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Broken window

Let me preface this by stating right off the bat that I don't really expect to find any answers here. I've copy-pasted the gist of this post to dozens of forums and this place is pretty much my last resort. Then again maybe it's for the best if I don't find what I'm looking for.

When I was, well, younger than I am now, I went through a phase where I was really into shock exploitation and gore movies. I'm not proud of it, and I won't go into details about what kind of underlying psychological issues I may have had at the time (I saw someone die IRL when I was 12 so that may have contributed), but it's essential that you know this about me for the context of this post. It started with basic slasher and body horror movies. When those failed to deliver enough adrenaline after a while, I started seeking out "real" stuff. I watched the infamous "Vignettes of Death" mondo documentary from 1978 and its various sequels and spinoffs, then got into even more extreme stuff.

Look, I'm starting to feel pretty slimy just typing this, so I'll leave it at that. The point is that in 2008 I found out about a certain film through a certain online gore site I was involved with. It had been circulating for a few days among various horror and shock material communities. Many people, hardened gore veterans, said it disturbed them more than anything they had previously seen, and that it "makes Vignettes of Death look like a Disney movie." After watching it myself, I agreed.

Now, if you're nervous about continuing here, I can at least assure you that what I'm about to describe isn't some ultra-horrific torture or cannibalism scene or any other such "you don't even want to know" type of material. That said, if you consider yourself to be particularly faint of heart, you should probably stop reading now. This is the movie that permanently turned me off shock-gore and exploitation videos, and that's saying something. Again, there's nothing that will make you vomit all over your computer just from reading about it, but it was disturbing on a much, much deeper level, a level I can't quite convey just by writing about it.

You may be wondering at this point why I am trying to find this movie again if I'm over my gore craze. Well, it certainly isn't because I want to watch it again. You shouldn't either if you find it. But I want to track it down nonetheless, because someone needs to look into the origin of this thing.

The film was titled "Broken Windows" and purported to be a 1987 documentary about Chicago gangs and urban dysfunction. The title card was simple white-on-black text that read "Broken Windows: A Crookland Films Production." If anyone has any information on a "Crookland Films," please message me even if you don't know about the movie in question, because I have not been able to find any information about them.

The title card was followed by text that read "More than 800 people are killed in the City of Chicago every year. That number is expected to rise over the next decade."

The film opened with interview footage of a young black man. Most of the people featured throughout were black so I won't make note of it beyond this point, but there were whites, Hispanics, and Asians as well. "I used to do dirt in LA. When I moved here to Cook County, I thought I was gonna come in and show them others how we did things, you know what I mean?" he began.

"But I got checked real quick. Gangs here ain't nothing like what it was in LA. They do it different here. It's everyone for himself in the end."

This opening clip really set the tone for the feature. The film had no narrator, and context to the various clips shown was only given by these sporadic interview clips and the occasional brief text overlay. This was the first chilling aspect. The interviews were all so real, and by that I mean they were raw and honest. The year 1987 was just a little bit before the rise of gangster rap culture, so no one was "fronting" here. No one was playing up trying to come off like NWA. It was just brutal, honest descriptions of gang life in Cook County, and when someone was interviewed who said he (always he) killed people, there was no reason to believe he was playing a part.

One interviewee bragged about how he could get a whole block locked down just by walking by. Others were more somber, such as the man who looked to be in his late 40s who said he had formed his gang with other returning Vietnam veterans as a way of survival. One that managed to get a small rise out of me was of an 18 year-old British guy. He had a real posh British accent and blonde hair, looking like he belonged in a boy band. He said he had been raised in a wealthy family but had moved to Chicago to join a white gang out of boredom. He talked about how he enjoyed killing "darkies" and hoped to open a brothel.

Anyway, after the opening interview, the next clip was of a burning house. A woman could be heard crying off-camera that her child was inside. This went on for while. As it was going on three minutes, I started to wonder why I wasn't hearing any sirens. As if reading my mind, text faded in, one line at a time:

There are many areas of Chicago that first responders are afraid to travel to.

Even in the middle of the day, residents may be left to their own devices in case of a fire.

It will be another 40 minutes before a fire engine arrives.

This sent a small chill down my spine. Still, I wasn't understanding why this movie was being shared on gore sites.

