MAY 20, 2011
For some reason I thought Killing Spree was a Troma release, but I doubt most folks could tell the difference while watching it anyway. In fact, it’s more Troma-esque than last week’s Rabid Grannies, supposedly a Belgium filmmaker’s attempt at making a Troma movie, which impressed Uncle Lloyd enough to distribute it. And since the director of Killing Spree goes on and on about his troubles getting the film distributed, I’m curious why he didn’t just go with Troma, saving himself the trouble and me the confusion in one move.
Anyway, as plotless independent 16mm films from the late 80s that were designed specifically for home video release go, it’s not that bad. As long as you don’t ever take the story or characters seriously, I think there’s enough here to warrant a viewing; there are enough murders and out-of-nowhere acts of casual violence (love when he just punches a guy at the beach for no reason) to entertain a drunken crowd. The FX are pretty fake-looking, but I was charmed by the obvious enthusiasm behind them – any movie that has a ceiling fan equipped with machete blades is a winner in my book, even if the resulting “scalped” effect looks like a hat made out of play-dough (and what’s with the orange blood? Y’all using Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee sauce or something?). Some of the deaths are pretty creative too; I particularly enjoyed when our killer tore out a dude’s intestine and connected the end to an electric source: Intest-ocution!
There are two major blunders though. One is the lack of nudity. Normally I wouldn’t care, but the movie is about a guy who suspects his wife is banging every guy that moves, and we’re kept in the dark until near the end whether or not it’s just in his head or not. But either way, we see like 4-5 “sex” scenes with porno like setups (in one day she gets a delivery man, a landscaper, and an electrician), but no nudity. It just sort of sticks out, as if the movie was edited (or the production couldn’t find/afford an actress willing to disrobe). There’s the old joke that an actress will take her top off “if it’s important to the story”, but in this case it kind of is, especially when instead we get characters doing really awkward things in order to prevent anything from being shown. At one point she’s seducing the electrician and takes 30 seconds to take down the covers on the bed, crawl inside, and put them back over her fully clothed chest – just fuck already!
The other is a whacked out ending that is both idiotic (even by this movie’s standards) and kind of grim, which certainly doesn’t fit the tone. Unsurprisingly, we find out that the wife hasn’t been cheating, but writing down story ideas in order to sell them to a smut mag in order to earn some extra cash for the house, as the husband just got a pay cut at work. It’s the sort of sad irony that doesn’t really belong in this sort of movie, which features dialogue like “You screw my wife, I screwdriver your head!”. But then, out of nowhere, all of the victims in the movie return to life as zombies and try to kill them, and after failing, tell the husband to kill his wife and they’ll call it even. Instead, he kills himself. Finally! The blend of Toxic Avenger, Creepshow, and Serbian Film that you’ve all been demanding!
The problem with doing this sort of thing at the end is that it starts to make me wonder if I was supposed to be taking anything else serious. I was having a good time, thinking the movie was deliberately trashy and stupid, but then this rather dark, laugh-free ending comes along. And then further thinking reveals that maybe the filmmaker just didn’t know what the hell he was doing, and thus the goofs in the movie (like when the TV repairman puts the fixed TV down on and says “Good as new!” without even plugging it in to see if it worked) may not have been intentionally cheesy moments but actual mistakes. Also, this means that the shifts in tone and out of nowhere plot twists are probably the result of a guy merely ripping off a bunch of movies he really loved without putting any thought into how they’d blend together in the end. His appreciation for the genre is readily evident throughout the movie, not only does Fangoria keep popping up (the old lady who lives next door even steals an issue!), but there are shots directly referencing Evil Dead, Maniac, and Creepshow. All genre faves, sure, but you don’t combine them all (plus others) in one narrative unless you’re making some sort of spoof/parody thing. And if so, you don’t end it on a suicide.
And if you weren’t aware of the influences just from watching the movie, his commentary track will certainly tip you off. He says “Sam Raimi” about 100 times over the course of the movie, plus points out all of the other references, including some that didn’t really dawn on me (the machetes were apparently specifically in reference to Jason – I just figured it was a common dangerous object that would work well in a ceiling fan). When he’s not helping out the editors of the IMDb “Movie Connections” page, he’s going on and on about various production issues (“anyway, back to the story” pops up a lot, as if the things he says that are actually scene-specific are some sort of interruption) and his issues getting the film funded/distributed. To his credit, he’s fairly candid about the whole thing, pointing out all of the different fights between cast/crew members that were going on during one particular day of shooting and stuff like that. The only problem is that all of the detail about how he got the film funded/distributed isn’t going to help any budding filmmaker listening 20 years later, so unless this is your favorite film of all time and you want to know every detail about its existence, a lot of this stuff is just kind of dull.
But it’s certainly better than the making of documentary, which I should have known would be a chore when it began with nearly four full minutes of Debbie Rochon (who isn’t part of the production) bemoaning how movies like this aren’t mentioned in the same breath as “horror classics” like Seven and Jurassic Park (weird examples to use, Ms. Rochon), and fawning all over Ritter. Ritter then talks about himself for a while before we get about 10-15 minutes worth of local news footage on the movie’s audition phase – again, not interesting to anyone but the president of the Killing Spree Fan Club. The actual behind the scenes stuff is fun (especially when the real name of lead actor “Asbestos Felt” is inadvertently revealed); you get to see a lot of the DIY methods involved with pulling off the special effects, and the gung ho attitude of the small crew trying to make a feature film with such minimal resources/money – I love that sort of stuff. Unfortunately, after each 5-10 minute sequence about how a particular scene was shot, we have to watch the entire scene play out. Ultimately, this 80+ minute documentary should have been closer to a half hour or so, and by the time it reached the end I was actually starting to hate the movie. Indeed, there is another commentary by Felt and some of the other actors, but I think I’ll skip it – my opinion of the movie was already weakened a bit by its own extras. Maybe I’m off-base, but I got a sense that Ritter and co. are a bit bitter, and also harbor some unearned egos. Either way, I’m curious to see one of their more recent films; one thing I was impressed with is that he has actually made 6-7 films since this; a lot of these indie guys from the 80s never really did much else again (i.e. Robert Scott, who wrote/directed The Video Dead and then went into a career as a 2nd AD), so grats to them for keeping at it.
What say you?