Killer of Sheep (1978) This Bitter Earth, Family Life And The Slaughterhouse


I have to start off with 5 F-Bombs with the last F-Bomb being stretched right out to last at least 10 seconds. How can a film be so devastatingly filled with brooding sadness and doom but equally hit you with such incredible deep innocent sweetness? It shouldn’t be possible but somehow director and writer Charles Burnett creates the impossible with Killer Of Sheep

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - coffee drinking at table stan and friend

The film is a black and white photographers dream, every shot perfectly staged but beautifully natural. You feel you are there, in the kitchen, in the dirt and rubble outside, feeling the pain and dread as our hero Stan, tremendously played by Henry G Sanders, goes off to work in the slaughterhouse.

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - slaughterhouse factoryKiller Of Sheep (1978) - stan Henry G Sanders wife Kaycee Moore

A man destroyed by the horrendous tasks he has to endeavour to support his family, he can’t sleep, insomnia has taken hold of him and his emotions are devoid. Life goes on around him as his family and friends whirl around him. His wife (Kaycee Moore) taking the strain of the loss of love and tenderness from her husband. His children play on, his young daughter (Angela Burnett) sweet natured and innocent, his son (Jack Drummond), still a child but feeling the burden of having to become a man before his time.

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - boys playing youthKiller Of Sheep (1978) - dog mask two

The film is filled with scenes from the children playing in the derelict wastelands of a broken town, holding on to their youth, popping reels of caps with bricks, spinning tops, fighting, building camps, jumping roof tops and throwing stones. Friends pop around to see Stan, some for friendship and a coffee, some, try and entice him into crime. Luckily his wife keeps an eye out for him.

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - stans house unwanted visitors 2

Against the horrors of the slaughterhouse the soundtrack is expertly picked to feature music to throw you to the left side and back again. Such depressing scenes joined together by beautiful voices of sad odes and poignant sounds. Just another bout of punches to the soul and jabs to the heart.

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - stan Henry G Sanders

Watching Stan’s journey is hard, you are pulled in close by his performance. The aching sadness makes it a tough watch but I promise this film will be worth every second you spend with it. You will be rewarded by the smallest things. One of those things comes in from the cutest little girl, a real scene stealing star. From standing staring under a dog mask to sitting in her bedroom singing to her doll as she spins records, to the moment she puts her hands on her dads face, giving that heart melting love that a daughter can do. Lucky this type is on a computer and not on pen and paper as it would be sure smudged by my falling tears hehe.

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - stan wife and daughter kitchen touching beautiful scene

Can Stan get his mojo back for his adoring wife, can he come to terms with the horrors of his job and most important, can the poor man get some damn sleep?

The beauty of this story is Charles Burnett made this low budget film over weekends for his Master Of Fine Arts at University of California. I’m assuming the guy got a distinction for his efforts? Doing the directing, writing and camera work, Charles created a work of pure genius but because of no licensing for the music rights and being on 16mm film it never really got released. Not until 2007 when funding came in to pay for the upgrade to 35mm and to clear the music rights. The soundtrack is so perfect that you couldn’t imagine they could of changed it in any way!

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - roof jump mos def record cover vinyl

Now the film is classed as one of the 100 essential films by the Nation Society Of Film Critics and is praised by many critics worldwide. I am so pleased to have seen it as I caught a section of it on television some years back, staggering in from the boozer, but hadn’t a clue what it was. It was quite the buzz when I realised it was the film I had been looking for.

Killer Of Sheep (1978) - dog mask

If you like deep films then please get on this one. Damn man they don’t come much deeper. Thanks for reading. Big love from the Wolfster

PS This review was originally posted on the 30th of July 2017.

Now to sing us out is Dinah Washington – This Bitter Earth.

12 thoughts on “Killer of Sheep (1978) This Bitter Earth, Family Life And The Slaughterhouse

  1. Never seen it but will be on the lookout on your recommendation. Just not something I would not normally go out of my way to see though years ago when I went thru my more artistic stage of discovery I probably would have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep one you need to be in a mood for but when that time is right, it’s a very rewarding experience. The title makes it sound a lot harsher than it is. Haha yes I too went through that same artistic voyage of discovery, independent films galore. I do like to dip my toes in again once in a while then straight back to the action 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. REPOSTED this review because I was re-listening to the Max Richter (Arrival) (On The Nature Of Daylight ) version of Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth today for the hundredth time. One day my soul will surely crack. It’s makes me cry every single time I hear it. It’s so haughtily deep and devastatingly beautiful.


