betamax sold out virtually overnight which was quite unexpected – I’d have produced more if I’d known the demand was there!
Your 84-page booklet really sets the EX Film Blu-ray release apart from any previous edition. How did you go about compiling it?
I really appreciate well researched booklets accompanying Blu-ray and DVD releases. I think they expand upon and illustrate elements and aspects of a film that really aren’t suited to disc content. Image galleries as on-disc extras are cool, but having that content as a tactile print item makes a far stronger impact. I also wanted a booklet that wasn’t just a lazy essay spread out over 10 pages, double-spaced lines and 16 point text – I wanted a barrage of graphics and information just like the movie. I really enjoy the research and development of these sort of things, so spending hundreds of hours scouring old magazines and newspapers was – as sad as this may sound – a lot of fun!
I also produced a secondary booklet on James R Hoskins, the Ohio guy featured in the documentary who took a TV station hostage. The booklet traces his life in the news, from an artist in the early 1970s through to his suicide and how the narrative around his actions changed over 40 years. The sense of time and memory when viewing this material sequentially is intriguing and I’ve done a few more publications in this format. The booklet was available in limited quantities from record stores in the lead-up to the release and leftovers went out with orders placed over the first couple of days.
THE KILLING OF AMERICA transcends to the exploitation nature of the typical mondo documentary. Do you feel it’s as relevant today as it was upon release in 1981?
Absolutely. As a time capsule of that serial killer era, it’s a fascinating document and I think it’s still a powerful film regardless of its age. Some forms of violence have declined and others increased but you only have to look at the chaos of the past year to see that some things remain the same.
With THE KILLING OF AMERICA finally out, what’s in the pipeline for EX Film?
More VHS and Betamax. I’m working on a couple of discs, but they’re in their very early stages so I can’t spill much about them just yet. I’m also working on several more booklets and tracts – plenty of stuff in the pipeline.