True crime’s latest generic in­car­na­tion is bring­ing chill­ing tales of mur­der into our liv­ing rooms, writes Graeme Blun­dell

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing hy­brid genre that com­bines straight- to- cam­era in­ter­views, news and po­lice footage, ex­pert opin­ion and set- piece re- en­act­ments of scenes of crim­i­nal be­hav­iour, pur­suit and cap­ture.

Iron­i­cally, TV’s true- crime shows are of­ten lighter on the vi­o­lence and gore than scripted dra­mas, but the con­tempt for sen­sa­tion­al­ism by some crit­ics has dis­tracted at­ten­tion from the of­ten pow­er­ful ef­fects of true- crime TV.

Pro­ducer Gra­ham McNe­ice’s Crime In­ves­ti­ga­tions Aus­tralia pro­gram re­vis­its land­mark crimes that once shocked and that re­main embed­ded in the mem­o­ries of many of us. Hosted by stern, grav­elly voiced Steve Lieb­mann, McNe­ice’s films skil­fully drama­tise the sto­ries be­hind th­ese cases, though in dis­turb­ing the past he some­times cre­ates a sense of dis­may.

No Mercy: The Killing of Vir­ginia Morse is the 18th episode in McNe­ice’s pop­u­lar TV ar­chive, bring­ing de­viant ac­tions from the mar­gins of Aus­tralian ex­pe­ri­ence into the main­stream. It’s re­tribu­tive, ex­cit­ing and quite shock­ing.

You watch McNe­ice’s sto­ries not just for the car­ni­va­lesque en­ter­tain­ment but some­times with a con­fronting sense of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. How does this story ap­ply to my life, you think, and why should I be watch­ing?

No Mercy is the hor­rific story of killers Al­lan Baker and Kevin Crump, who be­gan their mur­der­ous spree in rural NSW by killing a com­plete stranger for $ 20, a packet of cig­a­rettes and a cou­ple of litres of petrol. At gun­point, they then kid­napped Vir­ginia Morse, a young mother of three, from a prop­erty near Col­larene­bri in north­ern NSW.

Morse, bound, blind­folded and gagged, was raped and tor­tured by the men as they drove to

TRUE crime is not a pop­u­lar genre that emerged with Tru­man Capote’s In Cold Blood , con­trary to what sev­eral re­cent pop­u­lar films would have us be­lieve. But while its be­gin­nings are in the 16th cen­tury, the nar­ra­tives of early true- crime re­port­ing are as thick with blood as Capote’s ac­count of the bru­tal slay­ing of wealthy Kansas farmer Her­bert Clut­ter, his wife and two chil­dren in 1959.

The emerg­ing genre was linked with re­li­gious un­der­stand­ings of sin and pun­ish­ment, cul­tural ten­sions over the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics of fam­ily life and the ob­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal goals of strength­en­ing pub­lic or­der and author­ity.

Dur­ing other his­tor­i­cal pe­ri­ods it re­tained key el­e­ments of th­ese con­cerns as it ad­dressed the so­cial and cul­tural con­flicts of its time and place.

Its latest evo­ca­tion is re­al­ity crime television. Queens­land. Morse’s tor­ture ended there, pinned down on a river­bank, where she was staked to sev­eral trees and shot as she begged for her life.

In the wake of the two men’s 1973 trial, the Aus­tralian pub­lic was left to ponder whether they were in­sane or, even more chill­ing, whether their deeds were the prod­uct of ra­tio­nal minds. Th­ese were cer­tainly vi­o­lent, evil peo­ple, the land­mark case so shock­ing that a change in leg­is­la­tion en­sured the killers would never be re­leased.

It’s all very noir, very tabloid, and very con­spir­a­to­rial. McNe­ice, with his just- the- facts method, unashamedly gives us crim­i­nal­ity, vi­o­lence, gritty re­al­ism, hor­ror and psy­chopathol­ogy. There is no apol­ogy and no shame here, which is what makes it such riv­et­ing TV.

The genre has al­ways been flexible enough to in­clude hard- boiled re­port­ing and lurid pulp ex­pose, lib­er­ally min­gling fact and fiction. It fills

Drives the ac­tion: The grav­elly voiced Steve Lieb­mann presents Crime In­ves­ti­ga­tions Aus­tralia

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