The Killer Inside Me


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


A small-town deputy gets caught in the middle of a tricky situation involving a prostitute, a rich man, and the rich man's son, who falls in love with the hooker. Before the situation can get resolved to everyone's satisfaction, the deputy finds himself in a sado-masochistic relationship with the prostitute, and their violent sex triggers some evil instincts which had been buried deep inside of him for some fifteen years. He ends up killing the prostitute and the son, and he eventually has to murder several others in the process of covering his tracks.

If you have read and liked Jim Thompson's eponymous 1952 source novel, you will not be disappointed by this film. The film's dialogue is nearly a verbatim transcription of the novel's, and its tone captures exactly what Thompson was going for. The characters are rendered faithfully, and nearly every element of the plot has been retained.  I read the book after watching the film but before writing this article, and I have concluded that the adaptation is just about flawless.

That's good, but not as good as it sounds, because Jim Thompson's works are not exactly blockbuster movies waiting to happen. His stories are always difficult to adapt into commercially viable projects because the themes are so dark and the action so perverse and violent. His nihilistic novels have inspired a number of  crime films such as After Dark My Sweet, The Grifters, two versions of The Getaway, some French films, and a previous (1976) version of The Killer Inside Me, starring Stacy Keach. Some of those films have been pretty good, but none of them have been very successful.

This particular Thompson novel is especially difficult to make into a film because it's written entirely in the first person, and the narrator, the murderous deputy Lou Ford, is a sociopath whose words are unreliable, self-serving and delusional. The "dissembling narration" technique creates all sorts of headaches for a film adaptation. When we read a book we have no trouble remaining skeptical of somebody's first-person written account of an event, especially when the raconteur has already admitted to serious mental illness. In the book it's clear that every single event is presented by Lou in the first person, so we know that nothing can be assumed to be objective reality.

But our natural instinct when watching a film is to believe our eyes. As a result of that tendency, I found myself quite consistently confused by the action. Were the events I witnessed supposed to be objective reality or visual representations of Lou's lies? When Lou is trapped by the testimony of an eyewitness who was supposed to have died much earlier, I was lost. Did the D.A. actually trick Lou into thinking the witness was already dead, or are we simply watching Lou's guilt finally coming home to roost in the form of her imaginary resurrection?

Beats me.

Part of the film consists of Lou's death scene. If everything is his narration, are we to assume that he is alive and well in an institution somewhere, writing his tale, and that the (grandiose) death is therefore imaginary?

Beats me.

I assume that the last ten minutes of the film must be a fantasy transpiring inside Lou's head as he sits in a mental institution. That's just my supposition, but if true it is highly problematic.  If any of what we have seen is drawn from Lou's imagination, can we rely on anything else we have witnessed? Is everything on screen meant to portray Lou's delusions? That may well be, because all of the female characters love Lou in direct proportion to how violently he beats them, and that ratio seems to exist outside of objective reality. But if the entire story is delusional, then perhaps Lou has committed no crimes at all. Maybe he is actually a quiet pacifist sitting at a desk in an accounting office, acting out his taboo urges by means of written fantasies, ala H.P. Lovecraft or Quentin Tarantino. In that case, this is just his latest yarn.

Or perhaps the camera has shown us some events objectively and some through Lou's delusions.

Frankly, I just don't know.

The film fails to convey any answers to those questions, but it does offer some hints. In the death scene, Lou cryptically remarks to one of the men in the room, "Don't say anything. I haven't given you any lines." (That is one of the few lines not taken directly from the novel.) I guess we are supposed to infer that at least this one scene must be taking place entirely in his head.

Or not.

If you call it another way, I can't refute you.

It must also be noted that watching The Killer Inside Me has been an extremely unpleasant experience for many mainstream moviegoers. It's filled with graphic violence against women, and many people have found the visceral scenes to be unnecessarily explicit. (Think "Irreversible.") Many people walked out of the Sundance screening, for example, including the female star, Jessica Alba!

Since the action is both confusing and repellent, this is obviously not a project that solicits our love, yet the film's distance from the audience doesn't prevent it from exuding a mesmerizing aura. I was confused about what was real, to be sure, and I looked away a couple of times during the beatings, but I never lost interest and I wanted to see how it would all play out! I was pulled so deep into Lou Ford's world that I started to feel the noose tightening around him, as if I myself had committed the heinous acts, and was starting to run out of alibis. It's to the credit of director Michael Winterbottom and star Casey Affleck that I actually started to get deeply involved in the fate of such an evil person, because the actor and helmsman created that involvement without ever trying to make me like Lou, and without sugar-coating his deeds.

This film is not going to make any money, or many friends, but it's still fascinating, atmospheric, and totally faithful to its source novel.

DVD Novel


2.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
2.5 James Berardinelli  (of 4 stars)
54 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)

That's about as tepid as it gets!








6.8 IMDB summary (of 10)







Box Office Mojo. The Sundance premiere led to nothing more than a sub-arthouse run (17 theaters). It grossed about $200,000 in the States.







Who knows? Three women get beaten with a belt, and the action focuses on their backsides.

  • There is one brief episode where Kate Hudson's face and butt are both visible.
  • Jessica Alba may have used a body double for her spanking scene. She showed nothing at all in nearly ten minutes of sex scenes. The editing techniques keep everything hidden.
  • The third woman is Caitlin Turner. The butt and head are clearly matched up in this case. There are also some grimy pornographic Polaroids of her. Or of somebody!





Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is a very solid genre film and an extremely faithful adaptation, but it has no crossover appeal.