Natural Born Killers, a film released in 1994, drew a cult following for its unique cinematography and hyperviolence. The film tells the story of Mickey Knox and his wife Mallory, who go on a cross-country shooting spree. Through flashbacks, viewers learn that Mallory grew up with an abusive father and neglectful mother. Mickey rescues her from that situation, and the two begin their life of crime. When Mickey is arrested for grand theft auto for stealing his father’s car, he escapes and gets Mallory; the two then kill her father by drowning him in a fish tank and burn her mother in her bed. Throughout the scene, a canned laugh track can be heard, making it both visually and auditorily disturbing.
The pair continue their killing spree, which includes 48 victims in New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Authorities are pursuing them, as are media sources. Detective Jack Scagnetti seems obsessed with Mallory. Journalist Wayne Gale, host of a TV show American Maniacs, which profiles mass murderers, enjoys the ratings he gets when he covers Mickey and Mallory’s exploits.
After a strange scene in a desert with a Navajo Indian, Mickey and Mallory are captured and beaten by police. The film jumps ahead to one year later, with the two in prison and set to be moved to a mental institution, having both been judged insane. Mickey agrees to do a live interview with Wayne Gale during the Super Bowl. In it, he declares himself a “natural born killer” and incites other inmates to break free. All hell breaks loose. Mallory ends up killing Detective Scagnetti, and Mickey and Mallory escape with Wayne Gale. They later kill him, with the entire incident being televised. The last scene shows the couple some years later. They are in an RV and Mallory, clearly pregnant, is watching their two children play.
Natural Born Killers was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1995 and two MTV movie awards in the same year. Juliette Lewis won the Best Actress award at the 1994 Venice Film Festival for her performance as Mallory, and director Oliver Stone won the Special Jury Prize. Some have called the film a brilliant satire and sociological commentary on media.
Critics contend that Natural Born Killers not only glorified violence, but also incited real-life violence among viewers. On March 5, 1995, Sarah Edmondson and Ben Darras, both age 18 at the time, spent the evening together in a cabin in Oklahoma, taking LSD and watching Natural Born Killers. Reportedly they viewed the film several times in a row. Early the following morning, they left in Edmondson’s Nissan Maxima, armed with a .38-caliber revolver. On March 7, they arrived at a cotton mill in Hernando, Mississippi, where Darras killed William Savage, shooting him twice in the head. The pair then traveled to a convenience store in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, where Edmondson shot store cashier Patsy Byers. Byers survived but was left a paraplegic and eventually died of cancer. Her husband, Lonnie Byers, filed suit against Edmondson and Darras on July 26, 1995, and in March 2006, amended the suit to include Time Warner Entertainment, Oliver Stone, and others associated with the production of Natural Born Killers. That portion of the suit was dismissed on January 23, 1997.
Fourteen-year-old Barry Loukaitis, who shot several people in his Moses Lake, Washington, school in 1996, reportedly loved the film and tried to emulate the main character, Mickey. Similarly, 14-year-old Michael Carneal, who killed three students in a Paducah, Kentucky, high school in 1997, loved the film. Attorneys for the parents of Carneal’s victims have blamed the media for the shooter’s actions, filing a lawsuit in April 1999 against Internet pornography providers, motion picture studios, and computer game manufacturers. The suits were subsequently dismissed. Allegedly, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine shooters, were fans of Natural Born Killers as well.
- Kunich, J. Natural born copycat killers and the law of shock torts. Washington University Law Quarterly, 78, 1157-1270. Retrieved from http://lawreview.wustl.edu/inprint/78-4/1157Kunich.pdf
- Natural Born Killers: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110632/synopsis