Wisconsin Death Trip (1997) Reviewed

This pseudo-documentary integrates real historic photographs and freshly filmed dialogue-free vignettes to tell the story of the Black River Falls region of Wisconsin between 1890 and 1900. During this time unemployment, devastating winters and barren land seemed to slowly turn this seemingly family-friendly settlement into a hotbed of bizarre behavior. Murder, love-lorn suicides, violent child rebellions, an outbreak of diphtheria and tales of witches and ghosts seemed to pollute the isolated community. Narrator Ian Holm reads actual newspaper narrative from the dark period to comment on the visuals. As a doc it kind of works but often smacks of film school mechanics. Shot almost entirely in black and white, the movie still lacks a feel of authenticity due in part to the pantomimed performances of the extras involved. The actual photographs from the period are far more effective, especially when you are looking at an antiquated photo image of a pretty little girl as the narration comments on the horrible things she had done. The material is endlessly fascinating but warrants a better presentation than the by-numbers treatment it receives. It reminded me a little of The Blair Witch Curse mockumentary, which somehow manages to be far more engaging than this. Still worth a look for those interested in genuine American Gothic. The film is inspired by a book of the same name. ** ½

Check out my related post on Victorian death photography here.

Watch an informative slide show about the book and movie, Wisconsin Death Trip on YouTube:

~ by Number5ive on February 11, 2010.

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