They say that in prison everyone claims to be innocent. After seeing the documentary Hungry For Monsters, I’ve got to wonder if some of those prisoners are really telling the truth. But director George Paul Csicsery’s film is about a very specific crime and a particular set of circumstances, so I’d like to think that the legal system still works and your average convicted bank robber or ax-murder is actually guilty as sin.
The specific crime in Hungry For Monsters is child molestation, and the circumstance is a legal system subverted by unsubstantiated accusations of that crime, especially when they come from a child.
Accusation = Guilt
- Deleted scenes
George Paul Csicsery
In 1990 Rick Althaus was accused by his teenage daughter of having molested her. Rick, his wife Renee, and their two children Nicole and Bryan were then about as picture perfect a white, middle class, middle-American family as you could imagine. Then, for the next two years after Nicole’s accusation, it was all the parents could do to not only keep the family together, but simply to stay out of prison. Rick was arrested twice, and at one point both parents were arrested at their workplace and led away in handcuffs. In Renee’s case it was in her classroom at a local middle school. And not only the Althaus family was involved. Before the legal storm played itself out, total strangers to the Althaus’ would be arrested as well.
Why Nicole made the initial false claim is not hard to understand and Csicsery explains the circumstances clearly. The question is why the health care professionals around her failed to correctly evaluate her problems.
Hungry For Monsters tries to explain how this all could have happened in a modern society with a reliable social service and legal systems. To do this, Csicsery touches on three interwoven subjects. First there is the public’s fascination with and revulsion of child abuse, especially if there is sex involved. That fascination is then heightened by charges of satanic rituals which in turn are substantiated by so-called repressed memories, generated with questionable techniques of “recovery.”
In the film, the satanic ritual element is brushed aside, repressed memories are gently dismissed but it is the lynch-mob-minded public and its voice the mainstream media that gets the most criticism. This, I presume, is also the source for the title.
Any one of those themes would be enough for a documentary of its own, but Hungry For Monsters is really about a legal and social response that, once set in motion, snowballs with weight and inertia, drawing in agencies around it and crushing everything in its path. Csicsery dispassionately shows how at each turn of events, a careful examination of the facts and case history would have stopped this legal juggernaut.
Ultimately, that is just what eventually happens when a detective from Homicide is brought in to investigate accusations of murder. By this time, the case is starting to creak under the weight of it’s own improbability and the detective, with his self-admitted Joe Friday “just the facts ma’am” attitude, unravels the story. If there is a hero in the film, it’s this guy.
There is an eerie stillness to Csicsery’s direction. People whose lives have teetered on the edge of oblivion calmly sit, and with a shrug of their shoulders recount their stories. It would be easy to go hyperbolic over the obvious miscarriage of justice, but then the film would be falling into the same pattern of hysteria that it is addressing — and I suppose, trying to correct.
The only thing missing is the version from the other side (and there is another side to the argument) because, according to Csicery, they refused to be interviewed. The sense I have is that this is a reasonable telling of the tale even if it is a one-sided narration.
In the end, Rick and Renee are acquitted, and they press charges of malpractice against two of Nicole’s enabling supporters. In a later trial, Nicole even makes an accusation of molestation against one of them. The accused is acquitted because the defense argues that Nicole was shown to be not creditable during the earlier trials of Rick and Renee so her claims are not credible now. The jury agreed.
Csicsery nicely turns the tables on the viewer and leaves the question open. There is reason both to believe and discredit her. Things are not as clear-cut as they might seem to be, and if you are dissatisfied that the incompetents and zealots have not gotten their comeuppance, then maybe you are hungry for your own monsters.
The only extra DVD feature is some bonus footage with the participants. I’m not sure why this stuff was left out of the film, except that sometimes time considerations force you to leave some things on the cutting room floor. If you watch the film, you’ll want to see this too.
Picture and Sound
Both are very nice. The camera work by John Knoop and Leslie Asako Gladsjø is first-rate. The thing that really shines is the score, composed and conducted by Edward Applebaum, who provides haunting music for a troubling subject.
How to Use this DVD
Watch this with an open mind. Things may not be as they seem. The people being interviewed apparently believe what they are saying... but are they kidding themselves? Should you believe them? Also, as noted above, be sure to watch the bonus interview footage. You may find yourself changing your mind one more time.