When he made his first movie, back in the mid-'60s, William Friedkin was such a foe of capital punishment, he took it as his subject. His documentary defended Paul Crump, a man on Death Row in Illinois. Friedkin didn't think he belonged there: "I thought he was innocent, but I remember seriously arguing with the family of his alleged victim that even if he was guilty, he shouldn't be killed - because he was now a different man than he was then."
Friedkin hasn't changed his mind about Crump, but he has changed his mind about capital punishment, and his newly released film "Rampage" is a polemic on the subject. His main target: psychiatry, especially as it is used in criminal cases.
"Psychiatry is not a science, and there's no way to prove anyone is right or wrong, and yet the psychiatrists have muscled into the criminal justice system and changed it out of all recognition," Friedkin said during a visit to Chicago, where his film played in the Chicago Film Festival and opened commercially on Friday.
"There are some psychiatrists who will tell you no one is capable of killing unless they are insane at the time. Others - who get nicknames like 'Dr. Death' - can be depended upon by the prosecution to testify 100 percent of the time that the defendant was absolutely sane at the time of his crime. A typical major murder trial costs the taxpayers more than $3 million, most of it wasted on trying to support this psychiatric superstructure."
Friedkin's film tells a story, based on fact, about a mass killer who goes on a rampage, killing and mutilating innocent victims. He is tried, not on the issue of his guilt, but on the issue of his sanity. The film has had a checkered history. Friedkin, whose credits include "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist," finished "Rampage" five years ago, but then it was caught up in the bankruptcy proceedings of producer Dino De Laurentiis. Only now has Friedkin been free to release it. "I think it's more timely now than it was at the time," he said. "Ironic."