The clips did get more graphic though. Disturbing footage of violent crime, police brutality, domestic violence, and the horrifying consequences of drug abuse, all shown in minimally-edited handheld footage. Shootouts, suicides, gang initiations, none of which was censored in any way. Not all the scenes were graphic and violent, but those that were showed it all. Objectively, it was nothing worse than what I had seen in "Vignettes of Death", but there was something about it, something I couldn't place, that made it ten times more haunting. This wasn't some exploitation flick with real gore scenes mixed in with fake, staged events. This was nothing like the kinds of movies I had been watching. This was...something very different.

An early taste of the dark offerings of the film was provided in the form of footage of a shoutout at a high-rise public housing complex. The two gunmen shot at each other from windows, one in the same building as the cameraman and one in the building across the commons. For most of the clip the gunmen were not visible, it was just the sounds of sporatic gunfire and the occasional shattering of a window for minutes on end.

Eventually, the shooter in the other building made the mistake of leaning out of a window to get a better aim. He was promptly shot and plummeted 20 stories to his death, where his head split open and splattered viscera all over the concrete.

A less graphic but equally disturbing clip (for me anyway) was of two gangs shooting at each other from their cars. When one had its windshield sprayed with bullets, it careened off the road, almost plowing into a gaggle of schoolchildren who had just been let out.

Not all the clips were of hardcore gangbanging. One particularly disturbing segment featured a street race. As the victor of the race slowed to a stop and the other members of the racing club gathered around to congratulate him, a panhandler approached from the driver's side and was mowed down by the other racer.

There was no blood, no scream, just the horrible crash of metal as the man was ejected into the air, and then he was just gone. I think that's what haunted me the most.

There were many other clips, too many to describe here, but I'll give a brief rundown of some of the ones that stick out in my mind the most:

  • A parole officer arrives with the police at a house to arrest a man for a violation. The man shouts through the door at the officers that he will never go back to prison. A gunshot is heard, and the officers storm in to find that the man has ended his life.
  • A young teenager is taken for a car ride to do a drive-by shooting as part of his initiation. The camera films from inside the car with several gang members. They pull up to the target's house. The target comes outside and begins arguing with the gang. For whatever reason they decide not to go through with the shooting and drive off.
  • A pair of gang members are shown preparing weapons and ammunition in what looks like a basement or garage. They discuss how they intend to carry out an attack against a rival gang later in the night. The documentary never shows the attack nor reveals what happened.
  • A cop pulls over a man with a broken tail light. During the stop the man attempts to flee and is run over by a dump truck.
  • Two teenagers are shown throwing rocks off an overpass. One rock hits a car windshield. The next clip is up-close footage of the vehicle, revealing the battered face of the female driver, probably dead.
  • A woman on drugs is shown having a miscarriage at a hospital.

After a while I realized why these clips stirred up such dread in me. I don't know if anyone else had realized it, but they were all filmed with the same type of camera. There was no difference in properties like aspect ratio, and the style of filming was the same. There was never a timestamp on the video to indicate that it was just amateur footage. What's more, no one ever seemed to acknowledge the camera or the person holding it. Whoever was holding it was never heard or seen and did not appear to be invested in any of the events they were recording.

It doesn't make any sense but I'm certain none of the footage in the film was faked. It was all very real, and the film really had no overarching narrative structure to tie the clips together. And yet, the footage all had a vaguely cinematic quality about it despite the almost non-existent editing.

The scene that haunted me the most, that still haunts me the most, was of a man who tried to rob an undercover narcotics officer at knifepoint. When the cop punched him and tried to make an arrest, he dropped the knife and pulled out a gun. I guess the gun was only for emergencies and he thought using a knife would get him less prison time if he was caught.

The man backed away from the cop and started running, eventually carjacking someone and leading the cops on a chase. The chase was filmed from different angles yet did not appear to be staged. The man crashed into a tree near what looked like a college campus and got out. He grabbed a woman who looked to be pregnant and held his gun to her head.

The cops tried to talk him down. The camera zoomed in on his face. Within moments, either fear or guilt overtook him, and he released the woman.

He dropped the gun just a split-second too late. One cop fired, knocking him to the ground. The scream he uttered will haunt me for the rest of my life. The camera zoomed in on his face again as he bled out on the snow, clearly dead. The officers began swarming around the body. I could hear one of them swearing off-camera and muttering that the deceased could not have been older than 16, 17. "They get younger every year," he said.¹

After I finished this movie, I felt like my whole soul had been emptied out of my body. I knew right then that I would never watch another shock film again. All the upload and download links disappeared within days. As far as the few people who knew about it could tell, the whole Web had somehow been scrubbed clean of it.

