This was a rather perverse triple feature for a 3-day holiday weekend. I sure know how to pick ‘em. All three films are from the first decade of the new millennium, and interestingly, they decrease in shock value as time goes by…
I put off streaming this film for so long because it sounded like nothing more than a repulsive piece of torture porn…and because the only version available for streaming cuts out all the repulsive shit. The unedited version – banned in many places – was at some point available on DVD, but it’s long out of print, worth a pretty penny, and not something I’d want to have in my collection because it sounds really heinous.
So despite my curiosity to know just how loathsome the director’s cut of Murder-Set-Pieces is, I’m glad I went with the censored version, because it actually gave me throwback vibes to the video nasties of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s about a psycho rapist/killer photographer who isn’t exactly good at hiding what a freak he is in his daily life. He won’t have sex with his pretty girlfriend and says some fucked up shit in front of her young sister, yet the girlfriend acts like there’s absolutely nothing disconcerting about it. The little sister, on the other hand, is pretty convinced he’s a sick fuck, so he eventually sets his sights on killing her.
At least…that’s the rated cut of the film I watched. I read an extensive comparison between the R-rated cut and the uncut versions, and they are really two very different films. Several of the stills I’ve included here aren’t even in the version I watched. Most of the vile torture and murders are completely left out of this cut, scenes are rearranged or missing completely, and there are even some character-focused scenes in this version that aren’t in the uncut version.
The edited version seemed to me like an edgier take on the general The Stepfather plot, with plenty of focus on the young girl as the main girl. It sounds like the uncut version is much more focused on the revolting acts of the killer, which highly offended viewers who felt the excessive, over-the-top graphic content failed to explain why he did such awful things.
Um…neither did Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What the fuck do people want from gore porn about a guy who violently rapes, beats, mutilates, and kills women (and apparently eats their corpses in the uncut version)?
Are these gore whores looking for a built-in excuse for watching such perversion? “Well, yeah it’s sick and twisted, but these scenes are an integral part of the plot because they help me better understand the emotional state of the character and the role a cruel and uncaring society has played on his development.” You don’t have to go into torture porn looking for a social message—there are plenty of old After School Specials on YouTube.
Besides, even the edited version offers more than enough of a look into the killer’s mind. The dude’s grandfather was a Nazi. He has PTSD-like reactions to nightmares about catastrophic events such as the Twin Towers attack (yeah, it went there in 2004). He has trippy dreams of playing on train tracks as a little boy, being beckoned by sexy women, and playing with dolls. He doesn’t make love to his girlfriend, but violently rapes women then mutilates them. He pumps iron and has a photo collage of his own flexed body plastered on his torture dungeon wall.
I definitely picked up some suggestions of classic repressed homosexual tendencies here. Even a brief scene of him visiting a mentor, played by original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen, has a weirdly queer undertone. And because I didn’t watch the version in which we see lead actor Sven Garrett doing truly vile things to women, it’s much easier for me to look at him through a very homoerotic lens at various times during the film considering he’s so damn pretty.
That’s not to say there’s no horror in the edited version. It’s just watered down to more standard levels of modern slasher gore—although, the killer’s torture dungeon was plenty gross and macabre. There’s also implied brutality, such as the killer inserting rows of sharpened human teeth into his mouth (nasty) before approaching his victim. It’s very easy for our minds to fill in the blanks when the scene cuts at that moment.
There’s also a scene in a porn shop that feels oddly out of place, yet is one of my faves. The killer comes in asking for a snuff film, store shop owner Tony Todd tries to kick him out, and suddenly some manic thieves bust into the store and shoot the fuck out of everyone and everything! WTF? Shit just goes full-on exploitation crazy! And in true exploitation flick fashion, this insane moment (and every insane crime the killer commits in the uncut version) seems to be taking place without getting any attention from the authorities.
The look Tony Todd gives you when you ask him for a snuff film.
As a self-referential in-joke, the snuff film the killer asks for by name is actually the title of director Nick Palumbo’s first low budget horror flick Nutbag, a similarly themed movie about of a violent psycho killer who also gets onscreen beefcake and blood moments…
The final act of Murder-Set-Pieces goes pretty dang old school. It’s Halloween, the killer is stalking the younger sister at school, and she ends up hitching a ride with the mother of all hitchhikers, Edwin Neal of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s pretty awesome to see a young girl playing such a strong final girl. The scene of the killer chasing her comes complete with a cool 80s-style synth score, she ends up in his disgusting lair, there are body reveals galore, and she fights back hard.
