Mindhunter fans were dealt a crushing blow last week, but they would do well to check out the trailer for HBO’s new serial killer documentary Crazy, Not Insane from Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney.
The provocative film follows Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a well-respected psychiatrist who has dedicated her career to the study of murderers, seeking answers to the question of why we kill. In addition to profiling Dr. Lewis and her research, the documentary includes videotaped death row interviews, and examines the formative experiences and neurological dysfunction of such infamous murderers as Arthur Shawcross and Ted Bundy, challenging the very notion of evil and proposing that murderers are made rather than born.
Those insights led her to become an expert in dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) as she observed first-hand the way in which the killers she examined would switch between alternate personalities – or “alters” as she calls them – in the course of her examinations. While Dr. Lewis’s conclusions were often dismissed by others, including by well-known forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, her videotapes of her death row interviews show meaningful transformations between “alters” developed in childhood, often as a way to endure and sometimes avenge the pain they suffered.
Among Dr. Lewis’s most well-known cases is Arthur Shawcross, who was convicted in 1991 of murdering 11 women. While Lewis’s videotaped exchanges with Shawcross show him inhabiting the alters of his vengeful mother and a 13th century cannibal, Shawcross was found sane and guilty in a trial by jury. Lewis was also one of the last people to interview Ted Bundy just before his execution. In an audiotape featured in the film, Bundy was unusually candid with the psychiatrist, revealing new details that upend the conventional wisdom about him. One of Lewis’s regrets is that she was never able to examine Bundy’s brain for clues as to what made one of the world’s most infamous serial killers.
In addition to Shawcross and Bundy, other high-profile convicted murderers and death row inmates assessed by Dr. Lewis include Mark David Chapman, David Wilson, Marie Moore and Joseph Paul Franklin. The film also includes a videotape of Dr. Lewis’ interview with “traveling executioner” Sam Jones, an electrician who also administrated hundreds of death penalty sentences. While claiming he “zapped” convicted killers in the electric chair without regret, Jones displays a collection of disturbing paintings he made after every execution, which reveal his own inner turmoil.
The title of Crazy, Not Insane refers to the conflict that the legal system has with the world of medical science in defining grave mental illness. For many years, Dr. Lewis testified in death penalty cases about whether convicted murderers were sane enough to be executed. Her insights and forensic skills helped change the laws and the way that death penalty lawyers approach their clients’ cases. The film also explores the death penalty itself, highlighting the research that indicates that states with the death penalty tend to have higher murder rates than those without, questioning the theory of the death penalty as a deterrent to violence. The documentary asks why society is so determined to execute these dangerous human beings once they’re locked away and no longer a threat?
Gibney produced the film with Ophelia Harutyunyan, Erin Edeiken and Joey Marra. Executive producers include Stacey Offman, Richard Perello and Maiken Baird, as well as HBO’s Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller. Crazy, Not Insane will premiere Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 9 p.m. on HBO, and will be available to stream on HBO Max. Watch the trailer below.