Lionsgate // 2004 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 9th, 2007
Those poor, poor prostitutes...
Murder Set Pieces talks a good talk, as its case is emblazoned with warning about the horrific, shocking, controversial nature of the film within. But does it make good?
The plot for Murder Set Pieces is fairly straightforward: a nameless fashion photographer (Sven Garrett) is a closet Nazi, burning with violent misogyny. Nights find him patrolling the sleazy sections of Las Vegas, picking up hookers, having his way with them, then gruesomely dispatching his victims. Amidst all the hubbub of being a serial killer, The Photographer has found time for a relationship with an oblivious woman, who has a slightly less oblivious daughter, Jade (Jade Risser), who suspects something's up with mom's wacky German boyfriend. The Photographer gets crazier, the victims pile up, and Jade will find herself trapped in a dungeon of bloody horrors.
Is this movie graphic and bloody? Sure it is. Is it the most violent horror film ever conceived? Not even close. There is plenty to be disturbed about in Murder Set Pieces, not the least of which is the cold, ruthless character of The Photographer. This guy isn't the usual killer you find in a horror film. He's nuts, driven by a traumatic episode in his past (which we see fleeting glimpses of), loves himself some Hitler, and is profoundly violent. Garrett plays him well, injecting a macho, sadistic energy into the character to create a soulless killing machine.
That pretty much encapsulates all that stood well with me in this film -- well, that and the decent little performance by Jade Risser. What you should know right away is that if your expectations are sky-high and you've prepared for a night of unspeakable horror, you will likely come away disappointed. There's blood and gore, but it's virtually all after-the-fact; director Nick Palumbo isn't afraid to show you the scene of the crime, complete with blood-coated walls, mangled body parts, and torture devices, but don't plan on wallowing in the degenerate excess of mass slaying. This isn't Hostel or High Tension -- not even close.
But if you can settle down for what Murder Set Pieces is, rather than what it is not, you'll find a solid serial killer-thriller, well-shot, fast-paced, and disturbing in its own right. Palumbo has a good eye for setting up tense sequences; in the commentary he confesses his admiration for Grindhouse and Giallo cinema, and those influences are apparent in his film.
While I dig the acting and the execution, my overall take on the film is less enthusiastic. Frankly, the story just isn't that compelling, and amounts to The Photographer moving from one sleazy encounter to the other, then flashes of some over-stylized sex scenes (there are a lot of breasts in this film) and flashes of the murderous aftermath, which is mainly Sven Garrett bleeding from the mouth and clenching his jaw. When Palumbo attempts to get into his killer's mind, the film flirts with uniqueness (we see him fantasizing about 9/11 for example), but Murder Set Pieces, when all is said and done, ends up offering little surprise; there's even the requisite damsel-in-distress chase scene to cap the film off.
Also misleading is the disc case: the extras. "Deleted Scenes" are noted but I couldn't find any, leaving me with Palumbo's decent audio commentary, some trailers and the fake widescreen.
This isn't a bad film, but it can't measure up to the hype of its own
marketers. Maybe, there's a grislier director's cut out there??
Guilty for falling short of too-big expectations, but it's not fault of the accused.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary