Dark Sky Films // 2008 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // October 30th, 2009
It's nice to have your friends for dinner.
First-time director Gregory Mandry's Gnaw plays like an unapologetic British remake of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie follows a group of twentysomethings on holiday in rural Britain. Their stop at a quaint but grungy bed-and-breakfast turns ugly when they encounter Ed (aka Slaughterman) (Hiram Bleetman, The Zombie Diaries), a heavy-breathing psychopathic cannibal who dresses in a leather apron and hood made of animal hides. A silent and remorseless killer, the possibly inbred imbecile uses whatever farm tool or kitchen knife is available to torture, kill, and dismember his victims, who promptly end up in the meat pies and blood puddings that are a staple of British cuisine. The Slaughterman makes an odd connection with one of the group's girls, Lorrie (Sara Dylan, The Toughest Girl in the World), a sensitive, introspective nerd (though pretty in the way all female movie nerds are pretty) wrestling with her recent discovery that she's pregnant. The movie's other young adults are forgettable, present only so that we can watch them die in spectacularly gruesome fashion.
Gnaw works surprisingly well for a movie that wears its love of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on its sleeve (there are even scenes of a character being hung on a hook, and the female lead bursting out of captivity and running down a dirt road to flag down a passing driver). Mandry shows a solid understanding of the psychological underpinnings that make Hooper's flick an agonizing experience for audiences. Like Hooper, he taps into our fears of the breakdown of civilization in backwoods areas, of torture, and of having our bodies violated to the point of dismemberment. He also unsettles us and tickles our gag reflexes by playing with the idea of people unwittingly dining on their own friends. If Gnaw is inferior to Texas Chainsaw (it is), it's not only because it is derivative but because it tries to mix the earlier film's pervasive sense of dread with the gallons of blood and elaborate prosthetic kill effects typical of lower grade '80s American horror franchises like the Friday the 13th series. Hooper proved that atmosphere can be far more terrifying than blood and guts. It's the one lesson of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that Mandry apparently missed.
Unlike in many low-budget horror outings, the cast is solid throughout. Dylan plays Lorrie with an appropriate vulnerability and lack of self-confidence that makes her likeable without being an annoyingly helpless and obtuse, ankle-twisting damsel in distress. Bleetman is hulking and implacable as Ed, a stereotypical inbred psychopath made fresh by the fact that he's not the toothless deformity that's become almost de rigueur in American horror. Slaughterman's not as memorable as Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers, but he's an effective boogeyman nonetheless. Like Dylan and Bleetman, the rest of the cast are relative newcomers. None are either wooden or gratingly hammy, as is often the case with casts cobbled together on the cheap. The screenplay doesn't require much of them, but each actor makes the most of what he or she is given.
Mandry and first-time cinematographer Tom Jenkins shot the picture well. Lighting and framing are often textbook, but always effective -- particularly at selling the gory effects work (though they would have been better off leaving a little more of the horror to audiences' fertile imaginations). Dark Sky Film's DVD presentation of Gnaw is excellent given the picture's budget. Flaws, such as color timing occasionally leaning too heavily on sickly greens that mar the image with a consumer camcorder vibe, seem to be rooted in the source rather than the transfer. The transfer is clean, relatively sharp, and free of digital artifacts. Dark Sky Films is known for delivering cult movie in high style and their work on Gnaw is no exception.
The original English audio track is presented in both Dolby 5.1 and stereo mixes. The surround option is slightly more immersive, but both tracks are well mixed and flawless. The disc also offers optional English subtitles.
Extras are limited to a fairly interesting commentary by director Gregory Mandry, a featurette called "Humble Pie: The Making of Gnaw" (9:46), and a trailer for the movie.
As a horror flick in the backwoods crazed-killer genre, Gnaw breaks no new ground, but it's still a nail-biter. Fright fans should at least give it a rent.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated