JULY 14, 2008
Let me reveal right off the bat – Brutal Massacre is not a horror movie. It’s a comedy. BUT: A. I thought there was a slasher element in it (that the crew started getting picked off or something, plus the cover implies it’s a horror comedy), and B. The movie won’t be of much interest to anyone but horror fans, so I think it’s OK to count. However, from now on I will pay more attention to the goddamn synopsis – I spent the whole movie waiting for the crew to start getting killed. I could have sworn I saw a still of Brian O’Halloran’s character being dismembered, but I must have imagined it.
The film is written and directed by Stevan Mena, who made the above average independent slasher Malevolence, which has a sequel on the way (one that looks fucking great from the trailer). Several of the events seen in Massacre are in fact based on insane stuff that actually happened to him during the shooting of his earlier film (the most depressing/hilarious – he gave 200 bucks to a guy he thought was a PA in order to have him exchange it for two hundred dollar bills to be used onscreen, only to discover the guy was just some onlooker who unsurprisingly was never heard from again). These moments are also among the funniest, and helps offset the humor that DOESN’T work.
See, for every unique jokey bit like that, there is unfortunately some generic gag right on its heels. Every mockumentary about filmmaking has the same stock set of jokes, and this movie revels in them: the crew doesn’t get paid, the actors are convinced they are making high art, etc. Each and every joke built around these concepts is too clichéd to really amuse, and it’s a shame that Mena & co. fell back on them so often during the film. I wish that everyone had stuck with the more batshit ideas and setpieces (like when they are suddenly shot at during filming) than tired old “There’s no catering?!?!?” type stuff.
Another issue was the “documentary” presentation. Like Diary of the Dead, they really don’t do a very good job of selling the idea that everything we are seeing is from the eyes of a participant in the proceedings. Conversations are covered from opposite angles, but we never once see a cameraman on the other side. There’s a scene with Ken Foree giving a monologue about shitting his pants (there is a lot of poop humor in the film), and there are two angles on it, one of which would CERTAINLY catch the other camera had it been “live”. Since the “talking to camera” stuff and narration is mostly forgotten after the first 20 minutes, it’s a wonder they even bothered with the idea at all.
One final issue is the main character, Harry Penderecki (David Naughton!), and the fact that he is kind of an asshole. We want to root for him, and there’s a really sad scene where he goes to the video store and sees all of his movies in the dollar bin, but a lot of the time he’s not really sympathetic. It is frequently alluded to that he sleeps with his younger co-stars, he doesn’t care when one of his long time collaborators dies on the set (it’s an accident), etc. It’s clear that the movies of Christopher Guest were an inspiration, but the difference is that those characters are flawed, but still lovable. Harry’s flaws nearly result in him simply being unlikable.
That stuff aside, it’s definitely an amusing movie, and a real treat for horror nerds. Cameos by Gunnar Hansen, Mick Garris, and Tony Timpone (who can’t even play himself right – at no point does he offer a “Big Fango welcome” to anyone he is introducing to the stage) are highlights, and Ken Foree and Ellen Sandweiss play large roles. Sandweiss in particular is a delight, it’s the second of her movies I’ve watched in the past week (after Satan’s Playground) and she is clearly having a blast playing the harried producer, as opposed to doing almost nothing in Playground. And she should serve as an inspiration to every other actress – I won’t mention her age, but consider Evil Dead was almost 30 years ago, and look how good she still looks.
There are also a number of lines/bits that made me laugh out loud. There’s a running gag concerning a van full of kids who yell obscenities at the film crew and ruin their shots that killed me every time, and a hilarious metajoke about bad dubbing. Another highlight is a location scout early on – they are looking for the “perfect” killer’s house, and some of the choices include a gas station, a condo that’s only halfway built, and a mansion. Good stuff.
There’s also a great deal of eye candy. In addition to Sandweiss, Emily Brownell as the lead actress in the film within the film is highly smashable (and she is in Bruce Willis’ next movie, which automatically earns her my respect). And look at this handsome fellow seen in the film’s opening shot:
Why that’s my good pal Rob G! Rob also appears in the making of piece, which instead of being a making of the actual film, it’s a making of the documentary in the film? So everyone is in character (even Rob), and it just comes off as a collection of deleted scenes. This is odd, because there actually IS a collection of deleted scenes, almost all of which were rightfully left out. In addition to more “Wow, Harry sucks” type scenes, there are more of the non-documentary gaffes. For example, there’s a scene of Mick Garris behind the stage at the Fango con, and Harry enters. They talk for a bit and then Mick quietly asks who the guy is with Harry. Harry explains that it’s the documentarian and that he is doing a movie about him – but why didn’t Mick notice the camera guy filming him, even before Harry entered the room?
So basically, the extras are kind of worthless. Since the joke isn’t all that funny to begin with, I think they took it too far. I enjoy meta humor as much as the next guy, but I would have actually liked some real insight on the process of making the film, hiring unknown actors to play unknown actors, how Mena used his real life experiences in shaping the film, etc. At least we are spared a Harry Penderecki commentary track.
LA folks can check the movie out with the lovely Miss Sandweiss providing a Q&A afterwards, this Friday (the 18th) at the Sunset 5 (midnight screening!). Like I said, horror fans will definitely appreciate all the little injokes and cameos, and even though it’s uneven, I still appreciate the concept and had a good time watching it overall. Bring on Malevolence 2!
What say you?