Features and Columns · Movies

Curdled Nostalgia: Why You Should Watch ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’

Ian Holm voice: “the mines began shutting down last June …”
Wisconsin Death Trip
By  · Published on June 20th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores why you should watch the 1999 docudrama Wisconsin Death Trip.

In 1973, Michael Lesy published his first non-fiction autopsy. It was a coroner’s report on the American Dream. And its name was Wisconsin Death Trip. Lesy’s book — mostly comprised of historical photographs — lays bare a number of incidents that took place during a five-year period in Jackson County, Wisconsin around the turn of the 20th century. Eccentricity. Plague. Demonic possessions. Teenage arsonists. The works.

With sparse commentary by Lesy and excerpts from relevant texts, Wisconsin Death Trip is primarily made up of photographs and articles from the town newspaper. How, then, do you adapt such bleak, intimate, historical rubbernecking into a film?

Almost thirty years after Lesy’s book hit shelves, James Marsh (of Man on Wire fame) released a docudrama of the same name, which, like its source material, became a cult hit.

Ironically, considering the film’s inherent and explicit American subject matter, Marsh’s film is notoriously difficult to find online outside of the UK. This is, in part, because the film was financed under the auspices of BBC’s Arena.

Reminiscent of Twin Peaks and narrated with a simmering bile by Ian Holm, Wisconsin Death Trip is as hypnotic and lyrical as they come. A bleak assemblage that reeks of the despair rotting under the floorboards of rural America.

Interest piqued? Here’s a video essay that expounds further on why Wisconsin Death Trip is a film well worth hunting down.

Watch “Wisconsin Death Trip – Authentic Gothic Americana”

Who made this?

This video essay on the American Gothic docudrama Wisconsin Death Trip is by You Have Been Watching Films. United Kingdom-based writer Oliver Bagshaw produces the channel, creating video essays on an assortment of movies, from cult to classic strains of cinema history. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.