DECEMBER 8, 2011
Like Forget Me Not, Needle is an above average modern slasher with a cool hook, and one that I could have watched at Screamfest had I not taken off for something else (in this case, a different movie – the 2010 New Bev all nighter). But while I regret my decision on Forget Me Not, I think Needle is perfectly suited for a home rental – it’s fun and well made, but hardly demands the big screen treatment, and it’s got a few minor blunders that kept it from being a home run.
The most successful element was the gonzo kill scenes, which were based on voodoo doll torture. You know the drill – break the voodoo doll’s arm, and the arm on its human counterpart suddenly jerks in an unnatural way. But here, they go all out, as the doll is made out of what looks like a soap bar of some sort. So when they break an arm off, the human’s arm also breaks off, resulting in one rather hilariously dark aftermath for one character, where you see no less than 10 body parts with evidence markers lying around the floor where he was “snapped to death” right before another man’s eyes.
And thus it’s a shame that we only see a few such deaths, with the others off-screen. In order to keep the whodunit mystery afloat as long as possible, after a while the movie just becomes a series of finding people already dead, and I assume the director hopes that you’ll be too caught up in the excitement to keep an accurate count regarding who was still alive. But it doesn’t quite work, and the reveal of the killer is rather anticlimactic, because (half spoiler) it’s just one of the hero’s friends that we largely lost track of around the halfway point.
See, this is the rare slasher that actually seems interested in building up real characters, and thus a heavy chunk of the movie is devoted to the strained relationship between Ben the hero and his older brother Marcus, a crime scene photographer who gets involved after the first murder. They had a falling out a while back, the older brother reaches out to no avail, eventually the ice cracks, etc. It’s hardly the most exciting or original subplot, but it’s much more than you usually get out of a slasher, and reminded me a bit of Witchboard (minus the homoeroticism), so that’s always nice.
The problem is, they spend so much time on these two, neither of whom are viable suspects, and you forget about the rest of Ben’s pals, one of whom is obviously the killer once the 1-2 other characters are found dead. It really could have been any one of them, and it would make little difference, as we never really got to know any them beyond their names and how they related to each other. You think of Urban Legend (which I did, since Jamie Blanks actually composed this film), and the core group all had enough of their own screentime and personality to potentially make for a satisfying killer – here, it was like “oh, them. OK, why not.” Even when they provide their motive, it’s of little use – there hasn’t been enough time spent with this character (or the others) to feel any sort of sympathy for their tragic loss. Billy was a douche in Scream, but I still felt a bit bad for the poor sod, with his mother abandoning him because his dad was screwing around with Sid’s mom.
But until that point, it’s an enjoyable slasher/supernatural hybrid, with the Final Destination-y kills adding flair and the likable group of kids a welcome throwback to slashers of yore, before everyone became an asshole. I also liked the box at the center of it all, which was a Hellraiser-ish contraption involving lots of gears and such, but worked like old-school voodoo – put a photo of your target in the right place, use a needle on a doll, and voila! They’re dead. The killer even wore black gloves in these scenes, a nice little Giallo touch.
I also enjoyed the brief turn by the great John Jarratt as a coroner who Marcus was friendly with; a man who would provide info or look the other way in exchange for a nice cup of coffee. I wish there was more of him. I also liked the teacher, played by (original) V’s Jane Badler, who is now in her 50s but still looks terrific. The kids play a prank on her early on, but I don’t get why – she seems like a fairly fun and witty professor (she even makes a joke about the prank), and helps Ben locate more info on his new “toy”. Really, they did a fine job all around both with casting and creating characters – it just seems like the editing (the movie is under 90 minutes) betrayed their efforts.
Also betraying them is the disc’s sole extra feature, a making of that shows the shooting of at least one scene that was taken out of the final cut. In fact even before I watched it I thought that the film, even with the condensed time spent with the group, lacked a scene of one character finding out that another had died, as the two were particularly close – and here it is in the damn making of. It’s the sort of scene that really could helped the movie work better, so I am baffled that they cut it. The rest is nothing special, just the actors talking about their roles and writer/director John Soto covering all the bases in that vague, largely pointless way that only a 20 minute making of can provide. There’s an amusing bit where it starts raining in the middle of a take, though, and I like that they talk for 60 seconds about a cop character who appears for maybe half as much time in the film itself (another victim of editing?).
So it’s not perfect, and even a longer cut probably wouldn’t be able to help the fact that it sticks to the whodunit slasher formula a bit too rigidly, but it’s enjoyable and solidly made, which is all I can ask for these days. And it’s always good to see another Australian import, as I think they’re the next region to make a big splash in horror, like Asian films in the early 00s, or French films 4-5 years ago. Go Aussies! Prove me right!
What say you?