If you see his face, it's too late!
George A. Romero directed one of the most influential and well known horror movies ever made: 1968's Night Of The Living Dead. Produced on a shoestring budget and starring a cast of general unknowns, Night Of The Living Dead put Romero on the map as a major force in the cinematic horror genre. Over the next few decades Romero would churn out some good movies (Dawn Of The Dead, Creepshow, The Dark Half) and some not-so-good movies (Monkey Shines, Two Evil Eyes). After 1993's The Dark Half Romero seemed to take a break from films until the release of Bruiser, a film he wrote and directed in 2000. Appearing for the first time on DVD care of Lions Gate and Trimark, Bruiser is here to rough up your DVD player!
Facts of the Case
All Henry Creedlow's (Jason Flemyng, From Hell) life people have used, abused and walked all over him. His wife Janine (Nina Garbiras, You Can Count On Me) is cheating on him, his boss Miles (Peter Stromare, Fargo) embarrasses him in front of his co-workers, and even his best friend has cheated him out of thousands of dollars from a business investment. Henry is living a banal existence in a world that's eating him alive.
At a social event Henry makes a white face mask that's to be decorated and hung as a party favor. After the mold is taken it's noticed that the face looks "blank"—without any distinguishing identity. This can easily sum up Henry's life. The next morning Henry wakes up and notices that he's got that same blank mask on his face…but this one is permanent! Propelled by a need for revenge against those who have downgraded and deceived him, Henry goes on a killing spree as a faceless killer who strikes without mercy. Detective McCleary (Tom Atkins, Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, Night Of The Creeps) is brought in to track Henry down. However, Henry doesn't want to be caught…at least not until he's finished showing his victims that there's only so far you can push a man until he finally snaps.
What has happened to George Romero? At one point he was making some pretty great horror movies, and now he's suddenly working on low-budget flicks that aren't very good. Standing in line with other horror directors like Tobe Hooper (who did some nice work in the 1980s, then bottomed out with such slop as The Mangler and the cheesepuff horror film Crocodile), Romero has seemingly slipped from his ranks to become a relic of his time. This is not to say that Romero is not a good director anymore—he's just not doing anything worth mentioning. As of this review he's been tapped to write and direct Stephen King's "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." Until that bright and shining day comes, I guess we're stuck with stuff like Bruiser.
Maybe I just really want Romero to go back to his zombie roots, but I wasn't very enthralled with Bruiser. While I applaud Romero for putting a little more depth into this films than most low-budget horror flicks do (the theme about identity and confusion showed up in The Dark Half and Martin as well), ultimately Bruiser feels like a "been there, done that" type of horror movie. It's painfully obvious that Romero's budget was low for this movie, and the exclusion of any real terrifying images or plentiful scares is sorely missed. Bruiser just kind of goes from scene to scene, showing in each consecutive sequence that Henry is tumbling downhill fast when it comes to mental stability. After about 40 minutes Bruiser turns into yet another slasher film (with only slightly more panache than the usual fare). Certainly the inclusion of Peter Stromare helps give the film some star power (if that's what you want to call it), but even Stromare's character Milo gets grating after a while. Milo is supposed to be rude and obnoxious, but I find it hard to believe that anyone (even in Hollywood) is that much of a bastard. Jason Flemyng as Henry is fine, though a bit dull around the edges. As is supposed to be the case, Flemyng becomes lost behind his character's mask, a slipped identity that could have been played out my any number of anonymous actors (or actresses, for that matter). Just for good measure Romero has thrown in a few good looking women to show off their "acting talents" (i.e., nibblets and ta-tas), and the rest of the cast is just along for the ride with no one standing out in particular.
The most disappointing thing about Bruiser is that it just doesn't feel like a horror movie, or at least a horror movie made by the great George A. Romero. There are some fascinating images and ideas going on in Bruiser, but in the end they don't add up to a whole lot of substance. I'm always hearing rumblings that Romero may revisit his "Living Dead" series for a fourth time. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Bruiser is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Trimark has done a commendable job on this transfer, especially seeing as it's such a low budget title. Colors and flesh tones looked normal and bright with black levels seeming very solid. There was a slight amount of grain spotted in a few scenes, but nothing that should hinder the enjoyment of the film. While not a perfect picture, Bruiser is above average for its source material.
Audio is presented in what I think is Dolby Digital 5.1 (the package only states "Dolby Stereo"). The soundtrack for Bruiser is clear and distortion free with minimal directional effects utilized. Most of the surround feature was used by the front and center speakers while the rear speakers tended to be left out for most of the film. This is not the most aggressive audio track ever mixed, but it does the job that's needed. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Bruiser should make Romero fans happy in the supplemental department. Trimark has thrown on a few extra features, including a full length audio commentary by director Romero and producer Peter Grunwald. Both Romero and Grunwald seem genuinely pleased with the outcome of the movie and have lots of behind-the-scenes stories to share (bafflingly, Romero seems especially impressed with Peter Stromare's performance in the film). I'm glad to know that Romero and Grunwald were as surprised as I was to see Stromare show his penis and testicles to a room full of business executives in the opening scenes (see the movie if you want to know more).
The other extra material featured on this disc includes a non-anamorphic widescreen music video for some song by the shock rock group The Misfits (the video never states what the song title is) which seems to be a parody/rip-off of Romero's Night Of The Living Dead. Finally there are a few "hidden" bonus trailers for Bruiser, the Julia Stiles/Josh Hartnett film O, and the grotesque Brian Yuzna flick Faust: Love Of The Damned.
If nothing else, I did like Romero's theme in Bruiser: you can only push a guy so far until he finally goes wacky. Trimark has done decent work on Bruiser, making sure that there are some substantial extra features for Romero fans. While I wasn't big on Bruiser, other horror buff's opinions may differ. Either way, I think we can all agree that ol' George needs to get crackin' on a new zombie flick!
Bruiser is slapped with a hefty fine for being such bland horror entertainment. Trimark is released on good behavior for decent work on this disc.
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