Guyana: Crime of the Century (also known as Guyana: Cult of the Damned) is a 1979 Mexican exploitation horror film written and directed by René Cardona Jr. The film, which was shot in Mexico, is very loosely based on the Jonestown Massacre (also the inspiration for Umberto Lenzi’s 1980 cannibal film Eaten Alive!). The film stars a number of American actors such as Stuart Whitman, Gene Barry and Joseph Cotten.
The names of central characters are slightly tweaked from the historical ones: the film is set in “Johnsontown” rather than Jonestown, the cult is led by “Reverend James Johnson” (Whitman) rather than Rev. Jim Warren Jones, and the murdered Congressman is “Lee O’Brien” (Barry) rather than Leo Ryan.
Rev. James Johnson (Stuart Whitman) is a charismatic but deeply paranoid man of the cloth who moves his flock from Northern California to a settlement in Guyana, where he intends to create an interracial socialist utopia.
Addicted to prescription drugs and convinced he is surrounded by enemies, Johnson rules his colony, “Johnsontown,” with an iron fist, torturing anyone who violates his rule, seducing both women and men from his congregation, confiscating money and property from his followers, and forcing them to work long hours in the fields for meagre rations.
Lee O’Brien (Gene Barry), a California congressman who represents the district Johnson and his followers once called home, has received complaints from friends and relatives of the Johnsontown settlers, convinced something is wrong. O’Brien and a team of reporters fly to Guyana to find out the truth about what is happening; Johnson is convinced O’Brien has seen too much, and armed gunmen ambush his party before they can return to the United States (with a number of Johnsontown residents who wish to leave). After a failed attempt to arrange exile in the Soviet Union, Johnson convinced his followers to perform a “final revolutionary act” before authorities arrive…
Amongst numerous historical inaccuracies, the “Johnsontown” membership is largely cast with white actors, while in reality, and at its height, the majority of Peoples Temple members were African American. A television film Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones followed in 1980.
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“Although there are stretches of boredom here, the “train wreck” curiosity of the subject matter, the impressive recreation of the Jonesville/Johnsontown camp when compared to authentic photos and newsreels, and a familiar cast – filled with notable character actors in the trash film phases of their career – help pull this off, at least on B grade level.” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In
“All of this is disgusting, and all of it is sad. Why did a reputable studio (Universal) pick up this vile garbage for national release, and why is it showing in such theaters as the Plitt flagship, the Chicago? Because there is money to be made from it, I suppose. The movie brings absolutely no insights to Guyana. It exploits human suffering for profit. It is a geek show. ” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Posted by Will Holland