DECEMBER 1, 2008
The dude at Blockbuster can eat crow! When I returned The Tattooist, he said “everything OK?” to which I replied “Well the movie sucked, but I’m good otherwise.” (as the saying goes, an odd question deserves a wiseass response). So when I returned to the counter with Trailer Park Of Terror, he said “Do you HONESTLY think this will be any better?” And I said “it can’t be worse”, but he seemed unconvinced.
At this point I’ll stop replaying entire conversations with strangers and just get to the point. Despite what a guy at Blockbuster might think, TPoT is above average for the DTV dreck I seem to be watching half the time. It’s well directed, the actors do a good job with the material they are given, it moves along despite a low body count, and the clichés are delivered with some admirable effort to make them seem less cliché (such as the obligatory breakdown sequence – the driver is getting sick of the asshole kid providing the character backgrounds for the other characters and being a total ass as he does so). As I've said several times, actual effort put into the film's production goes a long way with me.
Also, I was happy to discover that, despite the title (and a name-check in the opening scene), it’s not some Herschell Gordon Lewis-esque splatter/white trash movie either. Sure, there’s a Confederate flag or two, and the soundtrack is all southern-fried country rock, but director Steven Goldmann and writer Timothy Dolan take a surprisingly dark approach to the material, rather than settle for cheap and predictable redneck gags the entire time. Our tragic villain watches her mother get killed before her eyes (and later in life, her ticket out of the park is accidentally killed by her stereotypical redneck neighbors), and there isn’t a lot of comedy either. This surprised me, because I had read an issue of the comic that it is based on, and it was definitely over the top with its approach to humor, with lots of easy and obvious gags that really drove home the “trailer trash” aspect of the setting. That’s not the case with the movie at all though; if anything the movie feels rather underplayed (perhaps because of a small budget), rather than over the top ridiculous.
This isn’t really a problem though, until the very end, because, well, there is no end. Maybe their budget ran out, or Dolan’s script simply lacked a strong conclusion, but calling it anti-climactic would almost be kind. None of the villains are killed or even attacked, and there is a frustrating lack of answers behind the supernatural aspects. Perhaps there is a sequel already planned, but it’s sort of presumptuous to leave this many questions in a first film. Our Final Girl is let go via the flimsiest and clunkiest dialogue explanation ever written, and there’s a 2001 Maniacs-y twist concerning the town’s actual presence in the world, and then it’s over.
Another problem is that the main bad girl, Norma, is presented as sympathetic for the first half of the movie (via flashbacks), but they never explain how she became not only evil, but the apparent leader of the bad guys to boot. Not to mention how they all became ghouls (though country singer Trace Adkins, playing what I assume is supposed to be the Devil, gives her a gun that shoots apparently hellfire, which I guess can explain some of it away).
And I am starting to grow tired of the “group of delinquent kids” backstory for horror movies. I’m not sure who thinks that have a bunch of criminals play our heroes is a good idea, but it becomes kind of hard to root for them when they are introduced more or less as assholes and act in kind for the bulk of the film.
That said, it does have a certain charm. The lack of corny humor I expected meant that I was able to watch the movie without groaning every 2-3 seconds, so that’s an automatic plus. Also, the production value is high, and Goldmann and DP Jeff Venditti give the film a look that reminded me of Supernatural, which is perfectly fine by me (not so fine – the use of that goddamn body mount cam during the opening shotgun massacre). And a ghoul who was an Asian masseuse in her previous life tries to give a corpse a “happy ending”, which results in his member being yanked right off entirely. Ugh/awesome.
The makeup is also pretty solid. There are 6-8 different monsters, all with their unique look that seems to be primarily physical makeup pieces. Gore is minimal, but the deaths themselves are enjoyable nasty, such as a guy who is deep fried (this particular scene is marred by the inclusion of some trendy torture violence) and a meth head who is too high to realize her arm has been cut off.
The only extra on the DVD is a mostly annoying “making of” with all of the actors in character. It’s a fun idea, but goes on too long. Also, call me crazy, but when I see a potentially good movie with some fairly odd flaws (like, an abrupt ending and giant leaps in character progression) I like to hear from the creators to see if they can shed some light on the matter, not actor Lew Temple telling a poorly dubbed interviewer to fuck off.
The comic is an anthology series, so there’s a well of material to use for future installments. Adkins’ character could definitely be expanded, and I wouldn’t even mind an anthology approach to the film itself (i.e. 3 or 4 stories). Either way, let’s hope the next one corrects the mistakes of this one. I know it’s kind of ironic to watch a film called Trailer Park of Terror and bemoan the storytelling problems, but when the acting, production value, directing, etc. upend expectations, there’s no reason the script can’t follow suit.
What say you?