Judge Gordon Sullivan starred in This is Spinal Criticism, a mockumentary about the world of DVD reviews.
So Funny…It Hurts
Anyone who's seen Evil Dead 2 (or countless similar films) can attest to the power of combining horror and comedy. The recent rise of postmodern slashers (from Scream to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon) made a mockumentary like Brutal Massacre inevitable. Where most horror-comedies spend their time on the former, Brutal Massacre attempts to keep the body count low and the laughs high. It largely succeeds, but may not win any fans outside the horror faithful.
Facts of the Case
The film follows Harry Penderecki (David Naughton, An American Werewolf in London), a low-budget horror "auteur" about to embark on his latest opus Brutal Massacre. Although he's "famous" for such films as I'll Take the Ring Back…And the Finger Too and Sasquatch at the Mall, Harry has a little trouble securing funding for his new film. Nonetheless, he sets out to make his latest and greatest horror film with Assistant Director Jay (Brian O'Halloran, Clerks), grip Carl (Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead), cinematographer Hanu (Gerry Bednob, The-40-Year Old Virgin), and producer Natalie (Ellen Sandweiss, The Evil Dead). As with any low-budget production, things go awry and Harry must surmount terrible odds to bring his vision to the screen.
The mockumentary is a tough genre to get right. This Is Spinal Tap looms so large in the field that it's very difficult to do anything that can approach its bizarre and improvisational genius. Thus, most mockumentaries tackle subcultures other than music to avoid association with such a famous predecessor. Brutal Massacre is no exception. Instead of the world of rock music, the film takes on low-budget horror films of the likes of Roger Corman, Lloyd Kaufman, and a thousand other nameless directors. By following the production of a film, Brutal Massacre has a built-in sense of pace and suspense, as we watch Harry deal with the horrors of making a horror film.
The film excels at creating believable characters. Harry Penderecki is a tragic and pathetic figure. He's tragic because all his rhetoric about mainstream cinema is true, and he's pathetic because no matter how evil and restricting mainstream media may be, Harry's films still suck. He reminds me very much of Lloyd Kaufman (if Lloyd Kaufman didn't have talent, which no matter what anyone else says, I think he does), and there's a similar sense of fatalism shared between the two. The crew surrounding him is equally realistic. Brian O'Halloran's Jay is the perfect picture of someone who joined the industry out of complete fanboy love. Ken Foree's Carl is a perfect mixture of dedication and cynicism. The various actor and actress characters do a good job of balancing their desire for fame and fortune with the difficulties of low-budget acting.
The film is meant as comedy, and there are a number of laughs. Most of the jokes come at Harry's expense, as he plays a kind of Quixote bent on making his movie at any cost. However, the film also pulls no punches in regards to the sometimes rabid fans of horror and their peculiar tastes, wringing several jokes from their antics. Predictably, the film also finds comedy in the documentary form, posing odd questions to Harry & Co. to watch them squirm. Although the film doesn't have a laugh-a-minute pace, the humor is more pervasive, making the entire movie amusing instead of hilarious.
As befits the low-budget subject, this DVD from Anchor Bay is a little rough around the edges. The anamorphic video is clear of defects, but the whole thing has an under-funded feel to it. There are out of focus shots, some poor color, and a beat-up look to much of the film, but it all seems intentional. Less forgivable is the audio, which is mixed a little low. Coupled with the lack of subtitles, this attribute made the film hard to follow at some points.
The extras are fine for what they are, but feel incomplete. First up is a sizable chunk of deleted/extended scenes. There's little context to these scenes, making it difficult to place where they might have fit in the finished film. However, there are a few worthy comedic moments stashed in these scenes. We also get a meta-documentary, a making of the making of the film within a film Brutal Massacre. Yeah, it's headache-inducing in more ways than one. We get to see the actors in character discuss the "film" they're making for Harry Penderecki. Absent, to the DVD's detriment, is any input from the film's director, Stevan Mena, who contributed so effectively to his previous film Malevolence. After watching Brutal Massacre, I was left wanting to know more about the genesis of the film, and this DVD didn't deliver.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The big problem with Brutal Massacre is that it's unlikely to have wide appeal outside the horror faithful. Most of the laughs are derived from how close Harry is to a number of other horror icons. There's also much amusement taken from the presence of genre stalwarts like Ken Foree and Gunnar Hansen, so those new to horror films (or their history) might be mystified why the more informed are laughing.
Finally, the biggest drawback to Brutal Massacre may be that it's not extreme enough. Anyone who's watched the documentaries included with recent Troma releases like Terror Firmer and Citizen Toxie knows that low-budget filmmaking is a perilous activity. In fact, minus the on-set accidents, Brutal Massacre actually seems pretty tame in comparison to what Lloyd Kaufman and crew put up with regularly.
Brutal Massacre is a low-stakes comedy that gets more right than it does wrong. The gentle ribbing of the horror industry and its filmmakers is generally spot-on, and the characters are believably drawn. Although it will likely lose neophytes and bore hardened gorehounds, Brutal Massacre is worth watching for most horror fans. Sadly, there isn't much about the DVD to recommend.
Because of its careful attention to comedy, Brutal Massacre is found not guilty. Anchor Bay is fined for failing to include more substantive extras with this interesting mockumentary.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Extended and Deleted Scenes
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