The Killer Inside Me: Sex, Death & Sadism

Sociological Images has come across a trailer for the film The Killer Inside Me and it's disturbing. Caution: We've rated it NSFW, Spoiler Alert, and Serious Trigger Warning.

The Killer Inside Me is set for release in 2010; its five minute trailer promo gives away a good chunk of the plot, which seems to involve quite a lot of graphic violence against women. This isn't particularly surprising, considering the long-standing media fascination with sex crimes, and the rising acceptance of rape scenes on prime time television (we're particularly reminded of the Last House on the Left trailer, which clearly showed a very young actress being raped). However, the level of violence shown in the clip is striking, and given the context, quite disturbing.

The film is based on a 1952 novel by the same name by writer Jim Thompson. According to Wikipedia, the novel centers around a young deputy sheriff living in a small town in western Texas, who has always felt the presence of some sort of "dark rider," to use the Dexter-terminology. Lou Ford is a sadistic monster, but he generally keeps his sociopathic tendencies under wraps (except for that one time when he sexually abused a young girl as a teen). As an adult, Ford takes up with a prostitute, in an apparently consensual sadomasochistic relationship that ends in her death. He then attempts to cover her murder by embarking on a series of killings, which ultimately ends up exposing his "sickness" to the world.


Judging by the clip, director Micheal Winterbottom has decided to stay pretty close to the source material. It's clear that Ford is a fucked up dude, who escalates from isolated acts of torture to beating his lover until her face is memorably described as "stewed meat, hamburger." Gwen from Sociological Images writes:

Clearly, Casey Affleck's character is a sadistic asshole (the cigar on the guy's hand), but in the promo, at least, the graphic, sexualized violence is reserved for women…who also appear to like it, at least for a while. Jessica Alba gives in to him, and apparently starts a relationship with him, after he pulls her pants down and whips her. Perhaps that's because she's a prostitute; of course she'd like a dominant man who plays rough, right?

The thing is, you could make this movie and tell the same story without actually showing all the violence in such a graphic way. Movies imply things all the time. It's a choice to show this type of violence toward women as a form of entertainment…and to show the women liking it.

Full disclosure: I'm a horror movie fanatic, and I generally don't shy away from violence on film. I have no problem with Tarantino, and I've seen more of the Saw franchise than I'd like to admit. And yet, Gwen's final comments hit the nail on the head as to why this is particularly bothersome. Not only do we get a truly horrific glimpse of Jessica Alba's face after she's been beaten to death, but we also see the start of their relationship, which begins with a beating, followed immediately by passionate, consensual sex.

It's this series of events that bothers me. Less than a minute in, we see him carry a screaming Jessica Alba to the bed, where he turns her over and whips her with his belt while she screams in pain. Suddenly, something changes - he's no longer an abuser, but a lover. Now, there is nothing wrong with enjoying some healthy, consensual BDSM, but those relationships don't start out as a brutal attack. As far as I can tell, it appears that the first time these two characters meet, he begins to act out his violent fantasies upon her, but it's turns out O.K. (for awhile), because she likes it! This is a dangerous way of approaching sexual violence, for although she may be enjoying the spanking, it is clear that she is never in control. And this is the main problem with portraying rape fantasies and BDSM sex: If there is no discussion of power-play, it just ends up sending the message that women like rape or want to be beaten. Furthermore, Lou Ford's penchant for violence is explained away simply as a "sickness," which, while it may be good for the plot, glosses over the prevalence of rape culture. In making this an illness, particular to one individual, the movie is able to dabble in the same tropes that we see over and over again, and exploit the thrill of watching violence against women, without touching the greater issues at play. So unless Winterbottom is willing to delve into the dynamics of consent/control, The Killer Inside Me will be little better than a snuff film.


"The Killer Inside Me" Promo [Sociological Images]
The Killer Inside Me (Novel) [Wikipedia]
The Killer Inside Me [IMDB]

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Question: What's the difference between this movie, which I'm getting geared up to dislike, and a movie like "Secretary," which I very much enjoy? In both cases violence is both unwanted and initially resisted. Except it seems this movie ends with a pile of bodies, while "Secretary" ended happily(ish) everafter. #violenceagainstwomen