Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2002)

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-The Hebrew Hammer, Interstate 60, Going Down, Fear X
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 89:45
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Nick Broomfield
Joan Churchill

Imagine Entertainment
Starring Nick Broomfield
Aileen Wuornos
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI Rental Music Robert Lane

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Brit Nick Broomfield has made a reputation for himself by creating often controversial documentaries which focus on the seedier side of life. He has put himself in some difficult situations, mixing with some of society's least pleasant people. In this film, he presents a chilling profile of one of America's most notorious murderers, Aileen Wuornos, renowned for being the first convicted female serial killer. The details of her case were so compelling that they resulted in a big-budget Hollywood movie - Monster - which earned Charlize Theron an Oscar for her performance as Aileen.

    In Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Broomfield manages to provide an insight into a tale which is typically full of lies and deceit. The film follows an earlier study of Wuornos' life by the same director - Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, made in 1992 shortly after the arrest of Wuornos for the murder of seven men. That earlier work finished with the resignation of a number of Florida police officers, following allegations that police officers had accepted payments from film companies interested in making a movie of her story. Towards the start of this film Broomfield is subpoenaed to testify in the final appeal of Wuornos against her death sentence.

    At the time Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer was made, Wuornos had been on death row for twelve years and was in the process of making her final appeal, before ultimately facing execution. In it, she initially takes the position that her crimes were committed in self defence and that she was forced to kill her victims to save her own life. Aileen's persona had been shaped by an extremely troubled childhood - sexual and drug abuse played a significant part in her upbringing from a very early age. She found herself pregnant and cast out from her home by the age of thirteen. After giving her baby up for adoption, she took to the life of a prostitute, hitch-hiking her way from Michigan to the warmer climes of Florida. This dangerous lifestyle brought her into contact with some very unsavoury characters to be sure. Her description of the abuse dealt out by one of her "johns" is harrowing and certainly made killing him seem like a reasonable response...

    But did she really murder her victims in self-defence? Could she really have been put in a position where seven different men were so abusive that her only option was to kill them? Or was the murder simply a convenient way to boost her takings from the transactions? The footage, including original trial footage and extensive interviews with Wuornos soon reveals that Aileen is not just troubled, but psychologically destroyed. As her execution approaches her claims about the facts of the case become ever more fantastic - to the point where it is obvious she was quite clearly insane. She believes her food is being poisoned and that radio waves are being beamed into her cell to control her mind. Most outrageously, she claims that the police were well aware of her activity after the first murder, but allowed her to continue so that they could get more money for the film rights. Her state of mental confusion is reinforced when she makes a heartfelt confession to camera, saying that there was no self-defence involved...she had chosen which men to murder and she killed them because she "was in the robbery biz" Later, believing the camera has been switched off, she once again insists that the murders really were carried out in self-defence.

    Broomfield delivers his best work to date in this documentary. He spends a lot less time on screen himself, and his somewhat monotonous voice also plays a less significant role than in some of his earlier work (Biggie and Tupac for instance). Whilst this film briefly touches on Broomfield's favoured conspiracy theories (the allusions to police corruption), the story is very much a chilling character study of an abused child who became an abusive woman - a woman who murdered not from need, but out of greed. Broomfield reveals that his initial presumptions of Aileen's innocence were possibly misplaced, and this documentary easily comes across as "the most personal and disturbing film" Broomfield has ever made. Controversy still remains however - did Wuornos make her belated claims of guilt simply because she could no longer stand her life on death row? Should a woman who is/has become self-evidently insane be executed? As chilling and disturbing as it is, for those of you looking forward to seeing Charlize Theron's Oscar winning performance as Aileen Wuornos, this DVD is required viewing.

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Transfer Quality


    The overall video transfer of this film is representative of the quality of the source materials - videotape and file footage. Whilst it is not a reference quality work, it has no major defects to distract you from the riveting story.

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.30:1, which is of course not 16x9 enhanced. I an sure that this represents the original aspect ratio of the footage.

    Image sharpness varies depending on the source and age of the footage. The most recent footage is often very sharp indeed, whilst older footage - either from Broomfield's earlier documentary or from archive news footage - suffers from a grainer, fuzzier image. Obviously as much of the footage is taken from hand-held cameras, focus occasionally suffers briefly.

    Black levels are satisfactory and whilst little of the tape is shot in low light conditions, where required the shadow detail is adequate. There is some mildly distracting flicker in the light levels (for example around 55:50) from time to time, but I assume this is a function of the fluorescent lighting in the prison cells rather than the transfer itself. Colours are quite cleanly rendered in the most recent footage, but look dated in the older material and show evidence of bleeding (for instance on the faces at 53:53). Other than the bleeding in older footage, skin tones look natural.

    The transfer has no major MPEG artefacts. There is some aliasing evident from time to time but it is not significant enough to become a real distraction. Edge enhancement was not a significant issue.

    There are some minor film (video) artefacts which crop up occasionally, but the footage is generally clean enough.

    Frustratingly for hearing impaired viewers, there are no subtitle tracks available.

    This is a single sided single layered (DVD 5) disc, so there is no layer change present.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is adequate for a documentary film such as this.

    There is a single audio track which is presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. There are no major defects in the way of pops or dropouts, although there is an amount of camera noise or background hum evident during some of the quieter interview scenes (for example around 75:00). The dialogue is almost always clear (bar some early police interview footage for instance around 1:30) and audio sync is satisfactory at all times.

    Original music is credited to Robert Lane who appears to do most of his work in the field of UK television. Obviously, there is very little in the way of music on offer here - it simply would not be appropriate.

    The soundstage is predominantly frontal - even with Pro Logic II enabled which is unsurprising given the nature of the feature. There is some surround activity from the occasional musical presence but to no great effect. Depending on your set-up, the subwoofer may see some activity, but it is not required by the material. There is of course, no true LFE activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras are limited to some promotional trailers.


    The main menu is an animated collection of photographs of Aileen accompanied by a short loop of a rather nice song. It allows the options of playing the feature, selecting one of twelve chapter stops, or playing the following trailers:


    Promotional trailers for the following Imagine Entertainment flicks are on offer:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release appears to be substantially the same as our own, with a trailer for Monster replacing the trailers listed above. Buy whichever is cheaper.


    Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer is well worth viewing as an adjunct to the Hollywood version of Aileen's story - Monster. Nick Broomfield again works where angels fear to tread and presents a chilling look at the sad childhood and violent adulthood of America's first convicted female serial killer. The film raises questions about Aileen's reasons for killing seven men and about the appropriateness of executing someone who is clearly insane. This is by no means a fun film - but it is certainly a thought-provoking piece of work. Recommended for those who are interested in the disturbing life of Aileen Wuornos, or true crime stories in general.

    The video transfer is fine for a video documentary.

    The audio transfer delivers all that is needed of it.

    Extra features are limited to some unrelated trailers.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Saturday, May 22, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDMomitsu V880 upconverting DVI player, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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