Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bender, America's First Serial Killers?
This review of Bender is going to be somewhat tough, in fact, it may be one of the toughest reviews I have ever written because I have dear friends I love and value who worked on the movie. I must state, my reviews always have tried to be respectful of those who pay money to see a movie, I know how valuable a dollar can be and for that reason have an obligation to share what I think about a movie, even if having friends work on that movie.

The movie Bender is a retelling of a historical story that took place in Southeast Kansas during the 1870's. A family of individuals, some of whom were immigrants from Germany settled in Labette County and established a sort of respite and store for travelers out of their home where they offered lodging and sold staples. This family became known as what many have called America's first serial killers. The family consisted of John Bender, the father, his wife Elvira, their daughter Kate who was a reported psychic or spiritualist and a son John Bender. It was reported that it is likely that John and Kate Bender were actually husband and wife and only pretended at times to be brother and sister. The family would lure people into the house, place them in the seat of honor and then bludgeon them to death with a hammer from behind a curtain.  John and Kate were the primary individuals involved in the bludgeoning although some research shows that murders took place for many years in various locations by other members of the family. Unfortunately in the movie, John is a much younger brother of Kate.

The story is a fascinating one that many people haven't heard of, especially when concluding that there is no compelling evidence as to what happened to the family after they were discovered for the murders. What has come about is one of the great mysteries and stories of the American West and one of the first, if not the first incident of serial killers in American history.

Bender is an Independent Film that has been anticipated for many people over the last many years. Especially within the advent of the horror and thriller genera there has been little that deals with this time frame. For the willingness to finally take on the story, John Alexander and JC Guest have to be given credit for their willingness to bring the movie to viewers. It is a story many have looked forward to and a story worth telling.

Virtually everything about the film from a technical perspective is exciting to see, especially since knowing some of the people involved in the making of the film as well as knowing a bit about making film. Things that are usually terrible such as sound, lighting and so forth in Indie film is actually done quite well. I have to also give kudos to the willingness to shoot on location as the location and cinematography are a part of the story and done quite nicely. It is rare to see the quality of these things in a first time filmmakers independent film. It is here however, that the praise starts to have some drawbacks, for it is in the other areas that there are problems, problems that don't go so much towards things like the quality of acting as it does to the quality of script and directions those actors must have received.

For me the script and some of the acting was poorly done, it was as if the actors either had bad direction or were simply reading a script.  Knowing some of the actors in the film and the quality of acting they have done previously and since, I can't believe that they are responsible for the poor aspects in this area, but instead believe, it is largely from direction.  Even with discussions with some of the crew and actors, they expressed these concerns. One of the primary stars in the film I have had discussions with stated, "Well it was the first film for the director so he did as best as he could."  This actor knew that the film was weak in areas. The scripting and little dialog help contribute to that feeling.  While the film looks, and at times, sounds like a quality film, the script the actors have to work with and little dialog that actually takes place shows shortcuts that hinder the enjoyment of the movie, even with such a dark subject.

www.thevirtualpew.comOne has to question at times history as well as the relation one has with their neighbors. There has to also be questions of where does evil come from and how does one person impact another. Were all of the Benders prone to killing? Was it a learned behavior? What was it about their since of morality that justified the numerous murders they committed? While the movie hints at 11 or 12 murders, the family in reality was connected to as many as 21 murders and some speculate many more as there is some belief that if the family did escape the murders would have likely continued. There is also speculation that murders were committed prior to the episodes on the Southeast Prairie of Kansas.

One of the compelling aspects presented was the willingness of the community to come together, even against one of their own who had attended church on a regular basis and presented themselves as good, caring Godly people. There was a willingness of the community to stand up for what was right and to come together, of course it would be questionable as to the right way to do that, with or without a vigilante force would be one of the questions. As one looks at the history of these vigilante groups in the Bender case and the stories that came back one can also question the reasons people seek self serving attention the way they do but none of these fascinating concepts of the real story are covered. Others not addressed in the movie that would have made for more compelling story had to do with John Jr. being played by a young actor that is an obvious younger brother to Kate as opposed to the reality that many speculated and stated that John and Kate were actually married. There was the aspects of Kate's involvement in spiritualism and perceived prostitution. While these things are hinted at, at the relatively short 80 minutes the film lasts, there was much more to the story that could have been added.

www.thevirtualpew.comI wanted to like Bender, I love and am fascinated by the real story, I am pleased that some of those I know did a good job with what they had to work with, I would have just liked to have seen them given more. It isn't a "Gawd awful" project, but it is a movie that will have people wanting more.  Thankfully there is a lot about this family available with some simple research. Hopefully it is a story that a big budget production company or even a smaller Independent Film Company will give time to that it needs with a much deeper focus on the story will take on in the future. I expect that for many, this movie will fall a bit short. For me, my recommendation will be to either rent the movie via one of its sources or wait until it is available for free via streaming sources. Unfortunately, for me, I purchased the film via Amazon Streaming services through my Prime account. I am not horribly disappointed, but I am not overly thrilled about watching it again however. Until then, do some research, check out this fascinating story that many have never heard.

On a scale of 1 - 10 for the letters in my thought of 'just ok,' I give a somewhat disappointing 6

To see more about the Benders, Check out the following video by clicking on it. If the video doesn't work, click on the following link:

To see the trailer for the film, click here:

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