American Crime (1987) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

American Crime is a complicated, multi-layered, multiple murder mystery.

When a topless dancer's corpse is found by some fishermen, they hope to earn a reward by calling a local TV station instead of the police. As the plot thickens, the producer (Anabella Sciorra), the ambitious female reporter (Rachel Leigh Cook), and a techie intern (Kip Pardue) realize that maintaining an exclusive on the case presents their lifetime career opportunity, so they continue to keep the police in the dark while they uncover a chain of clues. The dead woman's belongings include a video tape of her, and the footage was apparently filmed without her knowledge by a stalker. That might not be so suspicious except that another women is also shown on the tape and that woman is also dead, murdered some time earlier. The investigators conclude that the stalker's m.o. is to tape "stalker footage" of a prospective victim before killing her, followed by sending the tape to his next prospective victim, along with similar "stalker footage" of herself.

The case gets far more complicated when the next tape seems to identify the female reporter as the next victim. She simply decides to get the hell out of Dodge and moves several hundred miles away, leaving the mystery to the others.

The resignation of the reporter finally attracts some national and international attention, so the small town is visited by a British reporter from a big syndicated U.K. show called "American Crime". (This part is played by an almost unrecognizable Cary Elwes, as seen in the capture to the right.) The "American Crime" reporter joins the local producer and her intern in the complicated investigation, but he seems to be a complete putz in every way, so hilariously incompetent that one might reasonably doubt whether he is a reporter at all!

As the film progresses, the paranoia of the investigators runs high and each of them realizes that any of the others might actually be the murderer. This situation was managed very effectively so that the writers and director didn't have to provide the customary clumsy "red herrings", but allowed the suspicion to shift back and forth naturally, as each of the primary characters interpreted signs and clues rationally, yet with their reason shrouded sufficiently by the veil of their own paranoia so that everything seemed to be a clue and anyone could have been seen as a potential murderer.

You won't have to worry about my spoiling the mystery for you, because I still don't know for sure who the killer is. The film has an ending which shows one person confessing to the crime on tape, then arguing that the confession was extracted under duress. The epilogue does seem to confirm that the confessed murderer could not have committed the crimes.

This movie was shot entirely on digital video in a widescreen aspect ratio, and was edited with the slick professionalism of a top notch ad or a TV show intro, as befitting the fact that it is at times a TV show within a film, and even a TV show within a TV show within a film. (The "American Crime" show is shown covering the local investigation as a news story it itself, and the local broadcasts are also shown at times.) Some of the direction is gimmicky, bordering on surreal and symbolic, sometimes even crossing those borders. Furthermore, some of the footage is deliberately obfuscated by the director's technique, since it involves, in the most radical case, a guy filming a TV which is playing a tape of a women watching another tape of herself on her own TV.

If you were to argue that the whole project sounds a bit "over directed", you might have a fair point, but I would respectfully disagree. I would normally be uncomfortable with how the macabre humor and the surrealism destroy the "fourth wall" in a serious murder investigation, and I would normally carp about all the layers of films within films until the entire project seems like a nested Russian puzzle, but in this case I think the entire presentation worked very effectively. It is slick, engaging, creepy, and mysterious. I really enjoyed the nebulous ending as an alternative to the usual spoon-fed and contrived answer. In fact, I was so involved in the puzzle that I watched most of the film a second time to see if I could be certain of the identity of the killer or killers. I think I know, but I'm not certain, and that ambiguity really provided a sense of involvement that I used to get from the best works from Hitchcock and Serling.

Although American Crime went straight to video, it was a helluva lot more interesting and proficient piece of genre filmmaking than most of the theatrical releases I saw in the past year. This is the most original reworking of the overdone serial murderer formula in a long time, and the director, Dan Mintz, showed a real knack for combining macabre imagination with glitzy techno skills to package the creepy thrills. My hat is also off to the proficient editor, Todd Miller, and to the creator of the opening credits, if that was someone other than the director or editor. Those credits are a delightful blend of technology and artistry.

I almost didn't look at this film because I've been busy and it was one of this week's minor releases, but I'm glad I did. I radically underestimated it. It grabbed my attention right from the "git-go", and never let up. I ended up enjoying it!

* If you have seen the movie and would like to read my speculation on the identity of the murderer, see the section below in yellow.

Oops! A slap on the wrist for the continuity person! Kip finds that answering the phone will make video tapes disappear.



  • widescreen anamorphic
  • no meaningful features


Two of the victims show some skin

  • There is good exposure from Julie Cialini, who shows her breasts and thonged bum as the topless dancer.
  • There is minimal exposure from Amy Arce. She shows her breasts, but only in a video-within-the-film, and only after she is lying lifeless.

These points will mean nothing to you unless you've seen the film.

Who committed the murders?

This is my reasoning.

1. It could NOT have been the British guy who confessed, because another video arrived after he was incarcerated.

2. It could not have been the intern acting alone, since we saw him being hit over the head with a hammer in front of the producer.

3. It could not have been the ambitious female reporter acting alone, since (1) we saw her being kidnapped from the laundromat by the stalker (2) we saw her being photographed in a secret lesbian rendezvous by the stalker, not with a tripod set-up, but by a hand-held camera, so she could not have done it herself.

4. All the bodies were found except those of the intern and the female reporter.

5. The disappearance of the intern's body makes no sense. The intern and the producer fell near each other, within seconds of one another. How could his body disappear, but not hers?

6. We never saw anything violent happening to the female reporter.

7. Therefore, I conclude that the intern must be alive and that he and the female reporter must have committed the murders together as a team.

  • It seems certain that the killer's lair was her childhood house, for two reasons: (1) it was obviously a girl's room, filled with dolls and books about knitting and such (2) the block of small, identical pictures on the wall appears to be the actual, small-sized high school yearbook pictures of Rachel Leigh Cook, albeit with her natural dark hair color instead of the blond wig she wore in the film. (Rachel played the reporter.)
  • The stalker's peeping, the complicated video set-up, and the need to photograph every moment of everything certainly seemed to match his behavior rather than hers.

8. I did not understand the significance of the killer's dog, who finally clawed his way into the house, then was dropped from the action altogether. It certainly seemed that the dog's behavior toward the intruders would identify which person really belonged in the murderer's house, but if that was ever intended in the script, it was abandoned in the final edit.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Highly recommended if you like multiple murder mysteries, unless you will be irritated by the fact that the killer or killers are never ultimately identified.

Return to the Movie House home page