Monday, October 20, 2008

Horrorfest ’08 Report # 2: Our Paradise Lost

Documentaries don’t fit naturally into the tones of Horrorfest. But every once and a while there comes a film or two about real-life atrocities that are undeniable horrors. In the past, Horrorfest has looked at sexual crimes that have been committed under the guise of Godly protection in “Delivers Us from Evil”. I’ve seen the depths to which a sad man will sink just to find acceptance from any group in “Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.” But perhaps the horrors found in the two “Paradise Lost” films are the most frightening and profound to be found in our world.

In 1993, three children were found brutally murdered in the woods known as Robin Hood Hills in the town of West Memphis, Ark. “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” follows the trial of three teenaged boys who were accused and convicted of committing these heinous murders. Without editorializing about whether these kids are guilty or not, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky present a portrait of a justice system perverted by fear and prejudice. One of the kids has an IQ of 72, while the other two are outsiders who wear black and listen to Metallica; and they are convicted almost solely because of these facts. There is so little evidence against them, it is frightening to think any jury could convict them let alone any judge even allow the case to go to trial.

At one point, a witness is put on the stand who raises a great deal of questions about the case against the boys and presents himself as a strong suspect considering the obvious lies he has told police revealed on the witness stand. But for some reason this doesn’t shake the jury’s preconception that these strange teenagers must be responsible for the murders. The prosecution’s case depends primarily on a fairly obviously coerced confession by the kid with the 72 IQ and the unfounded notion that the murders were some sort of ritualistic witchcraft sacrifice. Nothing is show to establish that either the defendants practice such witchcraft or that the murders were even ritualistic in nature. But this is the primary reason cited for the jury’s guilty verdict.

The second film, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations”, is even more frightening in the way it reveals details about the murders and the suspects that were overlooked by the trial lawyers and police. Connections are made that could have easily been made at the time of the murders, but nobody seemed to think to ask the questions that led to fairly obvious answers. And the man who so obviously perjured himself on the stand in the trial is revealed to be a charlatan of sorts and possibly guilty of yet another murder. The boys who were convicted have grown into men still bewildered by the fact that such injustice could have been acted upon them, while none of the authorities responsible is even willing to consider the obvious mistakes that were made—even once they are pointed out.

When considering these two films, I am reminded of the course our entire country has taken over the past eight years. It seems most of the major developments in our country during that time have been born out of fear and our attempts to just get past our problems as quickly as possible, without truly contemplating how these problems have developed and what might be the best solutions to them. With our sensation-based media machine, we would rather witchcraft or some other abnormality be the cause of our problems. Something that we don’t really understand is easier to condemn and easier to punish without full justification.

The three kids who were convicted for the murders are still behind bars. One was supposed to have been executed by now, but he is still fighting to overturn his and the other convictions. Berlinger and Sinovsky have been compiling footage for a third film. I’m sure they are hoping some real justice will be served before they finish. Hopefully we can all find some real justice in our world before we are all finished.

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