“In Cold Blood” – 1967 Film Blogathon – A Truly Great, Truly Scary Film

Scary movies. Teens and young adults cannot seem to get enough of them. No matter how ludicrous the concept. Guys in hockey masks. Creepy, creaky isolated houses in the woods. Chainsaws. Flesh eating genius criminal masterminds. The more pain and suffering we watch, the more screams for mercy we hear, the more young audiences seem to like it.

With one exception.


Films about nubile teenagers being attacked by saws seem to do better than films about real people dying on 9/11. Films about vampires do better than films about cancer. Why is that? Do young audiences WANT to see people dying, in pain, begging for life – just not people who seem real?

Maybe that explains why the “In Cold Blood” movie was not a huge hit. It was TOO scary and TOO real. I think it is a great film. It is also one of the most frightening movies I have ever seen.

From Crime To Book

The murder of the Clutter family in November 1959 shocked western Kansas. Newspaper CoverageIn an era and an area where violent crime was exceedingly rare, the seemingly senseless slaughter of a respected and well- liked family in their comfortable home was so gory as to shock the hard-bitten law enforcement people who investigated it. Across the country and a figurative world away in New York City, Truman Capote read a short wire service account of the killings and decided it would be a fascinating story to tell. Aided by Nell Harper Lee (author of “To Kill A Mockingbird”), Capote went to Kansas

In Cold Blood Movie

Truman Capote In The Clutter Home

and ingratiated himself with the locals, especially chief investigator Alvin Dewey and his wife. Capote invented a new art form, the nonfiction novel, as he spent years getting to know the family, neighbors and investigators affected by the massacre. Most uniquely, he spent time getting to know the killers. He befriended them over the years from their arrests until their executions. The resulting book, “In Cold Blood,” was hailed as a masterpiece. It was a bestseller and won many awards. While the absolute veracity of the book has been disproven, it remains a brilliant work.

From Book To Film: The “In Cold Blood” Movie

It was a foregone conclusion that the book would be turned into a film. Richard Brooks signed on to both write the screenplay and direct the In Cold Blood movie. He is one of the great under recognized geniuses of American film. Among the films he wrote: “Key Largo,” “The Blackboard Jungle,” “Elmer Gantry,” “Sweet Bird of Youth” and “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” With the exception of “Key Largo,” he directed all of those films and many others, including “Lord Jim” and “Wrong is Right.” Every decision he made in the screenplay, the direction and production was perfect. He chose to shoot in black-and-white to give the film a cold, frightening and eerie feel. In 1967, most major films were being shot in color. Brooks decided to make the “In Cold Blood” movie as true to the feel of the book as possible. Amazingly, he got permission to film at the murder site. Several of the original jurors played themselves and many actual locations, including the original courthouse and jail, were used. Just as significantly, he cast unknowns (other than John Forsythe, hardly a major movie star) in every role.

A Chilling Masterpiece

Arrests - In Cold Blood MovieArrests - In Cold Blood Movie

Brooks’ decision to use unknown actors on the actual locations, combined with a spare, brilliant script, created a film that is unsettling from the first frame to the last.  Landscapes are chilly and sparse, performances are understated, letting the drama of the events speak for themselves.  In many crime films, the gore is the star and the criminals are glamorous and fascinating. Brooks wisely avoided both conventions. He makes the town the star and the killers are seen as the semi-educated losers they were in real life. The detective is stolid rather than charismatic. Viewers have to keep reminding themselves that they are watching a movie and not a documentary. Brooks’ screenplay creates constant tension an

In Cold Blood Movie

The Clutter Family

d inspires real fear. If the all-American Clutter family can be murdered in their pretty home in the safest part of the safest state, we are all vulnerable.

A Breakthrough Performance

In Cold Blood Movie

Robert Blake as Perry Smith

Robert Blake was unknown when he was cast as creepy killer Perry Smith. It is, by far, his best performance ever. It will give you nightmares, realizing that men like him are on the loose in America. (The knowledge that Blake himself may well have murdered his wife makes the performance even more eerie.)

A Unique Legacy

The “In Cold Blood” movie was the first of four filmed versions of the story. There was a made-for-TV miniseries. “Capote,” starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, retold the story, centering on Capote and Harper. Perry Smith was played brilliantly by Clifton Collins, Jr. He deserved an Oscar nod. “Infamous,” starring Toby Jones as Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper took the story in a more sexual direction, suggesting that Capote and Smith (Daniel Craig) had a sexual relationship. Both “Capote” and “Infamous” are very good films and definitely well worth watching. But the “In Cold Blood” movie is a must see.



11 thoughts on ““In Cold Blood” – 1967 Film Blogathon – A Truly Great, Truly Scary Film

  1. Pingback: Update: 1967 in Film Blogathon | Silver Screenings

  2. Barry, I agree with your review 100%. This is such a chilling film and all the things you mentioned make it even more so: the stark black & white cinematography; the unknown actors; and the settings, including the actual house. The pacing and timing are perfect – I can hardly sit still while watching it!

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon with this remarkable film.

    • Patricia,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I could not agree more. The movie is almost too good in the ongoing sense of fear it creates. Have you seen Capote or Infamous? Both are very good films, but both are focused more on Truman Capote, so they do not instill as much fear.

      If/When you see them, be sure to add a comment here with your reaction!


  3. Pingback: The 1967 in Film Blogathon: Day #2 | The Rosebud Cinema

    • Thank you for your comment! The structure of the book was so groundbreaking that it posed a problem for any filmmaker who wanted to adapt it to screen. That is why I have been recommending “Infamous” and “Capote” as companion pieces.

      Watching the three films gives a “Rashomon” style effect of seeing the killings, the investigation, the trial and the involvement of Truman Capote and (Nell) Harper Lee from very different perspectives.

      If you watch (or have watched) the other two, please share your thoughts!


  4. I really struggled with Capote’s book so I was surprised to find I loved the movie as much as I did. I couldn’t connect with the characters on the page, but the film was so perfectly cast (could have gone totally the other way if they’d cast well-known leads) and well paced that – even though I always knew how it was going to end – I was able to convince myself that I didn’t! Great review, thank you!

  5. Good choice! I have to say, for the sake of honesty, that I don’t care too much for it. It looks good, and the acting is solid, but the story didn’t feel real to me as presented. Serial killings in film rarely do justice to the empty normalcy of the real thing; the hollow-spirited, yet pedestrian quality of the real serial killer gets missed in an effort to make a good movie.

    Listen to John Wayne Gacy talk about serving Thanksgiving dinner in the prison kitchen, and that starts to show what I mean.

    Very nice write-up. I’ll give this one another look.

    • Clayton,

      I understand your point about the emptiness of murders in real life. That is precisely why I think In Cold Blood is so good. The killers are nothing, they killed for nothing and got nothing but a hanging as a reward for their wasted lives.Both Capote and Infamous try to get into the killers’ heads. Each is a fine film, but neither packs the sheer chill emanating from every frame of In Cold Blood.

      If you watch it again or watch one of the others, leave a comment here!


  6. Pingback: Announcing the “1967 in Film” Blogathon | Silver Screenings

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