Camp Motion Pictures // 1991 // 118 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 31st, 2007
Pretty is as pretty dead.
And pretty awful.
Remember your first camcorder? How exciting it was that you, too, could now be a moviemaker? Maybe you even wrote scripts, got your friends together, and shot your own mini-epics, just like the kind you saw on the big screen. You didn't have to worry about audio: the camera had its own microphone, and you didn't even have to edit, you could just shoot a scene, stop the camera, set up the next scene, and keep shooting. Remember how you'd get your friends and family together for the big "premiere," and everyone would sit politely for a while, watching your opus unfold?
Remember the sinking feeling you got when you realized that video is not film and that all you had was some murky footage of your friends looking ridiculous and sounding like they were being suffocated in an echo chamber?
You might want to forget that such a thing ever happened.
If so, then Beauty Queen Butcher will be like a trip down repressed-memory lane.
The plot of this wretched thing: Four pretty girls are entering a beauty contest, but no one wants to come in last. So they recruit a fat girl geek to enter. She loses, she goes crazy, and she starts killing.
In the pre-digital '80s, Betacam was the "industry standard" for shooting location news features, interview segments, infomercials, porn, and other such projects. The occasional low-budget movie was shot, all or in part, on Betacam, or its successor, BetacamSP, then transferred to film.
A scrawl at the end of Beauty Queen Butcher proudly announces that what you've been watching was shot on Betacam. Apparently, it was never transferred to film, because the going-on-20-year-old Betacam image could pass for a bad VHS transfer. Interior shots often look murky or overly bright, with glare from lights reflected on the walls and shadows everywhere. Microphones pick up all kinds of sounds -- footsteps, for instance -- except human speech, which is often muffled, over-modulated, or drowned out by some other noise.
It's possible to use low-tech sources and still come up with an interesting film. Look at Tarnation or even Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare. A good low-tech filmmaker understands technical limitations and either embraces those limitations or subverts them, often creating a more imaginative project.
Jill Zurborg is not a good low-tech filmmaker. She ignores the obvious limitations of the format, refusing to negotiate her "vision" with her resources, which only points up the weaknesses of both. The result is a non-movie that makes a typical episode of General Hospital look like it was shot by David Lean.
The script is just abysmal, with long stretches of "dialogue" that might seem funny if you were really drunk and writing it yourself. Much of the "humor" comes from the fact that the fat girl is fat. Oh look, she's eating another Twinkie. Chuckle. There is nothing clever or surprising here. The mean girls just call the fat girl names, and the fat girl does things too stupid to make her sympathetic or even interesting. Zurborg and co-writer Shane Partlow seem to be in love with their own words and give us 118 excruciating minutes of them; of course, we can't discern half of what's being said, thanks -- and I do mean "thanks" -- to the poor audio. (Apparently, "overdub" was an alien concept.)
The killings, which don't start until over an hour in, are so ineptly done that if trick-or-treaters came to your door on Halloween and acted them out, you'd refuse them candy. There's no attempt to create suspense through editing -- sorry, I mean, "through turning the camera off, pointing it somewhere else, and then turning it on again."
The less said about the people speaking the words that Zurborg and Partlow wrote (I can't, in good conscience, call them "actors" or "performances"), the better. The woman who runs the pageant is played by a man in drag, in case you were concerned about the "camp" pedigree. Chortle. The only person connected with this film who went on to acquire any kind of "name" is Tammy Pescatelli, who has done Last Comic Standing and some other stand-up and guest-host related stuff. Courageously, she lists Beauty Queen Butcher on her resumé. I wonder if it'll stay on her resumé now that people actually have the chance to see it.
In the extras department, we get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of BQB. This segment appears to have been shot on VHS. On a used tape. Underwater. (We do get a title card apologizing for the condition of this footage.) It looks like everyone had a lot of fun making BQB. Kinda makes you want to teach them a lesson by forcing them to sit through it now.
Ironically, the best part of the disc is the trailer vault for other Camp Motion Picture offerings. While films like Ghoul School, Cannibal Campout, and the Zombie Bloodbath trilogy might not be watershed moments in the annals of low-budget filmmaking, their trailers make them look like sublime and professional works of art compared to Beauty Queen Butcher.
The image is full-frame, and it doesn't look like Camp Motion Pictures did anything to enhance it, although short of a re-shoot, I don't know what would have made this look any better. This is yet another disc with no set-up options or chapter selections.
The packaging is sturdy and pretty and colorful and makes BQB look about a thousand times more professional and entertaining than it really is. Plus, if you open the box and put it close to your face, it smells like a new car.
By the way, Camp Motion Pictures has released this 1991 project as part of its Retro '80s Horror Collection, thus besmirching two decades with one disc.
Beauty Queen Butcher is a poorly made home video that is somehow getting a DVD release. Unless you have a friend or relative in the cast and want to see what they looked like when George H. Bush was president, avoid this. It gives independent filmmaking a bad name.
Hang 'em high. Just don't make me watch a video of you doing it.
Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #34
Studio: Camp Motion Pictures
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Behind the Scenes Feature (10:15)
* Trailer Vault