Guyana: Crime of the Century (1980) - Rotten Tomatoes

Guyana: Crime of the Century (1980)





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"Names have been changed to protect the innocent" in this infamous fictionalization of the tragic mass suicide of 914 followers of Jim Jones' "People's Temple" in Guyana in the fall of 1978. Rev. James Johnson (Stuart Whitman) is a charismatic but deeply paranoid man of the cloth who moves his flock from Northern California to a settlement in Guyana, where he intends to create an interracial socialist utopia. Addicted to prescription drugs and convinced he is surrounded by enemies, Johnson rules his colony, "Johnsontown," with an iron fist, torturing anyone who violates his rule, seducing both women and men from his congregation, confiscating money and property from his followers, and forcing them to work long hours in the fields for meager rations. Lee O'Brien (Gene Barry), a California congressman who represents the district Johnson and his followers once called home, has received complaints from friends and relatives of the Johnsontown settlers, convinced something is wrong. O'Brien and a team of reporters fly to Guyana to find out the truth about what is happening; Johnson is convinced O'Brien has seen too much, and armed gunmen ambush his party before they can return to the United States (with a number of Johnsontown residents who wish to leave). After a failed attempt to arrange exile in the Soviet Union, Johnson convinced his followers to perform a "final revolutionary act" before authorities arrive. This oddball blend of fact and fiction also features Joseph Cotten and John Ireland as Johnson's lawyers, Yvonne de Carlo as Johnsontown's press officer, and Bradford Dillman as the doctor who mixes the punch for Johnson's final gathering. ~ Mark Deming, Rovimore
Rating: R
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
In Theaters:
On DVD: Feb 15, 2005


Stuart Whitman
as Rev. James Johnson
Gene Barry
as Congressman Lee O'Br...
John Ireland
as David Cole
Joseph Cotten
as Richard Gable
Bradford Dillman
as Dr. Gary Shaw
Jennifer Ashley
as Anna Kazan
Yvonne De Carlo
as Susan Ames
as Leslie
Show More Cast

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Audience Reviews for Guyana: Crime of the Century


4.5/10. So very made for television, and it misses making a compelling real life scenario into a professional and interesting film. The cast overacts, it is more sensational than truthful. What should have been a great film simply isn't.

James Higgins

[b][i]Night Train Murders[/i][/b]
Starring: Flavio Bucci, Macha Meril, Gianfranco De Grassi, Enrico Maria Salerno, Marina Berti, Franco Fabrizi, and Irene Miracle.
Directed by Aldo Lado.
Written by Renato Izzo and Aldo Lado.
No MPAA rating (contains scenes of vile sexual torture and violence).
Running time approximately 1 hour 34 minutes.

[center][i]Revolting. Die slowly...screaming.[/i][/center]

My least favorite Wes Craven film is his first - [i]The Last House on the Left[/i]. Aldo Lato's [i]Night Train Murders[/i] (a.k.a. [i]Second House on the Left[/i]) is no better. The box art claims the film is "ore reprehensible than [i]Last House on the Left[/i]," when in fact the film is the exact same film as the Craven debut. The biggest difference: the train...and the horrid dubbing, which is more distracting than anything else. I hated this movie. I can't sell it. Reckless doesn't want it. [b]Zero Stars (out of ****) F[/b]

[b][i]God Told Me To[/i][/b]
Starring: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Levene, Andy Kaufman, and Richard Lynch.
Written and Directed by Larry Cohen.
No MPAA rating (contains violence, language and some sexual content/nudity).
Running time approximately 1 hour 32 minutes.

[center][i]God told him to cut his throat.[/i][/center]

Larry Cohen is a strange case. He has these awesomely original ideas ([i]Q: The Winged Serpent[/i] is the only other of his writer-director credits I've seen) but is/was unable to get proper funding for these huge ideas. He makes films about big ideas with tiny budgets. [i]God Told Me To[/i], a gloriously incendiary piece of trash art, is a great idea trapped in a good movie. It balances out. There is one scene of such raw emotional intensity I almost couldn't stand it. [b]*** (out of ****) B[/b]

Starring: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, and Olga Karlatos.
Directed by Lucio Fulci.
Written by Elisa Briganti.
No MPAA rating (contains graphic horror violence/gore and some nudity).
Running time approximately 1 hour 32 minutes.

[center][i]Yes, it's zombie vs. shark. Glorious.[/i][/center]

Lucio Fulci must have been a fun guy to talk to. His films are so incredibly strange and seemingly spontaneous, and I wonder if his life was the same way. [i]Zombie[/i], a slow but fun and super-gory flick that makes little to no sense most of the tim eand includes one of the most revolting scenes of violence I've seen, is a bit lesser than [i]The Beyond[/i], the late Italian master's masterpiece, but it's still a great time. The zombie vs. shark scene was wonderful and strange. [b]*** (out of ****) B[/b]

[b][i]Guyana: Cult of the Damned[/i][/b]
Starring: Stuart Whitman, Gene Barry, John Ireland, Joseph Cotten, Bradford Dillman, Jennifer Ashley, and Yvonne De Carlo.
Directed by Rene Cardona, Jr.
Written by Rene Cardona, Jr. and Carlos Valdemar.
No MPAA rating (contains disturbing violent content including child abuse and some language).
Running time approximately 1 hour 55 minutes.

