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Docurama presents
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2001)

"I am neither freak nor a monster. I am basically a victim of circumstance."
- Damien Echols, in response to web-chat questions

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: December 10, 2001

Stars: Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley
Other Stars: Jason Baldwin, John Mark Byers
Director: Bruce Sinofsky, Joe Berlinger

Manufacturer: Crush
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (extremely brutal crime scene photographs, harsh language)
Run Time: 02h:13m:14s
Release Date: August 28, 2001
UPC: 767685948330
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-CB D+

DVD Review

Paradise Lost 2 is the continuation of Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger'sdocumentary Paradise Lost: The Robin Hood Hills Murders, a particularly dark and disturbing film that shed light on a particularly chilling case of injustice in the US court system, and one that I have taken a personal interest in for some years now. The case deserves some going into before I get into the documentary proper, especially for those possibly unfamiliar with the situation. The case began in 1993 in Memphis, Arkansas, with the extremely brutal and cold-blooded murder of three 8-year-old boys who had been found dumped in a small river in the local woods. The boys had been murdered in such a breathtakingly horrendous way, it sent the small Robin Hood Hills community into a state of complete shock and terror. Unfortunately, in an overly ambitious quest to find the killers, the West Memphis police made several extremely questionably decisions as to how to pursue suspects. Prior to any professional level of investigation or forensic collection of evidence, the police had already latched onto a local teenager, one Damien Echols, for no other reason than the fact he was an anti-social outcast whose lifestyle was a bit on the unusual side. Immediately, the police acted on the theory that the murders were part of some Satanic ritual masterminded by Echols, who had been harassed by local police after the occurrence of virtually any local crime.

In order to make a move on Echols, the police managed to manufacture evidence against him by using another local teenager, Jessie Misskelley, to testify that he had actually seen Echols in the woods that night, murdering the children. Misskelley, a boy with a clinically diagnosed form of mental retardation, would later be revealed to have been so badly coerced into the confession (by the police department's own video and audio tape) that it nullified the accuracy of his testimony—nothing in his confession matched up with the physical evidence or condition of the victims bodies. After obtaining the confession, West Memphis police arrested and tried Damien Echols and his friend Jason Baldwin as co-conspirators in the murder of the boys. Jessie Misskelley was also arrested and tried, having later "confessed" to being involved, but his case was separated from the central murder trial as a reward for his cooperation. The state's case against the boys was, primarily, that they wore black clothes, listened to heavy metal, read Stephen King books, and did not attend church. There was no valid evidence linking the accused to the crime, and all "witness" testimony against them was originated from people who were under investigation for other crimes (investigations that were suspended after their testimony was given), or had no actual involvement with the case (such as 'occult' experts, religious experts, etc..) Over a dozen other people suddenly accusing the boys of all sorts of nefarious crimes were never called into court.

The prejudice against Damien and Jason was so great that hopes of a fair trial werethrown out the window (including the families of the murdered children openly promising rewards to anyone who murdered the three defendants). All three boys received time in prison, but Damien Echols received the death penalty. While ignorance and hatred was responsible for these boys being sent to prison, even more horrifying is the fact that the murders remain, essentially, unsolved, with almost 90% of the possible physical evidence that could have been recorded having been ignored, unintentionally destroyed, or simply never noticed. In the first documentary, filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger set out to document the trial and how it effected the community. In a terrifying twist of events, however, their role became more personal when they were given a knife by the stepfather of one of the murdered children (Mark Byers, stepfather of victim Christopher Byers) Noticing what may have been a blood-stain, the filmmakers offered the knife as a potential piece of evidence only to later be told the bit of blood on the knife matched the blood-type of one of the boys, but that the test the police used destroyed the sample for any further examination.

While this factored into the original trial, it is only one element in the mystery of themurders that Paradise Lost 2: Revelations delves into. This documentary studies the aftermath of the trial and the successive support that Damien, Jessie, and Jason have earned, becoming known as the West Memphis Three. Since proof that the case was largely manufactured was not enough to win various appeals, in the years following the trial, the only defense attorney still fighting the case, Dan Stidham, decided to focus instead on the obvious: find evidence pointing to the real killer if indeed these three didn't do it. What has been discovered since the trial has been the subject of much debate, but all of it seems to point directly away from the three defendants. The primary focus of this newer documentary seems to be the suspicion that Christopher Byer's adoptive parents, Mark and Melissa, who may have had something to with their deaths, or certainly know who is responsible.

