The Killers Within (1995): Nazi Gold

Dave brings his mammoth Paul Leder series to a close with a look at the helmer’s final feature a compelling thriller that finds the B-movie maestro going out with a bang.

There’s something grimly depressing about Paul Leder’s swansong, THE KILLERS WITHIN (1995).

Back in the mid-‘40s, when the filmmaker was barely out of his teens, he was stationed in Europe as a medic in General Patton’s army and helped assist the survivors of Buchenwald — the largest concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

Fast forward half a century, and the man who witnessed unimaginable horror in World War II is making his final picture on the all-too-real rise of fascism in the developed world.

There’s an eerie prescience to The Killers Within as well, with the story focusing on a group of Americans who are funnelling money to Neo-Nazi groups in the Midwest. All of this is orchestrated by those in power, with a prominent congressman (Mike Farrell) the ringleader. When the wannabe autocrats stage the death of a journalist who was hot on their tail, they think their plans are safe. They didn’t account for his brother Ben (Robert Carradine) being back in town though, and he’s determined to uncover the secrets behind the explosive story that his sibling was working on…

Carradine makes his debut into the Leder fold, as does Meg Foster, who revels in her role as the duplicitous editor of The Alternative Press, Laura Seaton. Converting this double into a triple is Albert Pyun regular Norbert Weisser who adds a bit of swagger to the whole thing as a Nazi hunter. Melanie Smith has a deservedly weighty role as Ben’s newspaper contact on the inside, and there’s impressive support from ex-porn goddess Lisa Comshaw [1] as the congressman’s wife, and a ranting, wheelchair-bound cameo from Ferdy Mayne as an aging Nazi who was a Commandant at Treblinka.

Leder’s screenplay is tight too — and for a filmmaker who has often bore the brunt of critics who admire his direction yet bemoan his writing, The Killers Within is possibly his most balanced feature. There’s even room for some delicate humour in between the murderous malevolence, with a delightful running joke that concerns Cynthia being repeatedly stood up by Ben (through no fault of his own) at the appropriately named Blue Angel bar, inviting a succession of catty remarks by the onlooking sommelier (Mitch Hara).

Leder’s appeal was always his ability to weave topical issues into what most determine to be video shop filler. This trait reveals a progressive filmmaker who could bring contemporary elements that would elevate his work far beyond his peers, even in his most rudimentary assignments. From the AIDS-themed Murder By Numbers (1990) to the pro-life killer in The Baby Doll Murders (1993), Leder’s ’90s career was epitomised by the term ‘ripped from the headlines’.

Is The Killers Within his most personal work? No. That would fall to either the award-winning Goin’ to Chicago (1990),or the adaptation of his friend Bill Norton’s play, Exiled in America (1992). Considering his formative years, though, it’s clear that Leder was tenacious about telling this particular story. A politically driven filmmaker with a remarkable life, who’s parting shot was a chilling warning about the extreme right-wing horrors that continue to rear their heads far too close to government.

[1] Incidentally, Lisa played a huge role in creating the screenplay for Caged Fear (1991), which you can read about HERE.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s