Film Review: I Was A Teenage Serial Killer (dir by Sarah Jacobson)


A 27-minute underground film from 1992, I Was A Teenage Serial Killer tells the story of Mary (Kristin Calabrese).  Mary has killed 19 men, one for each year of her life.  To some, that may sound extreme but, as Mary explains it, she had a good reason for every one of them.  When a character identified as Asshole Drug Dealer (Jeff Stein) suggests that maybe Mary shares some of the blame, Mary yells at him, “It’s not my fault!”

Of course, since it’s a short film, we only get to see a handful of those 19 victims.  One guy tries to force himself on her and gets stabbed to death.  Her bother complains about Mary’s nosering and gets shot.  Another man, who we’ve just seen saying goodbye to his girlfriend, catcalls Mary and then demands that he thank her for telling her that she has a “nice ass,” which results in Mary pushing him in front of a truck.  Briefly, Mary lives with another serial killer.  He swears to her that he only kills straight men but he soon turns out to be a liar.  When he brings home a woman for them to kill, Mary demands to know why all men lie and then beats him to death….

Director Sarah Jacobson reportedly made this movie with equipment and volunteers from the San Francisco Art Institute.  The film’s final budget was $1,600 though the end result is intentionally designed to look cheaper.  The black-and-white cinematography is harsh and sometimes so overexposed that it’s hard to look at.  The cast was made up of amateurs, the majority of whom stiffly deliver their lines.  The gore effects are (deliberately, I assume) over-the-top and cartoonish.  The film’s rough aesthetic is mirrored in the character of Mary.  Both of them are deliberately challenging.  Neither one of them cares what you think.

It’s a satirical film, one that is designed to provoke.  After decades of films that sought to entertain audiences with scenes and images of women being stalked, attacked, and murdered by men, I Was A Teenage Serial Killer dares to flip the script and treats men the way that movies have traditionally treated women.  Whatever legitimate complaints can be made against the acting and the cheapness of the production, there’s something deeply cathartic about Mary’s revenge.  When Mary tosses that catcalling stranger out into the middle of incoming traffic, she’s simply doing what thousands of women fantasize about doing every day.  When Mary is shocked to learn that her boyfriend lied to her about only killing heterosexual men, she’s feeling the shock of every woman who has ever been betrayed by someone who claimed to love her.

This is an unapologetically angry film and perhaps not for everyone.  For students of underground and experiment cinema, however, it’s a must see.  Unfortunately, it’s not particularly easy to see, though it does occasionally air on TCM Underground.  Sadly, Sarah Jacobson went on to only complete two more films — a feature and a short documentary — before passing away, at the age of 32, in 2004.

2 responses to “Film Review: I Was A Teenage Serial Killer (dir by Sarah Jacobson)

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 2/4/19 — 2/10/19 | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 2/11/19 — 2/17/19 | Through the Shattered Lens

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