Revelations is a much different film from the first one, in that this time thefilmmakers had no access to most of the lawyers involved in the case, and the families of the victims declined involvement. Ironically, the one man who is believed by many to potentially be the real murderer, Mark Byers, happily returned to participate in the filming. Instead, this documentary argues in favor of the three boys in prison. Some have said that this has tainted the journalistic objectivity of Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, but I disagree, as it really is about time that this side of the story come out. We've already heard the media hype and made-up stories about Damien controlling a national cult of Satanists and keeping pieces of the murdered boys with him. We've already heard the victim's families make wild statements about how they'll kill Damien or pay-off people to have him raped in prison (which has actually happened now). Above all, we've heard the disturbing, half-crazed ranting of Mark Byers, a man so desperate to play the role of grieving parent, that his psychotic, ritualistic performances in front of cameras are far scarier than anything a supposed Satanist could dream up. Instead, we now see that Damien, though something of a smart-ass back in 1994, is far more intelligent and profound than the media has ever given him credit for. He can eloquentlystate his case without resorting to wild accusations or unsubstantiated threats. We see that Jessie Misskelley is equally profound, despite his slow-functioning mind.

Although I have followed the case from time to time, a few details missed my attention, and when they were revealed in this documentary, I was truly stunned. The moment that sent shivers down my spine came upon the revelation that Melissa Byers had died a few years back, but that the cause of her death is still unofficial, but no investigation was ever made towards Mark Byers, despite his continual police record of violent offenses involving children. Even more interesting was the fact that attorney Dan Stidham brought out crucial bite-mark evidence from the bodies of the victims; the bites not matching any of the three defendants' teeth, but in an interesting twist, Mark Byers had his teeth removed 4 years after the murders. This is only some of information supporting the dramatic case against the convictions, but more importantly, it builds a mountain of suspicion on Mark Byers, a man whose incredibly poor excuses and explanations for his erratic and psychotic behavior build to the point of sheer comic-error by the end of this documentary.

Few films, documentary or otherwise, are capable of producing the roller-coaster ofemotions Revelations does, especially for those following the case to any degree. While perhaps not as objective as the first project this documentary at the very least provides even more fuel for an ongoing enigma that needs to be kept alive. Even if one believes that Damien, Jessie, and Jason were responsible for the murders, there is no denying the fact that there is another layer that has not been exposed, from unresolved leads to physical evidence that points to something much more elaborate and bizarre. The entire story has not been told and that is easily the most grim prospect of the message behind this brilliant crafted feature: that whoever committed this deed still has not answered for it.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The full-frame image probably could have come off a bit better. Despite a 9-10mbpsbitrate and a dual-layer presentation, the picture is still extremely grainy and fuzzy. The effect, sometimes, appears almost intentional, but its presence causes a wealth of compression artifacts to pop up. There are also some bad trails left behind by the image in scenes with a lot of camera movement. The color and detail of the image is acceptable, but the annoying grain makes it hard to watch certain sequences properly. This seems directly a result of the cinematography, rather than a problem with the discs transfer itself.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio track is principally dialogue, and since it is all understandable and clear, there's no complaints there. The only element that works out the stereo channels is the musical score, taken from songs by Metallica, and even then, the usage is pretty brief. It is a functional, clean audio track, but obviously not an experience in surround sound.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:19m:04s

Extras Review: The only additional features are a brief bio/filmography on Bruce Sinofsky and JoeBerlinger, and a small photo gallery of stills from the film. At nearly 2-and-a-half hours, more than 11 chapter stops would have been appropriate. The presentation is pretty basic, with the only insert being an advertisement for other Docurama discs.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

For me, the West Memphis Three case is important not only because it was a graveinjustice, but because it gets to the heart of many issues in our country regarding theprejudice often lobbed at people for their religion, race or lifestyle. In a society that truly considers itself supporters of "freedom," what happened to these boys should never have happened. Pigeonholing people by their style of dress or decor only leads to serious social problems. In fact, it was not long ago I myself was actually called a "Trenchcoat Mafia Member" (presumably a reference to the Columbine High School shootings) by simply walking into a local mall in my coat, which seemed appropriate given the winter weather. A local paper recently ran a week-long series that condemned listeners of certain kind of music as death-obsessed Satan worshippers, without bothering to talk to the fans. This is but two minor examples of how misconceptions and prejudices can eventually balloon into catastrophes such as the one portrayed here in West Memphis. Even if you haven't seen the firstParadise Lost, the sequel still stands on its own as a clear picture of what has happened in this community. NOTE: While this film is not rated, it must be made clear that there is extensive use of extremely graphic and brutal crime scene photos as part of the forensic discussions.

 


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