Appellate Judge Tom Becker was looking forward to a hard-hitting exposé on the guy who made peanuts popular. Wrong movie.
Life imitating art. Art imitating death.
It's hard to believe, but this year marks the 30th anniversary of Faces of Death, that universally reviled video nasty that featured crime scene photos, autopsy footage, the occasional "real" death of a person, re-enactments of deaths, and animal slaughter. The original FoD spawned myriad sequels and became required viewing for teen-age boys everywhere.
In retrospect, films such as FoD, pseudo-shockumentaries like Savage Man, Savage Beast, or "includes scenes of real-life carnage" flesh-feeding favs like Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust have had as much—if not more—influence on contemporary low-budget "slashers" as prettied-up cut-and-run classics like Friday the 13th and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Apparently an homage to Hooper's iconic debut, Carver—a title that I'm stunned hasn't been used before—is a cheaply made, direct-to-DVD feature whose case invites us to, "See what everyone is calling the most horrific scene in horror film history! It's a real ball-cruncher that is guaranteed to make everyone cringe!"
Who could avoid a sweet-talking come on like that?
Like TCM, Carver deals with murderous hillbillies and purports to be "based on true events." Hooper's film even provided a date for the "true events," which, inconveniently, turned out to be after the film was shot but before it was released. Of course, any slasher film wanting a "based-on-true-events" cred can just play the Ed Gein card, hat-tipping the murderous Wisconsin wacko of the 1950s immortalized (and heavily fictionalized) by Robert Bloch for Psycho.
Carver gives us a group of people who go camping at a secluded spot ("How come people don't camp here anymore?") that is, unfortunately, within spitting distance of the local honky tonk. When the owner of the tonk asks the campers to move some stuff for him in return for free drinks, they discover a treasure trove of old movies along with an old projector. Taking some time out of their sack-hauling commitment, they fire up the projector and discover what look like home-made horror movies, shot right there on location. Surprisingly, these cheap home snuff movies have synch sound and a music score!
Now, being a savvy audience and not a bunch of dense city slicker campers, we know that these movies are actually documents of grisly murders, but our babes from woods neglect to make that connection and thus are responsible, through their own stupidity, for all the terrible things that will befall them. But first, party time at the honky tonk, which is overflowing with clean-cut rednecks—a surprise, since a) the place is supposedly way off the beaten path, and b) with all these people buzzing around, you'd think someone would have an idea of the hellish history of this place. But, there's a karaoke machine, and they make their own wine, so why fuss about some bloodstains and bone fragments scattered about?
The actual killings start around closing time and for no apparent reason. The whole "We kill to make a snuff film" schtick is pretty much abandoned—why interrupt an orgy of broken bones and burst capillaries just to set up a camera?
I will say this for Carver: The killings (and all the agonies leading up to them) are really pretty well done. Since there was clearly no budget for special effects, don't expect anything spectacular, but the filmmakers do quite well with what they have. Refreshingly (did I just say that?), not everyone is dispatched with the business end of a sharp object, and for the most part, the victims "suffer" for a while before going to their grade-Z movie glory. In addition to the alleged "most horrific scene in horror film history" (far more disquieting for the boys than the girls), there's an effective bit in which one of our heroes is pounded to a pulp by a mallet and some squeamishness involving a good, old-fashioned hammer and some 8-penny nails.
Other abominations involve excessive and unfortunate use of fecal matter and a toneless version of "Turkey in the Straw" played on a seemingly endless loop—enough to make you want to carve off your own ears.
We do get a good pile of extras here (not to be confused with a pile of good extras). A "behind the scenes" featurette gives us a few of the cast members talking about the experience of making Carver, there are two commentaries, both with Director/Writer Franklin Guerrero Jr., one with him and Producer Richard Finney, the other with Guerrero and Producer Eric Willford. These are casual and informative, neither boring nor especially fascinating, but if you want to know more about the film, it's nice to have them.
Tech-wise, well…Carver has a definite home-movie look to it. There's no mistaking this video effort for film. Some of it looks OK, some of it looks awful; ditto the sound, which is fairly flat for a 5.1 track but does offer a nice showcase for the creepy original music of Christian Szczesniak.
If you like your movies cheap, brutal, and unencumbered with anything resembling quality, Carver might be your cup of plasma. If—like me—you find interesting characters, dialogue, and plot, along with camerawork better than the average wedding video, to be compelling reasons to invest your time in a film, you'll probably find Carver to be somewhat less than the sum of its festering parts.
I call this sucker "guilty," but unlike its homicidal hillbillies, definitely not toothless.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Allumination Filmworks
• Commentary with Director/Writer Franklin Guerrero Jr. and Producer Richard Finney
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