SEPTEMBER 13, 2011
The next time I need to explain why it’s so important to have a movie end on a high note, I think I’ll use Sweatshop as an example. As my Twitter followers can attest, I all but hated the movie at first, thanks to applying a classic slasher structure (meaning: one or no kills in the first half) to a film populated with horribly annoying characters. But once the killer showed up and started decimating these idiots in wonderfully gory (and practical!) fashion, it picked up and I started enjoying myself, ultimately walking away a fan.
And a big part of that was the wonderfully gonzo finale, where everything really came together. With most of the cast dead, there wasn’t as much of the gutter dialogue that would make Rob Zombie’s characters blush, so they were already ahead of the game, but even then I was finally being amused by it instead of appalled. There’s a bit where two of the male characters are about to die and one confesses to the other that he had been with his wife, going into needlessly specific detail about what exactly they did (paraphrasing: “We didn’t fuck, we just made out for four hours and then she blew me...”), which is the sort of random shit I love. And then there’s a mini twist of sorts that I won’t spoil, but it addressed what I thought was a plot hole of sorts in a very satisfying way, allowing for more kills than expected and a hilarious final shot.
Also, even when I wasn’t really enjoying it (i.e. the first half hour), I admired the production team’s commitment to making an intentionally repulsive slasher movie. At times I was reminded of See No Evil, which was another “hulking brute” sleazo-slasher with unlikable protagonists, but while that film eventually went into more typical territory (back-story for the killer, anti-hero turned real hero, etc), this one never stopped reminding us that our characters were selfish assholes. No one makes any attempt to save anyone but themselves or even really fights back against the killer, they just want to get the hell away if they can. I know I come down hard on these sort of characters, but in a way, I’d rather never like them then have them suddenly turn into typical hero characters out of nowhere. Plus, it’s been a long time since there’s been a masked killer who was also, well, fat. Nowadays, masks are primarily used for whodunit style slashers, which means everyone in the cast has to have a similar build – nice to have that bit of mystery (he is never unmasked) but also allow him to be physically imposing to the rest of the cast. I don’t want to say he’s a slasher icon just yet, but he makes a great first impression and passes the basic test – would you want an action figure of him? (Yes.)
Besides, I’ve said all along that I’m more concerned with how well a movie succeeds at what it set out to do than pretty much anything else, and there is no evidence in the film that they wanted us to like these folks, or even tell a good story. Their concept appeared to be “let’s do a sleazy late 80s style slasher about punk/goth types partying and getting killed”, and that’s exactly what they delivered. They didn’t “fail” at coming up with a good back-story for their killer, they just didn’t find it necessary (and if it wasn’t obvious enough in the film, they clarify it in the commentary, pointing out that it wasn’t until the sequels that we knew the backstory of Leatherface, who was an obvious influence).
It’s also in the commentary that they actually make a really great point about the likeability of their characters, using something I believe Carpenter said about “the final girl”. Carpenter (or whoever it was, but I can almost HEAR him saying it) believed that the final girl was the one who does exactly what a person should do to remain alive, i.e. be smart and aware of their surroundings. Thus, in this particular scenario, where you’re up against a giant killer wielding a four foot hammer, being smart won’t really help you much, and your best bet of survival is to kind of be an asshole. And for that I hope this commentary (and this review) never gets listened/read much, because then we’ll get a bunch of less intelligent filmmakers claiming “Yeah that’s what I wanted to do too!” (but just forgot to mention it on their own commentaries, I guess).
I should also admit that after the asinine Creature, seeing on-screen and creative kills was a relief. Even though the hammer is used for pretty much every kill, there’s a lot of variety here, with people being smashed to a pulp, getting their heads knocked clean off, or (in the movie’s best kill) battered through a mesh fence. And there are refreshingly few off-screen kills, so that’s another plus. Look, when it comes to slashers, creative kills may actually be low on my list of priorities (story/technical prowess is first), but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them when done right, and again, they weren’t really concerned with doing those other things. Something like Creature, they didn’t do ANYTHING right, let alone whatever it was they were supposedly trying to achieve (unless they wanted to make the best PG-13 rated incest moment in recent movie history, then they pretty much pulled it off).
Ultimately, the only thing that really drove me nuts was the constant cutting and zooming, particularly during the kill scenes. It’s the sort of style that can be used to great effect in certain scenes, but its overkill here, and not always well done either. Imagine they style of the “Ash gets prepared” sequence from Army of Darkness applied to roughly half the movie, and not as well done (it looks all hand-held, for starters), and you can probably get a good idea of how it looks. At one point there’s something like 40 cuts in 10 seconds, which would give Michael Bay a headache. It also runs a bit long, a full 90 minutes for a plotless movie is a bit odd, and they definitely could have sped up the opening some (or just cut the prologue with the cop – it’s a lame kill and has no bearing on anything).
Oh, and while I love that they are influenced by Carpenter scores, I wish they had just stolen some cues outright instead of playing the same tiny bit of (very late 80s Carpenter sounding) music over and over. They also use very Halloween-esque stings way too much; even Carpenter is embarrassed by those nowadays! May sound silly for this particular movie, but less is more, folks.
In a way I was kind of disappointed that the extras were so slim; no behind the scenes material of any sort save for a few random set photos. Even a look at the creation of the hammer would have been cool. Instead we just get the photos, a motion comic that plays too fast to read in spots (it’s not a true motion comic, it’s just a filmed actual comic book layout set to music – best to pause/fast forward at your own pace since the song is just some techno nonsense), and the commentary, which is definitely worth a listen. Director/editor/ton of other stuff Stacy Davidson, co-writer Ted Geoghegan, and associate producer John Torrani never stop talking throughout the runtime, and appreciably divide their time between discussing their influences and relating production information. It’s clear that they’re happy with their film and know what they’re doing, which as of late is more than enough to earn my approval (have you read my Badass Digest article about folks who DON’T?), and again, they actually mount good defenses for things that I might otherwise look down at. They also briefly discuss 100 Tears (Geoghegan worked on that film, and Tears director Marcus Koch worked a bit on this one) and give props to bit actor Fernando Phagabeefy, a terrific performer that also appears in Chillerama – I think that dude’s going places.
So it won’t be for everyone, and even I can’t defend much about the first half hour or so, but if you can stomach the behavior of these (intentionally obnoxious) dolts and don’t get motion sickness from all the zooms, you will be rewarded with one of the most satisfying climaxes in recent slasher memory, plus the debut of what I hope will be a returning killer.
What say you?