After watching this lame psychological thriller, Judge Bill Gibron was looking for a sushi bar full of fugu. Only blowfish poison could ease the pain of this miserable motion picture.
Torture is the ultimate seduction? No, torture is watching this movie!
On his 35th birthday, wealthy wasteoid Victor (Greg Bryk, A History of Violence) finally earns all of his inheritance, and he celebrates by picking up a local skank and dislocating her leg. You see, Vic likes sadistic sex, and he especially enjoys utilizing the torture chamber he has in his attic for such physical release. Oddly enough, his spouse Elizabeth (Kristy Swanson, The Black Hole) doesn't really care. She has started seeing her husband's best friend and lawyer Roman (Josh Peace, Cube Zero) and they've been plotting to kill the worthless blight on humanity for several months. Deciding that sooner is better than later, Roman gets a drug buddy/ex-client to hook him up with some fugu venom and, before you know it, Vic is pushing up daisies—or is he? See, the blowfish poison may not be permanent, and a group of Three Stooges-like medical students moonlighting at the local morgue learns this lesson all too well. Indeed, Victor may be experiencing a Living Death—and if he ever gets his vitals back, it's curtains for anyone whose wronged him.
In the battle of routine genre efforts, Living Death takes top prize. For every god-awful Live Feed or Dark Reality, this kind of formulaic claptrap sets the concept of horror back eons. It's not just that the story is as unoriginal as they get—unhappy wife conspires with husband's best friend/business associate to off the bastard—but director Erin Berry does absolutely nothing to freshen up this narrative nonsense. Instead, he adds some odd gallows humor, turns the last act into an erotic thriller version of Friday the 13th, and can't quire hide the fact that his cast could care less. Indeed, it's sad to see Kristy "the original Buffy" Swanson stuffed into a black dress as the supposedly scheming spouse. Looking like she has Celebrity Fit Club on speed dial (Ms. Vampire Slayer has put on a couple of pounds), some might deem her zaftig. Others might consider her curves rather Ruben-esque. But amid the modern-day Lindsay Lohan mindset that requires all actresses to be a decimal point-oriented dress size, Kristy is one chunky monkey. While her voluminous voluptuousness really has nothing to do with the filmmaking itself, it does provide one of the only distractions in what is a poorly realized project. For all its elements of death and dread, this is one surprisingly slight film.
At the core of the crappiness, is the main character. For all intents and purposes, Victor is one trust-fund feeb who should be threatened with immediate harm not often, but always. This rude, crude, lewd dude is such an abysmal loser, such a horrible example of wealth gone wanton that you immediately start contemplating Communism as a way of getting rid of such bourgeois bores. During the film's flaccid set-up, Victor turns out to be the kind of predatory perv who picks up chicks at random, and then takes them home to his palatial estate to experience steamy sexuality on his own terms—which, by the way, includes an attic filled with medieval torture devices. Oh yeah, Vic likes to get sick with the rack. He ties up his trollops, pops a few bones and ligaments, and then gets them to sign litigation preventing releases. He even tosses in a few grand just to be nice. What a guy! Swanson is rather indifferent about his tacky trysts. It's a problem with her character's motivation that we never understand why Elizabeth stays with her hubby. In one scene, she gets all moist when Victor slashes the back of her neck with a knife. At another instant, she appears only to be interested in his cash.
Then there's Roman Arbogast (low-budget filmmakers: STOP with the movie referencing names, okay? It's irritating!). As a lawyer, he's a sleaze. As Victor's best friend, he's a weasel, and as Elizabeth's behind-the-back bo-hunk, he's about as sensual as herpes. But his real fault is as the film's main exponent of exposition. Whenever we need to know what's going on, plotwise, Roman is around to conject, concur, and coalesce. Even when facts aren't readily apparent, he is more than capable of determining what happened to Victor, where the body may have ended up, and why everyone should worry. By the time we get to the big face-off, a newly-revived Victor going gonzo on everyone, Jason Voorhees style, we realize we don't care about any of this idiocy. Sure we want Victor dead, but it's more as a matter of closure than a sense of vengeance. Frankly, everyone could die and we would be more than happy. Oddly enough, Living Death almost grants us this wish. If you are really interested in a movie like this, telling a tale that Buried Alive and Tales from the Crypt did a thousand times better, check out one of those cleverly-plotted pieces. The only excitement you'll get out of this film is when the final credits begin to roll.
Released by Genius Entertainment, Archetype Films, and Peace Arch Entertainment, the DVD version of Living Death is decent, if nothing all that exceptional. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is colorful and filled with details, but the cinematography won't be winning any prizes. There is definite whiting out when the interior shots move past windows, and the aggravating use of a "corpse eye view" for some of the sequences leaves the framing absent of any action whatsoever. Instead of being novel, it's annoying. In addition, since this is an "Unrated" version of the title, we are treated to sequences of mood-mangling gore. While this claret-loving critic didn't mind the visible vivisection and moments of major arterial spraying, people prepared for a simple suspense thriller may be a little put off by the grue. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is heavy on Foley and foul drudge rock rejects, but barely decipherable when it comes to dialogue. Your speakers will spaz more than once as a quiet conversation is suddenly interrupted by an overloaded set of footfalls. As for added content, a behind-the-scenes featurette tells us that the original script had Victor being the sympathetic lead, and that the last-act killing spree was their major contribution to the story. Peachy!
In his interview as part of this package, director Erin Berry states, categorically, that he hates films which feel derivative, or simply "ripping off" other movies from the past. If that's the case, the loathing he must have for his own Living Death has to be intense. There is not an original note in this entire sad cinematic symphony.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Peace Arch Entertainment
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
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