But best of all has to be the jump scare when he first pops out at her, covered in blood, and literally…LITERALLY…barks, “RAWR!” Like, the killer totally brings the scares down to tween level terror. This final segment alone made me a fan of the film. And even former Power Ranger/scream queen Cerina Vincent (Fear Runs Silent, Cabin Fever, Intermedio, It Waits, Sasquatch Mountain, Return to House on Haunted Hill, Freaks of Nature, Tales of Halloween) makes a last second cameo.
However, I know for sure that if I had seen the uncut version it would probably have been too late to save the film for me, because the stuff that goes on is really, really bad.
THE THIRST (2006)
Director Jeremy Kasten (All Souls Day, The Wizard of Gore remake, Attic Expeditions) brings the vamp clan mentality of The Lost Boys and Near Dark into the 21st century with this quirky, blood soaked sex romp featuring an awesome cast. Any movie that starts with a vampire deep throating a prostitute with a lamp has a lot to live up to, and The Thirst definitely does.
Adorable Matt Keesler (Psycho Beach Party, Scream 3, Jekyll, Cold Storage) is a druggy in rehab. Clare Kramer – aka: Glory of Buffy fame – is his stripper girlfriend, but not for long. She dies.
After giving him some time to mourn, Matt’s friends, including cutie Erik Palladino of Dead & Breakfast, drag him to a club, where he is greeted by a submissive boy who takes a liking to him, played by another Buffy alum, Tom Lenk (aka: gay Andrew).
So Matt has an “in” to the forbidden back room when he catches a glimpse of his late girlfriend in the club, looking more beautiful and apparently alive than ever.
Turns out the club is just a cover for a good old vampire restaurant run by another Dead & Breakfast alum, cutie Jeremy Sisto, and his evil sidekick, Neil Jackson, who happened to play the big bad vamp in the Blade TV series!
Because Matt witnesses the fucking awesome back room splatterfest feast from hell, the vamp clan gives Clare an ultimatum…turn Matt or kill him.
She turns him and creates a monster, which means loads more gore.
This movie is bathed in blood and guts, Matt Keesler is shirtless a lot and even shows off the booty.
There are also some moments between Matt and Jeremy that are totally filled with delicious sexual vampire tension.
It’s up to Clare to rescue Matt from the dark side, by which I mean his new addiction…to blood. The Thirst is my kind of b-movie trash. And the scenes in which lovers completely surrender to allowing their vamp partners to turn them are some of the most stomach-turning explorations of trust and commitment I’ve ever seen on celluloid.
RED CANYON (2008)
Several years after a brother and sister are victims of a horrible attack in the middle of some The Hills Have Eyes wasteland that’s supposedly their fricking hometown, they return to face their past, and bring along a bunch of friends. Naturally, they are about to go through that shit all over again.
In a confusing effort to make the big reveal at the end of this film a shock, the first half constantly bombards us with flashbacks the sister is having that we are never sure are flashbacks because they seem to be happening at the moment. And because she has formed a mental block as to what she experienced, they are also false memories. Frustrating, obnoxious, and makes the first half of this film pretty unbearable.
And of course we have some dipshit friends and other backwoods slasher clichés (or back desert in this case). The group gets stopped by a cop, the arrogant asshole in the group – who’s from Jersey with a hot bod and drugs stuffed down his crotch – mouths off to the cop, the cop turns out to be the main girl’s ex-boyfriend, the group has a run-in with the local bad boys, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…
Oh. One of the local bad boys is Norman Reedus, and his hair is already greasy and in need of a washing, two years before The Walking Dead even started.
Then all of a sudden, Reedus is arrested for harassing them and a chunk of the film gets really good right in the middle. The kids are terrorized by a masked psycho in the house at night.
The lights go out, some of them are brutally killed, there are some suspenseful chase scenes that end up in underground tunnels…
Then just as suddenly, it’s daylight, there’s a really lame unmasking, and true flashback reveal what really happened that horrible day several years before…and why the sister blocked it out and the brother didn’t. Let’s just say someone could write a thesis arguing that Red Canyon is actually a prequel to The Hills Have Eyes that gives the backstory of just how those deformed freaks came into existence. No, I’m not writing it.