[center][i]They must be saved from overactor Stuart Whitman![/i][/center]

[i]Guyana: Cult of the Damned[/i] (retitled, rather obviously, due to its badness) is another of the countless (well, I'm sure I could count, but that seems rather unnecessary and tedious) films to have grabbed my attention from the pages of Ebert's book [u]I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie[/u]. The film is so badly acted, written and directed as to be endlessly entertaining. The first scene, filmed in a church, is intercut with a man being run over by a train. That pretty much sums it up. [b]Zero Stars (out of ****) F[/b]

[b][i]City of the Living Dead[/i][/b]
Starring: Christopher George, Katriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, and John Morghen.
Directed by Lucio Fulci.
Written by Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti.
No MPAA rating (contains graphic horror violence and gore).
Running time approximately 1 hour 33 minutes.

[center][i]Decidedly creepy, yes?[/i][/center]

[i]City of the Living Dead[/i] is the least impressive film I've yet seen from Lucio Fulci. I was so bored, and it really didn't make much sense. I found it quite tedious, sitting there just waiting for the next awesome gore scene (There are two here - yes, only two). Not much from Fulci. Steer clear. [b]*1/2 (out of ****) C-[/b]

Christopher Lozier

In 1978, cult leader Jim Jones, not content with having a Congressman and various reporters shot when trying to help some of his cult members leave, summoned his flock and had them each drink down some poisoned fruit drink. Some say the drink was Kool-Aid. Others say Fla-Vor-Aid. Still others mention Wyler's, and a small but determined contingent is convinced that "Country Time Pink Lemonade" that caused the deaths of over 900 people. Some claim that the type of drink doesn't matter, and they're right.

What does matter after any national tragedy is the films produced from it. The Jonestown massacre had two of note, the most seen being 1980's [i]The Guyana Tragedy[/i], a three-hour long mini-series, featuring Powers Boothe as Jones. The film chronicles Jones rise to power, and includes then-major stars like Ned Beatty, Veronica Cartwright, Rosiland Cash, James Earl Jones, Brad Dourif, Diane Ladd, Randy Quaid and Brenda Vaccaro, among others. It's a well-made, classy affair, and one that concentrates more on the facts and characters than the horror.

I will have none of that.

No, for me, the golden grail of Guyana flicks has always been [i]Guyana: Cult of the Damned[/i], a reputedly sordid little piece of truthsploitation directed by Rene Cardona Jr., one of the masters of the form. Where there was a knockoff to be made, Cardona was there, whether it be shark attacks ([i]Tintorera: Tiger Shark[/i]), the Andes plane crash cannibalism story ([i]Survive!)[/i] or nearly a thousand people willingly gulping down tainted purple stuff.

I'd wanted to see [i]Guyana: Cult of the Damned[/i] for years, having built it up in my head as an exploitation masterpiece, simply because the story is so ripe for sleaze potential. As a cult leader, Jones reputededly put the Koreshes of the world to same, having pictures taken of himself having sex with his male followers to blackmail them, claiming to be cursed with an "enormous dick," practicing public torture, taking his followers' social security checks and forbidding them to leave with armed guards, all, as is the custom, in the name of God.

So the release of [i]Guyana[/i], now under the international title [i]Guyana, Crime of the Century[/i], letterboxed and uncut, was something I'd been chomping at the bit for. And here it is, on DVD.

And it's not very good.

Sure, it's okay. After a card claiming that the names have been changed to protect the innocent, we're introduced to Stuart Whitman playing, um, "James Johnson" (apparently the definition of "innocent" now includes mass murdering cult leaders) preaching to has band of followers in San Francisco. He tells them of his plans to move them all to Guyana, and they hartily agree, willfully doing all the work while, um, Johnson lounges around sleeping with his many wives.

Meanwhile, State Rep Ryan has been changed to Congressman O'Bryan, and he tries to console his worried constituants about Johnson's cultish behavior. He's thwarted, however, by Johnson's lawyers, played by slumming Joseph Cotten and John Ireland. (Probably not a bad paycheck, as mostly they just sat around an office talking.)

The sleaze never quite reaches the heights it could have, as this time, Cardona seems over his head. That's not to say the film is devoid of some sick moments. Three young boys, caught stealing, are stripped and tortured, and then Johnson walks into their barn prison and tells them, "I forgive you because I love you, but I will show you my true expression of love." Fade to black. Ew.

Johnson also catches a couple fornicating, then punishes them by forcing him to have sex with a big black man in front of the entire town. Nice.

Moments like this, however, are few and far between, and much of the film is taken up with actors in offices talking about what to do. The lawyers talk. The congressman talks. Johnson talks to his publicist (Yvonne DeCarlo, loking bored) and his doctor (Bradford Dillman, looking concerned). Talk, talk, talk.

It does get to the "good stuff" eventually, and the final fifteen minutes of shooting and mass suicide, compounded with footage of Johnson ranting and raving in psychedelic colors, is almost worth sitting though. But it's not enough to make up for the slow pacing, the inept dialogue and the fact that the opening gun-to-the-head suicide is never mentioned again in the film!

It's not an unwatchable film, and Whitman gives a good performance as Jones-er-Johnson, though Powers Boothe in [i]Guyana Tragedy[/i] was better. Not good enough to be an informative, respectful treatment of the real events and not lurid enough to be a dingy, grindhouse treatment of the same, [i]Guyana: Cult of the Damned[/i] is something of a disappointment.

(Future [i]RoboCop[/i] boss and former [i]Coffy [/i]bumper-dragger Robert DoQui appears briefly as one of the cult, but I don't remember him having any dialogue outside of praising Johnson.)

Paul Freitag

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