  3. Thank you for the heads up on this one, Mikey. The photography is gorgeous. It’s realistically beautiful and that’s a hard, but compelling essence to convey. Another great write up. This looks like one of those rare perfect films. It looks like one that sticks with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s devastatingly beautiful and sad and heartwarming. The black and white images compliment the mood, time and add to it’s deep visual nature. How Charles Burnett managed to create this masterpiece whilst at UCLA university I have no idea! I really need to explore his other films like “My Brothers Wedding” sounds really good. And the Danny Glover one “To Sleep with Anger” I can imagine is a tough but good watch. The one that really intrigues me is “The Annihilation of Fish” (After years of living alone, an eccentric black and white couple find real companionship and romance) Starring Lynn Redgrave and James Earl Jones. I can envision a lot of good banter between them. Off to investigate. Thanks Pam

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a passionate description! How could one NOT see this after reading your review?
    And, of course, reading about how the director did everything himself over weekends while he was in school makes me feel like a lazy jerk, lol.

    Your mentioning The Annihilation of Fish reminded me of a more recent movie, “Loving.” When it came out, my husband and I were in a doctor’s office waiting room which was empty except for he and I and another older man. The older man started talking to us about movies and brought up “Loving” and how great it was and we really should go see it. The funny thing about this is that my husband’s a very dark Dominican guy, right, and I’m mixed race and was adopted into a black family. So this guy was going on and on about the movie and how we should go see it and when he left we just looked at each other like, “HUH?” It was very confusing. Like why would we want or need to go see that movie, exactly? Wouldn’t that be redundant, lol? We’re already basically living that life, bro! We know all about it (minus being in 1950s Virginia)! I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t even notice our races and just wanted to share his apparent love of “Loving,” lol ! ! !

    This world makes me laugh.

    Well, when I’m in the mood for Killer of Sheep, I’ll make sure to line up Rabbit-Proof Fence, Maria Full of Grace, Schlinder’s List and The Killing Fields, too, just to round out a really fun night, ha ha.
    But you really did it justice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha I love the fun films to cheer the mood you picked. Oh my days Rabbit Proof Fence destroyed me….. I cried for the whole film! My daughter was about the same age as the girl and it just messed with me too much. An amazing film spot lighting a dark crazy time but jeeper I wasn’t ready for that.

      I haven’t seen “Loving” yet though I know the story of the couple. Yeah a odd one to bring up in the doctors waiting room with you and your husband. I guess his intentions were coming from a good place. It would suit me and my lady more as she was born in Sierra Leone. Here’s a strange connection with Loving with me and Blade Runner. Yep really.
      We went to the Secret Cinema Blade Runner event last year in London. One of the best experiences of my life btw.
      Well I’d read before that if you take family photos they are used as barter to get into secret rooms within the experience. Obviously we weren’t going to use real family photos, so I printed off two black and white pictures of the Loving couple. We got into the VIP section of the event. I did a whole post on our adventure along with the photos of Loving if you fancy having a look. 🙂

      Happy Christmas by the way to you and your Star Wars loving hubby.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sierra Leone! Fascinating!
    Yeah, I’ll settle for “coming from a good place.” It obviously awakened something in him that he wanted to share with the world.

    I DO fancy having a look at this post, Mikey. Thanks!
    And same to you–happy X-mas to you and yours, and thanks for remembering that hubby is Star Wars crazy, lol !!!


  6. Okay, saw the post!
    I’ve never heard of Secret Cinema, but it sounds amazing. It’s a completely immersive experience, obviously, and something one wouldn’t forget very easily. Even though it’s play-acting, I think I might be a little stressed running from people and the yelling and the lights…. but then again, who knows, I might love it so much I’d go into acting afterwards, lol !!
    What fun. Thanks for the link!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “who knows, I might love it so much I’d go into acting afterwards” LOL

      They been going for sometime now. I’d always wanted to go but I’m the same really with the play acting, loads of people etc and had never gone. They did 28 Days Later! You watched the film on hospital beds with zombies running around. Gives me anxiety just thinking about it.
      Then Blade Runner appeared and I just had to go. It’s the closest thing you could ever do as a fan of the film. You are actually in the world.
      There’s a video of it which looks fantastic but still it doesn’t express how incredible it was in there. Truly bonkers.
      Also the good thing was that you get out of it what you put in. You can sit back and watch or open your umbrella and dance in the acid rain. It was really raining indoors.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s really truly crazy, Mikey. Omg, omg, omg. Yeah, one just couldn’t NOT go, right? I know, I know, a double negative, but man…insane. Beyond belief!

    So funny that you mentioned 28 days later–hubby said just before I read this, “Let’s watch 28 Days Later tonight” !! We-ird, lol !!! And yeah, I would NEVER do the 28 Days Later Secret Cinema. Bladerunner would be much more enjoyable, I think.


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