Because his father worked in the prison system, Fred Leuchter was still very young when he saw the electric chair up close for the first time. While home movies illustrate his story, he explains in a heavy Boston accent how his fascination led him to founding a technical business in execution equipment. In the United States, you don’t need a college degree to start a career repairing electric chairs, setting up gas chambers, building gallows and developing lethal injection apparatuses.
In the title sequence, Errol Morris introduces his protagonist as a Dr. Frankenstein, a symbol of human hubris. From then on, he relies on Leuchter himself to provide us with insight into his remarkable views. His exposition of the failures of various execution methods contain ample argumentation for abolishing capital punishment, yet Leuchter sees a humanitarian task waiting for him. After all, he knows how it can be done better, more effectively and more humanely.
When the Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel asks him to investigate the gas chambers at Auschwitz and appear as an expert witness in his court trial, Leuchter’s reputation starts to crumble.