Sometimes in life, all you need is love and psychotic tendencies… well, for some couples. That was definitely the case for Mickey and Mallory Knox. Twenty-five years ago, we witnessed two murderous deviants fall in love, destroy every life in their path, and gain infamy. In celebration, PopHorror looks back on what made Natural Born Killers so controversial, yet so popular!
Natural Born Killers was filled with controversy from the very beginning. Many might not know this, but the original script was written by none other than Quentin Tarantino. However, Oliver Stone got a hold of it and completely changed everything. Tarantino was so furious, he told both Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth he wouldn’t cast them in any of his films again if either of them took the role of Wayne Gale. He also wanted his name taken off of the credits after watching just the beginning diner scene! However, Tarantino eventually let go of his anger after producers allowed him to publish his original script.
There was backlash about how Natural Born Killers glorified killers and portrayed them as celebrities. Oliver Stone had to constantly clarify that the film is a satire on how media and society adores exploiting and bringing fame to violent killers. Thinking about that, there is some truth to the film, even today. Every time a violent act is reported, we hear the killers’ names and see their faces more than the victims’.
One of the most interesting aspects of Natural Born Killers is that, essentially, there is only one morally good character in the entire film. The two protagonists, Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), are obvious psychopaths. You have Mallory’s father, Ed (Rodney Dangerfield), who raped his daughter and beat his wife. There was Mallory’s mom (Edie McClurg) who chose not to do anything about it. Mickey’s own parents (Sally Jackson, Phil Neilson) were both verbally and psychically abusive. Down the road, we meet the corrupt murdering detective, Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore). When Jack finally arrests Mickey and Mallory, they have to deal with a sadistic prison warden (Tommy Lee Jones) and his guards who planned to kill them. Meanwhile, the entire story is exploited by media mogul Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.). The only character that seemed to show pure kindness was the Indian (Russell Means) who helped Mickey and Mallory in their time of need.
I think this film was perfectly cast. Can you imagine Michael Madsen playing Mickey? Or how about Tori Amos as Mallory? Well, it almost happened. However, when it came to Mickey’s character, Warner Brothers wanted someone less intimidating with a softer persona. They believed Michael couldn’t achieve that. As for Mallory, when Oliver asked Tori if he could use her song, Me and A Gun, for Mallory’s kill scenes, Tori slapped him and stormed away. That song was an a cappella account of her real-life rape, so it’s definitely understandable that she was outraged.
Another bit of controversy was centered around the commercials that randomly popped up throughout the film. The Coca-Cola polar bear ads were approved by the company before they even knew what the film was about. Needless to say, they were certainly furious when they saw the final product. Speaking of the commercials, why on earth did the man put commercials in his film? According to Stone, commercials have the power to provide comfort after we view something terrible. It happens all the time when news stations report a horrific incident… then cut straight to commercials. So, for Natural Born Killers, we see a quick ad break after a horrific moment.
I truly believe the horror community hasn’t given Natural Born Killers enough credit for its commentary and the message it shows. Considering the depiction of how media glorifies violence for the sake of ratings, this film has definitely proven that it’s still relevant 25 years later.