Guyana: Crime of the Century

Guyana: Crime of the Century

The current DVD cover features the two alternate English titles of the film
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Written by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Stuart Whitman
Gene Barry
John Ireland
Joseph Cotten
Bradford Dillman
Yvonne De Carlo
Music by Jimmie Haskell
Alfredo Díaz Ordaz
Cinematography Leopoldo Villaseñor
Edited by Earl Watson
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • 20 September 1979 (1979-09-20) (Mexico)
  • 25 January 1980 (1980-01-25) (U.S.)
Running time
115 minutes (Mexico)
90 minutes (U.S.)
108 minutes (UK)
Country Mexico
Language English
Box office $3,798,102

Guyana: Crime of the Century (also known as Guyana: Cult of the Damned) is a 1979 Mexican exploitation docudrama film written and directed by René Cardona Jr.. The film, which was shot in Mexico, is based on the Jonestown Massacre. It stars a number of American actors such as Stuart Whitman, Gene Barry and Joseph Cotten. The names of central characters are slightly tweaked from the historical ones: the film is set in "Johnsontown" rather than Jonestown, the cult is led by "Reverend James Johnson" (Whitman) rather than Rev. Jim Warren Jones, and the murdered Congressman is "Lee O'Brien" (Barry) rather than Leo Ryan.


In early 1977, Reverend James Johnson, the fanatic and paranoid leader of an independent church in San Francisco, moves his 1,000-strong congregation to the jungles of South American in the country of Guyana to create their own utopia free of the so-called corruption of the civilized world. Life at the jungle commune, called "Johnsontown", becomes unbearable as there are featured acts of brutally and cruelty that Johnson inflicts on his followers. In November 1978, when California Congressman Lee O'Brien investigates several reports of commune members being held against their will, he ventures to Johnsontown with a team of reporters to investigate the allegations of abuse. Despite the positive facade that Reverend Johnson puts out to Congressman O'Brien, the reality of the camp becomes apparent. When O'Brien leaves Johnsontown with a group of defectors, Johnson orders his loyal hit squads to kill O'Brien and the reporters, and then orders his followers to commit ritual mass suicide.


Historical inaccuracies

Most notably, the "Johnsontown" membership is largely cast with white actors, while in reality, and at its height, the majority of Peoples Temple members were African-American.

Moreover, the film depicts "Susan Ames" (the fictionalized version of Peoples Temple loyalist Sharon Amos, as played by Yvonne DeCarlo) being murdered, along with her children by a shadowy, knife-wielding man. In reality, Sharon Amos—a hardcore supporter of Jim Jones stationed in nearby Georgetown—followed the orders of Jones for his followers to die on November 18, 1978. Amos reportedly took a kitchen butcher knife and slit the throats of her two youngest children (Christa, age 11 and Martin, age 10), then asked her eldest daughter Liane (age 21) to kill her with the knife, thus leaving Liane to kill herself.

A minor inaccuracy concerns the "Johnson" death scene; as Johnson (Stuart Whitman) appears to expire from a gunshot, as he collapses, he pulls his shirt open by the lower four buttons. This is meant to explain why in actual Jonestown death scene photos, Jim Jones is seen laying on the pavilion floor with his red shirt open. It appears the real Jones' shirt was in that condition due to the effects of the body swelling after death, which is quite evident in all photos of the deceased Jones.


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