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Case Number 03486: Small Claims Court

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Troma // 1998 // 105 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // November 5th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

Where your sleeping bag becomes a body bag!

The Case

Hoping to pack up, pep up, and poop in the woods, seven friends make the mistake of taking a crazy camping trip to the weirdly named Decamp Acres. No sooner have they arrived then they get tree-bound: lost, tired, and terrorized, Burkettsville-style. That's right; our urbanized upwardly mobile virtually-indistinguishable-from-each-other young archetypes discover that instead of getting back to nature (and a butt full of poison ivy), they have a perilous play date for a dizzy disemboweling. There is a psycho killer in a bee bonnet on the loose, and the pollinated pest wants to cause all kinds of physical damage. In between the slicing and dicing, our ever-decreasing gang of goofs finds their ability to stay wound-free jeopardized at any given moment. As they are picked off one by one, we witness all manner of insane man's inhumanity to man. But the funny thing is, these citified casualties just won't stay dead. Even with arms, hands, heads, and legs akimbo, they still run through the forest shrieking like brain-addled banshees, hoping to avoid the cutting edge of a middling maniac's blade. But there are worse things here in the forest, and we're not talking about the mysterious bulky she-male stalking the wild asparagus. No, if our band of boobs isn't careful, they just might find themselves Decampitated.

Decampitated is a hard movie to hate outright. It's one of those films that knows it's dumb because it's so smart. If that line doesn't make a whole hellava lotta sense to you, then not much of what happens in this strange send-up of horror films will. The creative forces behind Decampitated want to fashion a new genre of teen scream flick—the slasher slapstick extravaganza. They want to mine laughs out of brutality to the human body, reinventing that tired old chestnut of classic comedy with a new, gore drenched angle. And oddly, most of the time, it works. They find humor in the hacking off of flesh and rib tickling in the actual tickling of ribs. True, this movie runs out of steam about thirty minutes into its story, and many of the motifs used to garner guffaws initially (the cartoon noises applied to gestures, the obvious overacting) get very old as they become overused. But Decampitated makes a couple of wise choices that separate it from other no-budget homemade style independent movies, decisions that create something that is simultaneously inventive and irritating, retarded, and knowing.

First, despite all the killer carnage and serial murder slayings, nobody dies. If you needed a spoiler for that bit of information, then accept this critic's humble apologies right now. But one of the best things about Decampitated is that the maniac's misguided post-teenage faux fatalities all suffer major bodily contusions and abrasions. Some are speared. Others are chopped and vivisected. One is literally tapped for his internal sap. But none of them actually push up daisies. They keep coming back to life to crack wise, complain, and suffer another series of deathblows. This unstoppable victim version of a fright flick is incredibly refreshing. Instead of wondering when or whom the killer will strike next, we are left perplexed and pleased as a recently shot stiff does the reanimation rumba and woundedly wonders when help will arrive. Secondly, the actors are all very skilled at a light brand of physical and verbal shtick. There's no Chaplins or Keatons here, but they still have enough comic timing and temperament to really sell this material. One or two could use a few lessons in subtlety, but when you're involved in a ludicrous lampoon of all that horror has to offer, a little scenery chewing is perfectly acceptable. Perhaps it was even part of the plan.

On the down side, the gore is not very good. One expects a lot from even the most low-end film when it threatens to deliver the deep red stuff. But Decampitated is fairly dry where and when it shouldn't be. We never really see any of the carnage close-up. The most sanguine succulence we are treated to is splashes and sprays of arterial aerosol, but in general, this film is gimpy on guts. And as said before, this really becomes a one-joke journey after a while, and the end seems like it will never come. Certain sequences just go on too long and the constant location changes (cabin, house, woods, another cabin) grow confusing. Additionally, the killer's identity is never really an issue, since the reasons for the doom and gloom and his eventual explanation as to why he harms are boring and mishandled. This could still be part of the great plan of Decampitated, but it actually feels more like the writers (and there are four of them here—never a good sign) just ran out of ways to continue the kookiness. When the drag queen ex-football star is thrown in for a third time (he/she/him/shim wasn't that funny the first two), you can smell the production running on empty. Decampitated would have made a much better, more focused short subject. At near ninety minutes, it's long out of gas before we get to the power tools.

For something as downright deranged and off-title obscure as Decampitated, Troma does a nice job in the video and audio areas. Presented in its original direct-to-video 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is exemplary and free of the issues most associated with vehicles for VHS. There is no flaring or color convolution. This film also features fabulous, surefire editing. Many of the sequences zip along with a professionalism usually not found in low budget efforts. Also first rate is the musical score and the Dolby Digital Stereo presentation of it. The aural ambience in this film runs the gamut from death metal to punk and it's all presented in crisp, clear, channel chugging wonderment. As for the film itself, the voices and effects are just fine.

Sadly, where Troma drops the trousers here is in the lack of decent extras. We get a few trailers for other company products, but nothing that highlights Decampitated itself. What we really need is a commentary track. This is the kind of movie that cries out for cast and crew observations about how it was made and what it was trying to accomplish. Instead of having to guess at references or wonder about non-sequitur throwaway lines and images, we would have the powers that be explaining them to us. We don't get that here. No behind the scenes featurettes or making of puffery. Just a fine, flawed film and more of Kaufman's own cavalcade of crassness.

Decampitated may have wanted to say something insightful yet silly about the state of horror films in our post-modern ironic society. But it has to rely on its good natured attempts at comedy to address said onscreen. No one who made it is around to speak for themselves.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Troma
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Unrated
• Comedy
• Exploitation
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Troma Trailers
• Troma Merchandise Ads


• IMDb

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