Judge Gordon Sullivan thinks Gutterballs needs bumpers.
Do You Have The Balls?
I missed out on '80s culture as it happened, but it has been a continuing source of fascination and horror as I've grown up. It might, in fact, be the most dichotomous decade in the twentieth century for American culture. When movies (Blue Velvet) worked, they worked perfectly. When they didn't (Masters of the Universe), they failed epically. As the distance from that decade grows, the lens of hindsight has softened the failures of the '80s, creating a nostalgia industry that caters to people's desire to relive some of the lesser moments of that famous time. One of the more high-profile examples might be the 2009 3D remake of the comparatively mediocre 1981 slasher My Bloody Valentine. Gutterballs is another example of a film trading in on nostalgia for the '80s with references to both the over-the-top slashers of the period as well as the horrendous fashions. Although the film delivers on over-the-top gore, the film has a couple of hurdles that many viewers won't want to jump.
Facts of the Case
Two rival teams of teenagers play after hours at a local bowling alley. One night the rivalry gets particularly heated and ends in a fight, and the teams decide to leave the league game until the next night. Young Lisa (Candice Lewald) however, forgets her purse and goes back inside to retrieve it. Members of the opposite team, including ringleader Steve (Alastair Gamble, Puck This), are waiting for her. They rape her in the arcade and leave. The next night, everyone returns for the game. In true slasher fashion, people start to die, and it's a race to figure out who could be killing everyone in the bowling alley.
Going in, Gutterballs has a few huge marks against it:
• The rape. The rape scene in Gutterballs is long, drawn out, brutal, and unnecessary. The late '70s and early '80s saw a number of rape-revenge films which included similarly brutal scenes, but those were in the context of serious dramas. Gutterballs is obviously aiming for the horror-comedy crowd, and in that context the graphic rape is way, way too much. I understand that extreme violence can become slapstick, but the funniest bits of violence are usually confined to things that can't happen. For instance, when a vulgar ventriloquist gets his penis pulled off in Troma's Terror Firmer we can laugh because he's a creep and it is an extremely rare event when a man has his penis pulled off. However, when Gutterballs chooses to sodomize one of its female characters with a bowling pin during a rape scene, it just isn't funny because rape is almost constantly occurring in the world and laughing at it won't make the situation any better. Considering this is only the second scene, it's a pretty big hole to dig the film out of.
• The victims. Obviously the audience wants to see Steve and his cronies get what's coming to them, but the killer in Gutterballs deals death indiscriminately to Lisa's friend and attackers. The obvious reason is that her friends somehow failed her by letting her go back in the bowling alley alone so they deserve to die, but the movie would have a been a lot more compelling if director could have found a way to make it work with the killer only dispatching the guilty parties.
• The ending. The film is ostensibly a rape-revenge film, and the end to those kind of films is usually satisfying with the bad guys getting what they deserve. The ending of Gutterballs offers no such comfort. Instead, the killer is unmasked and just about everybody dies. It makes the preceding 90 minutes seem like a waste of time even as it tries to be ironic. The only thing I can say in the ending's favor is that at least the bad guys die along with everyone else.
• The nudity. I've got nothing against nudity in films, but the nudity in this film was generally creepy. There's also numerous instances of male and female genitalia on display. In one of the film's more difficult moments, a penis is filleted on screen. The film's cover promises sexy, but Gutterballs is distinctly lacking in the erotic.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite my serious reservations listed above, Gutterballs has some things going for it:
• The gore. Writer/director Ryan Nicholson has over 100 IMDb credits for special effects, and that shows in Gutterballs. The gore and make-up effects in this film are fantastic. Every single kill is clever and well executed with loads of red stuff. The previously mentioned penis filet is only one a number of well-executed moments of gore. These are old-school special effects, with no CGI that stood out, which is a nice change from recent horror offerings.
• The '80s vibe. From the gritty look of the film to the soundtrack and fashions, Gutterballs works that '80s nostalgia for all it's worth. In fact, except for a few moments here and there, it would be entirely possible to convince many people that the film is an unreleased gem from some obscure distributor that made the film back in 1986. Even though I'm not a huge fan of the '80s aesthetic, I have to give credit to Nicholson for creating a vibe and sticking with it.
• Dan Ellis. Ellis plays the operator of the bowling alley and looks like a cross between skinny Billy Bob Thornton and Timothy Olyphant. In a film populated by typical low-budget performances (there's lots of under and over acting in Gutterballs), Ellis' performance stands out as a perfect blend of comedy and creep. He totally commits to the character, and it's a joy to watch.
• The DVD. The gritty look of the film is showcased perfectly on this disc, with slightly funny colors and odd blacks which work in the film's favor. Audio is generally decent, although not spectacular. The film is obviously dubbed in numerous places, and poorly, but dialogue was usually audible. For extras we get a commentary with Nicholson that covers the film's genesis and production, a making-of that provides interviews and production footage, as well as a gallery and some trailers.
I have reservations about recommending a film with such a nasty and brutal rape scene, but if viewers can get past that experience early on, Gutterballs delivers on everything it promises: old-school slasher thrills loaded with gore and nudity set in a kitschy '80s bowling alley. The DVD from TLA offers a solid technical presentation and a number of worthwhile extras for fans.
Despite some early problems, Gutterballs comes through in the end to earn a spare.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
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