JUNE 2, 2010
A slasher movie with Steve Guttenberg? Awesome! Sign me u- wait, what? What the hell is Steve Guttenberg doing in a slasher movie? Well, not much. In one of the worst stunt-casting blunders in recent memory, top-billed (and easily most famous) Guttenberg only appears for a few minutes in the opening scenes of Cornered!, only to take off while the other characters play poker upstairs from a convenience store that is being stalked by a killer. Then he shows up again near the end, when almost everyone else is dead. Anyone want to take a guess as to who the killer is?
Well, I mean, props to the guy for trying something new, but perhaps if he was more familiar with horror movies he, like everyone watching, would know he was the killer right off the bat, and chosen something a little meatier for his horror debut. Even if the character was played by some unknown, it would be obvious that he was killer, because the movie doesn’t give us any other options - all of the other characters are accounted for during the kill scenes, as they’re all playing the least likely game of poker I’ve ever seen (seriously, no one seems to actually want to play except the guy running it, who doesn’t seem to like any of the people he’s invited anyway). Add that to the movie rule that states if a recognizable actor is playing a thankless, minor role in a horror movie, then he’s the killer, and you have the least exciting “reveal” in slasher history. Seriously, it’s more of a surprise when you find out the killer in Friday the 13th part 7 was Jason Voorhees.
Even more troublesome is James Duval, playing his umpteenth burnout moron. Nothing against the guy, but would it kill him to turn down a script that calls for this kind of character? Even Jason Mewes steps outside of the Jay persona every now and then. But really, it’s not even so much that he’s playing the same character again (that was expected as soon as I saw his name in the credits), it’s that he is seemingly tasked with trying to distract us away from the fact that this is a very thin premise, and thus takes up what seems like 10 straight minutes of the movie as he begins to hallucinate that the cockroaches in the apartment/store are banding together to kill him. It’s not really played for laughs (as he’s actually been cut off from his dealer and is thus suffering withdrawal - hardly a joking matter), so I can think of no other purpose for this sequence than to extend the running time. I think the minute you have to start shopping around for an effects house to create the CGI cockroaches in the middle of your slasher movie, should be the minute you realize that your script needs work.
To its credit, it does provide a more varied lot of characters than usual. I’m still unsure why any of these people are friends (and they seemingly hang out in the convenience store as if it were a bar or coffee shop - buy your goddamn coffee and cigarettes and go home!), but they’re definitely a notch above the usual moron teens. In addition to Duval, we get TWO overweight folks who appear to be in their 30s: one’s a woman who moonlights as a phone sex operator, and the other is a Kevin James-esque lovable loser who eats something like 9 donuts over the course of the film (which takes place over a few hours), plus the guy who owns the store, a middle aged Mexican guy who plans to sell his business and create some sort of rewards program at McDonalds that would allow you to use the bathroom based on past purchases, as he is fed up with the “bathroom for customers only” rule. Our last protagonist is the closest to a traditional slasher movie character - a (very) beautiful blond girl played by Elizabeth Nicole. But she plays a hooker, so it’s still a bit outside the norm. And writer Darrin Grimwood (working from a story by director Daniel Maze) makes them all likable and well rounded, but it seems more like another way to pad the running time than an attempt to provide more interesting characters for once, since they eventually all fall into the usual slasher movie traps (going off alone, dismissing obvious signs of danger, etc).
See, there’s only so much you can do in a single, traditional location, which is why the Friday the 13th and Halloween films often take place in a few cabins/houses. If the characters cannot be conceivably off on their own for a while, then the filmmakers have to keep them together as long as possible, which is why we have to watch the characters play poker and talk about their McDonalds Frequent Shitter program (plus the phone sex gal takes a call, which we hear pretty much every word of), and watch Duval freak out about all of the CGI cockroaches around him. None of this shit has anything to do with the movie, it’s just there to get it up to an 85 minute run time. Even something like The Strangers was forced to eventually leave the home, and that was a movie designed to be a taut suspense exercise, not a slasher flick. Plus, it limits the variety to the kill scenes - all but one occur as a result of a character going downstairs into the store (the poker game is in the apartment above) in order to see where the last character went. And they never really provide a convincing reason for the rest to stay upstairs anyway - it’s not like a Friday film where they have to go out in the rain in the dark, or near the cold lake, or whatever - they just have to go down a flight of stairs into a closed store that’s still lit well enough for cheap security cameras to see everything.
That’s actually another issue that got annoying - the owner has a wall of monitors in the living room right next to where they are playing poker, and at one point Nicole begins complaining that one of them has gone in and out of focus (she gets REALLY mad about it for some reason - it’s possibly the most “Huh?” moment in the film). Yet it’s not until the very end that any of them see the killer wandering around. And we know he’s inside, because in another horribly contrived moment, the Paul Blart guy manages to trap them all inside by boarding up the entire door after the glass is broken.
It’s a shame that Grimwood couldn’t have applied the same “a bit different” approach to the plot and structure that he did for the characters, because I think they could have had a really solid and surprising modern slasher film. No slasher film holds up to real world logic, but some of this stuff is just completely ridiculous, and having the realistic, blue collar characters just makes these contrived moments stick out even more. They could have at least gone up to the roof at one point or something, or had the killer come up to the apartment; ANYTHING to mix it up a bit and add some variety to the visual palette.
Luckily, the kills deliver. It’s not terribly gory, but the kills are each unique and ironic (the killer dispatches them in the manner that they suggest be done to him, who is in the news for killing others). Also, I don’t want to spoil things, but I was continually surprised by who died and in what order, which is incredibly rare for a slasher film. Nothing as shocking as say, Randy in Scream 2, but if that was a home run, this movie has a pair of doubles.
It’s interesting - I remember back when Kevin Williamson was adapting I Know What You Did Last Summer, he said that he had to change the identity of the killer because in the book he was two characters, something that worked on the page (as he would interact with some characters with his A identity, and others with his B identity), but wouldn’t work in the film as you would know it was the same actor. I think something similar was at play here - I’m sure on the page, it was a big surprise to everyone reading that the killer was Morty the delivery guy, and things like “Jimmy sees a cockroach” probably took up far fewer pages than it ended up taking in the film, so it was probably a terrific read. Sadly, it isn’t as successful when translated for the screen. It's passable slasher fare to be sure, but it could have been a real winner with a little more thought.
The DVD has a brief making of, which is mainly the actors talking about their characters, and Guttenberg gushing about how much fun he had and how nice everyone was. We also get to see some of the work done to create the CGI cockroaches, so there’s that. At the top of the disc is a trailer reel, which for some reason includes the trailer for Cornered!, instead of something, you know, that you AREN’T ALREADY WATCHING! It also has Midnight Movie, which has been out for well over a year (this disc just came out). Shouldn’t they be pushing new/not what you’re watching stuff? Nice work, Lightning Media.
What say you?