MARCH 3, 2012
When the Machete Joe DVD began with trailers for the underrated Forget Me Not and the upcoming/quite good Absentia, I got excited. If the trailers were in line with the feature, then this would be a good slasher flick worth recommending. Unfortunately, those trailers were followed by Bloodrayne 3, which is much closer in quality to this dreadful bore. Poorly paced, lacking in any good kills, and populated almost exclusively with obnoxious assholes, there is almost nothing to recommend here.
The director of the film is Lee Strasberg’s nephew, which if nothing else should mean that the movie had a great cast. On paper it looks a bit impressive, with Ernie Hudson (as his umpteenth cop) and great character actors like Art Evans and Austin Stoker on board. But as is too often with case with modern horror films, the “names” appear in glorified cameos – the combined screentime of the 3 men is about ten minutes. The rest of the time we are stuck with the largely unknown cast, which is fine in theory – I don’t WANT to recognize the bulk of the cast (and to be fair, the box art does not plaster Hudson’s name anywhere to make it look like he’s a bigger presence than he is). But I DO want them to be good actors and/or playing interesting/likable characters, and that is where Machete Joe fails miserably.
I’m not exaggerating, nearly half of the movie consists of our characters yelling at each other. The movie starts with a fight that turns out to be staged, but a few minutes later they’re bickering for real about different issues concerning the production of their horror movie (yep, it’s another “horror movie crew gets killed” movie), and it almost never stops until the killer shows up, at which point they just start bickering about what to do. I don’t care if it’s about the script or the killer being outside, there is nothing enjoyable about watching people yell at each other unless we’ve already had some reason to care about them. If the next episode of Supernatural is nothing but Sam and Dean screaming in each other’s faces – fine. After 6-7 years, we’ve grown to love these guys and it would be interesting to see this change in the dynamic. But these assholes – we have no affinity for them yet, nor does the movie ever make any real attempt to earn it.
Worse, nothing happens. It takes quite a while for Joe to start offing folks, and the movie can’t even be bothered to create any real chase/stalk scenes – after 2-3 kills his presence is discovered by the 7 or 8 others (big film crew!), so it becomes a repetitive exercise in finding excuses to separate them. Hey, guess what? If you DON’T clue all of your characters into the immediate danger almost right after it begins, you don’t have to come up with stupid reasons for them to go off alone! That’s why the Friday the 13th movies usually work – Jason is considered dead, so it makes sense to go skinny dip in the middle of the night or whatever. And that's a sequel! Originals have even less of an excuse to shoot themselves in the foot this early into the "massacre".
In fact, I actually thought the movie was being meta at one point when the director of the movie in the movie says that there is no full script and that they want to improvise the final 3/4s of the movie – it almost seems like this movie wasn’t written, either. The fact that someone actually had the patience to write out what must have been 45-50 pages of absolutely nothing happening (save for a few fake scares where we see a kill only to discover it’s part of the movie they’re shooting) is far more terrifying than anything in the movie.
They also squander the cool castle location that was used in Alive or Dead (and the less successful Sutures), which I guess is the Linda Vista of isolated castles now. Most of the movie takes place just outside of the thing or in the main hall, and the director gets absolutely zero atmosphere from it. I mean, if you're on a lame set, it's bad enough - when you have a good location and botch it, it's unforgivable. But not as unforgivable is keeping so many of the kills off-screen, which is what happens here. At first I thought it was going to be a whodunit, with the "Machete Joe" legend being used as a decoy not unlike Harry Warden in My Bloody Valentine. But it's not, and they make that clear with quite a bit of the movie left to go, so why is so much of it off-screen? The makeup on Joe is the best thing about the movie - why hide it? Did they only apply it once during the shoot, or something?
The disc's sole extra besides the trailer is 50 minutes of interviews, and they are so poorly edited together that it makes the movie itself look like a masterpiece. Throughout the entire thing we hear this music that kept reminding me of dungeon score from Ocarina Of Time, which often drowns out what is being said (or is awkwardly dropped out for a single line of interview). Though that's fine, since most of what is being said is bullshit: an executive producer claiming that the movie will probably be picked up by a major studio, everyone praising the script and the acting, etc. It's just as much as an endurance test as the movie itself, and the only hints we get as to why it's such a bore is that they apparently had a short schedule (we're told at least twice that they were shooting 7-8 pages a night), so perhaps the script - which apparently took 30 days to write (!!!) - had to be modified to accommodate their abbreviate shoot time. But better filmmakers can make do and still turn out something good, and there's no law that says a movie has to have a 2 month schedule to turn out good. Paranormal Activity only took a week or so. It doesn't matter, however - no amount of on-screen kills or an exciting finale could make up for the film's all but hateful characters. Writing pleasant dialogue costs just as much time and money as the angry version.
What say you?