SEPTEMBER 7, 2015
A few years ago I had an idea for a giallo send-up, but never really developed it because I realized I hadn't seen as many films in the sub-genre as I wish I could say I had, and thus I felt under-qualified to joke about them, even lovingly. The team at Astron-6 either didn't have that hang-up (or, more likely, had just seen more of them), because The Editor is more or less in line with what I would have done, which is to make up a new giallo story (as opposed to directly parodying a particular film) but present it in a comical way that pays tribute while also taking the piss out of some of the sub-genre's traditions. The black gloves, the misogynist heroes, the nonsensical asides that don't add up... it's all here, and for the most part it works a lot better than I expected it to.
In fact, the only major issue is that the performances are all over the place, with some of the actors playing it straight (and thus making it funnier), while others are stopping just shy of actually winking at the camera. When the biggest offender is one of the writer/directors (Matthew Kennedy) it's hard to really say he's "doing it wrong", because it's kind of his call - but I much preferred Adam Brooks' (also writer/director) more subdued performance, as it felt more like something I would really see in one of these movies (ditto Udo Kier, who has a brief role as a doctor that could easily have been transplanted from a genuine entry). I can only assume they figured the joke would be TOO subtle unless some of the actors were letting you know that they were in on the joke (ditto for the dubbing; only a couple characters are dubbed, enough to enjoy the reference without it overpowering the movie), and they might be right.
Because it's actually a pretty good story! They smartly combine an older, standard murder mystery with a more modern (well, modern for the giallo heyday, meaning the 80s) reflexive concept, as our primary characters are the cast/crew of a genre film, a production that is getting quite chaotic as people keep dying. The producer vows to keep shooting at all costs, so maybe the killer is one of the actors, murdering co-stars to beef up his/her role? Or is it the title character, who is said to have spent time in an institution after cutting off some of his own fingers (and nearly killing a colleague) in a bizarre accident? I wouldn't say it's IMPOSSIBLE to figure it out, but it's actually fairly satisfying as a mystery, with the weirdo supernatural elements (such as the editor transporting into his Steenbeck) adding some of that Fulci flair (The Beyond is just as much an influence as Deep Red or whatever). At times, it's actually more successful than Berberian Sound Studio, which was the straight version of a similar story - not a bad feat for a "parody".
And that's the thing, it's more in line with Naked Gun or the recent They Came Together in that it's not doing any direct parodies of any particular film (i.e. the Hot Shots style) - it's just a funny version of the general idea of one. Sure, you might spot a direct reference to Murder Rock or even Dressed to Kill (!), but these are just quick plot points of little consequence - the overall concept and major scenes are wholly original, just "at home" within the sub-genre. It's a tough thing to pull off (and even harder to market - They Came Together was basically sent direct to video for this reason), and I think you genuinely have to love the movies to do it. Like a good roast, you can't just be mocking the roastee out of nowhere - it has to come from a place of real affection. Like, I could do something like this for slashers fairly well (well, if I had any skill as a screenwriter I mean), but if I did a haunted house version it'd just be me mercilessly mocking its tropes and saying "fuck you" to the basic idea of them. I think that's why the Epic Movie guys are so bad at what they do - they're just mocking whatever's popular, instead of taking on a type of movie they care about. You don't have to think the movies are infallible (because they're not), but you DO have to love them anyway, or else you'll end up with cynical crap.
Since the Astron-6 team was behind Manborg (albeit with the core members taking different roles), I was afraid that they'd use visual FX for the blood, since they seem to like that "intentionally fake" aesthetic and also because I know they don't work with very high budgets (a lot of indie producers I have talked to claim that they have to go digital with their blood because they don't have time/resources to do it on set, forced to get it done cheap/free in post production). But no! They spray gallons of the good stuff, and even have two kinds - a more realistic looking dark red, and a more pinkish one for the in-movie scenes, matching the "melted crayon" look of those older films. The digital photography betrays them, but otherwise they have done a pretty good job of matching the look of the films that influenced it - it's got the vivid colors, the zooms, the bold font for the credits (I particularly appreciated that touch), and the music - even some by Claudio Simonetti himself (sourced, I assume - I'm not enough of a connoisseur to know for sure).
As with Manborg (I still haven't seen Father's Day! I should fix that) the disc comes jam-packed with bonus features, including a nearly hour long documentary about its production. As you can expect, it wasn't the smoothest shoot, with the crew almost entirely running out of money with only 20% of its scenes shot, picture cars not working (you get to see Kennedy attempt to finish breaking off the muffler that was already hanging on the ground), and occasional other snafus, the sort of thing you'll never see on a studio Blu-ray. The commentary by Kennedy, Brooks, and co-writer/star Conor Sweeney is also pretty fun; they point out some of the references and other production snafus not covered in the making of, and heap praises on all of their crew (I also enjoyed the note that they actually had the money to pay someone to do one particular effect and thus demanded perfection). There are also a few deleted scenes of minor merit; I think they cut the best joke about the cop slapping the female characters around (it's something of a running gag), but the others were good calls to delete. The other bonus features are a bit too jokey for my tastes (like the poster artist having a sci-fi machine create the art for him), as the "no one is getting paid" gag wears a bit thin, but they're quirky and thus in line with the DIY feel of Astron's productions.
The Editor is for such a specific audience that I can't imagine it will be a big seller for Scream Factory right out of the gate, but I think this will continue to find fans for a long time. It's not perfect (it could be shorter for sure) and there will always be people thinking that they're mocking these movies without any love for them (something the making of should make clear isn't the case, with one of the directors arguing to shoot a scene a different way so that it feels more like The Beyond than CSI - you don't get THAT into it when you just want to make fun of something for the hell of it), but I like what they were going for, and appreciative of the parts that nailed it. The problem with a lot of these modern "love letter" movies is that they're not adding anything of value of their own, but that's not the case here. Astron-6 has created a giallo plot that I wish I could have seen done for real, and I just take solace knowing that when I laugh at it, it's intentional.
What say you?