NOVEMBER 19, 2009
I liked Basement Jack. It didn’t really do anything new, and like any movie, had some problems, but it just WORKED. It’s a straight up slasher movie, with all of the genre’s expected pitfalls (focusing on a character whose safety is never in question) and highlights (some cool kills, an interesting killer, etc) that so many modern filmmakers spend so much time trying to circumvent, rather than just make a good movie within those parameters.
For starters, it’s got style. Director Michael Shelton comes from a visual effects background, but rather than make a movie that exists to showcase his company’s work, he just makes his camera angles and cutting as visually exciting as any effect (in fact, ironically enough, some of the effects really suck - they seemingly have a tough time with getting machetes to look like they are really embedded in anything). There’s a terrific shot late in the film where our heroine searches a basement (with lightning from a storm outside providing all of the illumination), as she spins around looking only for the killer to appear behind her (revealed via flash).
It’s also got an unusual supporting cast - a bunch of cops. Likeable ones at that. They bicker and mock each other like the non-Riggs and Murtaugh cops in the Lethal Weapon movies do, except here they actually get to take part in the action (i.e. get killed - there’s a Terminator-esque spree near the end that’s pretty awesome). And since one is played by the always enjoyable Tiffany Shepis, you will at least care about one other person in the movie besides the obvious heroes, which is a rarity in modern slashers (where even the heroes are wretched - see: Zombie's Halloween 2).
And while they go a little overboard with it, I like that the killer had a backstory that was about something besides why he wanted to kill these particular people. Slashers tend to either explain nothing (Halloween), or give the killer a very specific reason to kill these very specific people, and yet go to all the trouble of picking them off one by one while wearing a costume. This guy is fucked up due to some not-too-original mother issues, but his targets are anonymous and innocent families. And as a creepy touch, he props his victims up in poses (a little dead kid propped up in front of the TV, bound in video game wires? CREEPY AS FUCK). It makes up for his sort of tired Manson-y appearance at any rate.
We also have a final girl who is vulnerable yet tough right from the start. It’s not a problem for me, but when you think about it, most final girls suddenly become resilient only after all their friends are killed, so it’s kind of cool to have this almost sort of Sarah Connor-y type face a slasher, sort of hunting him throughout the film.
Finally, I dug the humor. Right off the bat we get a nice little reference to (the real) Halloween II, and there are other little nods to the series sprinkled throughout (as well as a score by Alan Howarth), including a final shot that seems to be recalling Michael's ambulance escape in Halloween 4. And as always, Shepis gets a few likely improvised laughs that give her character a bit of a personality the film doesn’t otherwise afford her (I don’t think the role was written for a known actress). I was also pleased to see the return of the Manager character from Evilution, as this film is from the same team. I didn’t care too much for that film, but I loved the Manager character and enjoyed seeing his return (and apparently he will be back in a third film titled Necropolitan, which is the name of the building where these two films took place - but are otherwise unrelated). I always liked the idea of movie characters drifting into other movies (best example would be Michael Keaton in both Out of Sight and Jackie Brown), but a device you never really see a lot.
So what’s not so good? Well like I said before, the kill effects are a bit on the shoddy side at times, which is kind of a bummer as that is one of the most important aspects of a slasher movie. And it drags a bit at times, particularly in the scenes where our heroine is accused of being the murderer herself. It’s one of those things where you know it can’t be true, so there’s little suspense to the proceedings. It works in say, Psycho II - we know Norman is nuts and we’re not seeing the face of the killer. The same can’t be said here, so I wish they hadn’t even bothered with the red herring.
And, I know that it’s supposed to be related, but I had the same issue with Evilution - ENOUGH with the goddamn Linda Vista Hospital! I think I have seen that front façade more often than I have seen the front of my own home. I understand it’s a cheap location that is almost always available for horror film crews, but it just feels like a lazy choice on the part of the filmmakers. Especially for a film that’s not even set in a hospital - are we to believe that there was no other building in all of Los Angeles that could double for an apartment building?
The DVD has a making of and a commentary with the producer/writer and the guy who played Jack (who also produced). Strange that the director isn’t there, but they talk about him in positive tones, so it doesn’t seem to be the result of some sort of rift between the director and the producers. It’s not the best track - they narrate the action and clarify plot points that weren’t questionable, and speak highly of all of the actors and such (they also echo my comment about Sarah Connor!). The making of (which DOES feature Shelton) primarily focuses on the cast and how great they are, and at 25 minutes, isn’t really the best way to spend your time unless you are a die-hard fan of the film.
In short, the reason I liked this slasher is because it went about its business like a regular slasher movie, without gimmicks or post-modern winking. It’s the type of movie I probably would have never saw had it not been for HMAD, but since doing that means I see so many soulless and worthless slashers, it’s also the type of movie where doing HMAD allows me to appreciate its strengths all the more.
What say you?