MAY 24, 2011
The great thing about slasher films is that the script can be overcome if the director knows how to craft scare scenes and/or if the actors bring some charm to the proceedings. Take a movie like Friday the 13th Part 2 – one of the weakest in the series in terms of scares, and it’s little more than a remake of the first film. But folks (including me) love it, in part due to the above averagely memorable characters (in particular Scott the charming creep). Or Halloween – there’s hardly any story at all, but it’s a perfect film due to Carpenter’s deftness behind the camera. Sadly, Fall Down Dead has neither of those elements, and thus becomes an interminable bore.
The script is pretty basic: characters are only given enough backstory for the audience to be able to tell them apart and the dialogue, for the most part, might as well have been written by Clippy. However, the concept is somewhat novel – strangers are trapped in a building along with a serial killer that has been terrorizing the city. The idea of putting a bunch of people who don’t know (or are at odds with) one another in one location and having them face a common enemy is the backbone of a bunch of great horror movies, but I can’t think of another where it’s a known serial killer. Usually it’s zombies or a monster of some sort; not a guy who stepped out of a 1990s Seven wannabe. So at first, while the scenario was being set up, I was fine with the clunky dialogue and erratic performances, because I figured once the killer showed up it would get a lot more exciting/interesting.
Wrong. If anything it just gets worse, primarily due to the fact that director Jon Keeyes inexplicably stages the bulk of the action like a whodunit slasher film. We see that it’s Udo Kier in the very first scene, but yet nearly every death is off-screen, with a body being found or Udo being obscured by shadow or something as he attempts to pick off another victim. It’s really bizarre; first of all if he’s a serial killer he should be more methodical and cunning, and secondly – it’s UDO KIER! Why hide him, or keep him from talking until the final 20 minutes? I almost started to wonder if the movie was re-edited from a version where Udo was one of the people trapped in the building and thus his “reveal” was a surprise. In fact, the disconnect of the opening scene (where we plainly see Udo doing his thing) from the rest of the film suggests maybe I’m not that far from the truth.
And even that would be acceptable if the movie was suspenseful or scary. It seemingly unfolds in real time, and the entire second act is pretty much just people walking slowly around the building looking for Udo and/or a way to escape to safety, with endless, laughably terrible music accompanying every frame. This is where having a great director could make up for the movie’s faults – a Carpenter or Brian De Palma could salvage this stuff. But Keeyes can’t manage a SINGLE good scare or tense moment (something one can blame his editor for as well), and thus it just becomes almost insultingly tedious, especially when you’re not even getting a death scene out of the deal. I may not like Jason Goes To Hell very much, but at least if it’s on I can enjoy a fornicating teen being sliced in half or a dude being tossed on a grill – this movie can’t even offer a simple stabbing!
The performances are no help either. Udo is his usual weird self, and thus there’s no real way to judge whether it’s a good performance or not. But David Carradine (the distributor laughably billed this as “one of his final roles” – it was shot in 2006; he has 34 IMDb credits AFTER this one) seems to think he’s in some sort of broad comedy with his mugging and physical humor (or attempts at it anyway), and Dominique Swain plays nearly every scene in campy hysterics. And then there are two cops; one of whom acts like William H Macy in Fargo, the other overly serious. It’s like some weird exercise where the director told each actor that the tone of the movie was something different than what he told the others.
Most offensive is that they waste a potentially interesting serial killer. Dubbed “The Picasso Killer”, Udo cuts pieces of skin off his victims and makes art from it. We see some of his handiwork at the beginning of the film (I particularly liked the chessboard with dismembered fingers as the pieces), and the idea of art being the backdrop as opposed to the usual pseudo-religious angle was refreshing – I think Stendhal Syndrome was the last combination of art and killing that I saw. But with the borderline slasher setup, they don’t do anything with it; there’s no police investigation or anything of that nature (that would be one colorful “cop looks through books at the library” montage), hell he just shoots a couple of his victims.
There are literally hundreds of slasher movies available, and probably around half as many serial killer films. Fall Down Dead (which sounds like the title of a DTV Seagal flick, no?) may not be the worst of either genre, but it’s certainly one of the most criminally botched. When you have interesting performers and a fairly unique concept, there is no excuse for a movie to be this lackluster.
What say you?