The last scene in the feature was silent security footage of an alley, the only clip in the whole film that was not recorded on the handheld.

A man was walking alone down the alley. He was wearing the same clothes as the man in the interview that opened the movie, and I could tell it was him.

He was stopped by two others who emerged from an alley door. He tried to run, but was shot in the back. The two men left, and the footage ran as the deceased bled out for many minutes until the movie abruptly ended without credits.

You know, in a way I'm glad I saw this thing. Like I said, it broke me of my previous viewing habits, and now I have the comfort of being able to react with appropriate disgust whenever I see graphic violence, something which I did not realize how bad I missed until after this experience. It was like getting a small piece of my humanity back. However, I can't imagine that was the goal of the film, and the only effect I can imagine it having on most people would be to steal their humanity.

If anyone has any information on this documentary or Crookland Films, please PM me. If you find the movie, send it to the police, send it to the news, send it to the FBI, but whatever you do, don't watch it.

Update

I was honestly really surprised to learn that several users here had also seen or at least heard of "Broken Windows." It's especially surprising that I finally found others here and not on the gore forums I tried asking about this on (the couple sites I first encountered the film on have long since gone dead and been replaced with ad parkers.)

It looks like I may have overestimated how obscure this thing is in my initial post. Of course, it can definitely still be described as obscure to say the least, but apparently it did make a very minor blip in some internet circles beyond just gore sites. Fortunately for the world but unfortunately for me right now, it seems as though very few actually watched it, and its brief notoriety was just the result of people talking about how they had heard second-hand how shocking it was. Some of you sent me links to old message board threads where the OP asked something along the lines of "what is the most disturbing movie in existence?" and people listed the usual answers like "Vignettes of Death" or "Cannibal Crucible", and a couple also mentioned that they had heard of a movie called "Broken Windows" that was really messed up but which they had not yet seen for themselves. I don't know how I missed these threads in my previous searches for information.

I also learned that there are various images of a cover for the film out there on the Web, however these sites give no other information beyond the name and release date of the film along with a couple that simply describe it as being about Chicago gangs. The cover is just a black-and-white drawing of a smashed windowpane with the title in plain white text, along with the studio, Crookland Films. I still haven't found any information about them.

To answer the question many of you have been asking me this week, yes, someone did send me the film...sort of. They did send me a version of the film, but it's not the same. It is heavily censored with all the bloody scenes taken out, several interviews missing including the first one, and an overall length of barely 40 minutes compared to the almost three hours of the original. The couple of you who messaged me saying you had seen the documentary but did not remember any of the gruesome stuff I had described likely saw only this edit.

The version that was sent to me had a number of awkward cuts where the really violent scenes used to be, which likely would only be noticed by someone who has seen the original. I don't know where this revised version came from, but I doubt it was Crookland Films that decided to recut it.

Someone who lives in Chicago told me that the part about the carjacker who got shot sounded vaguely familiar as a news story they may have heard about years ago, but they were not aware of any video recording of the event.

I'll try to keep you guys updated. Even if I never find the full film again it does make me feel a little better to know that there are others who know about it in some way.

Final Update

This is the last post I'm going to make on this subject before I delete my account and change my IP address. Thanks to everyone who's been sending me tidbits of information, but I'd like you all to please stop now.

When I first started asking around about this movie, I had two goals: to be able to vent a little about my experience, and to find the origins of the film. I suppose my quest was somewhat successful, but now I don't think it was worth it.

As some of you have started to guess based on hints I've been dropping in the chats and DM, yes, I did find the full version of "Broken Windows. No, I'm not going to upload it or share download links.

I would advise that anyone who has information on this film or its makers keep it to themselves from this point forward, and that anyone else who has been encouraged to look into it by my previous posts give it up right now. I now realize there is more at stake than just you being traumatized by the film's contents. You're at risk, plain and simple.

I don't know how someone knew where to send the VHS, but needless to say when I opened the package with no return address, it didn't take me long to decide to move.

The box contained other tapes too. They were all documentaries labeled as being made by Crookland Films, from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. I didn't watch them, and since I fear I've already said too much I won't name them here.

One thing I've realized during all this is this: life is short. Too short to be spent obsessing over death and gore, and too short to be chasing down dark rabbit holes of the internet. So please, if you're ever tempted to get into gore films, consider reading a book instead.



Written by HopelessNightOwl
Content is available under CC BY-SA

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

¹This part is an homage to Slick Rick's song "Children's Story."

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