Sometimes a film made by rank amateurs on a shoestring budget can turn out pretty good, as Judge Neil Solon found out with this disc.
"Murder is a serious business"
At its core, Make a Killing is a B-movie about B-movies. Its humble origins are obvious in the acting, the writing, and the technical quality of the presentation. Yet like many of the movies that it spoofs and to which it pays homage, it works despite its humble beginnings. It is most successful, perhaps, because it is a film that is content to be merely entertainment.
Facts of the Case
The story begins as three typically attractive college-aged women stumble across a dusty field. The ladies, scrambling for safety, run into an old stable and cower in the corner. Moments later, a masked man, presumably the source of the ladies' anxiety, jumps through a door in the background and knocks them unconscious.
With the ladies on the ground, the masked man is not sure what to do; luckily, he has help. Stationed throughout the stable are members of a slaying stage crew of sorts. They send their would-be killer, Eddie (Benjamin Harvey), to a catering table set up in the woods while they prepare for the next stage of his rampage. The crew puts the ladies into position for their final roles. Then, they let Eddie loose with a lawnmower.
Cut to an office building. We quickly learn the story of this mysterious crew. They are employees of Assisted Killing Amalgamated—AKA for short. Eddie, one of AKA's most important clients, was ineffective in carrying out his role in the killing that opened the film; now, the company is embroiled in debate over how to replace their late client. They have one lead—a man named Randall (Erik Edborg). Randall, however, is an unknown. No one on the board knows who he is or where his money comes from; but he has money and lots of it.
Imagine yourself like Randall—at the end of your rope, desperate to go on a killing spree. Would you know what to do? Could you piece together a killing spree that would be both satisfying and, ultimately, safe for you? If you're not ready to try this on your own, whom could you trust? Assisted Killing Amalgamated, of course. AKA is prepared to help you with all of your killing needs.
AKA is the answer to Randall's prayers. Is he the answer to theirs?
Make a Killing presents its story in a manner reminiscent of Christopher Guest's films (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind). It is, on the surface, a documentary—talking heads interspersed with video clips of the subject of the film, Assisted Killing Amalgamated, in action.
Of course, we all know better. Make a Killing is a loosely scripted "mockumentary." The characters and stories within are all fictional, but the "straight" delivery only serves to make their absurdities more humorous.
The film is the brainchild of husband and wife directors Chris and Vanessa Magyar. The couple obviously has an affinity for old low-budget slasher flicks, and was inspired by them when they wondered the same question that plagues cynics and spoilsports everywhere: how could one lunatic killer really make all of that happen? Their answer was, of course, that he'd have to have help. The Magyars decided to make a film based on this concept, enlisting the help of friends and colleagues to piece together this forty-minute film. The result is an entertaining labor of love.
Certainly, on an absolute scale Make a Killing is far from great. The acting can sometimes be awkward. The directors, as they readily admit, did not know exactly what they were doing, and they had limited supplies on hand. They "really just set up lights and moved them around 'til it looked good." Make a Killing succeeds, however, in conveying its creators' love of the genre and of the medium. In an age when films are often made to be as engrossing and realistic as possible, and for the resulting praise or money, what is often lost is the fun that can go into making them. The Magyars and their cohorts have no deeper message to bestow. They have no illusions of grandeur. What they had was fun adding something to a genre they have long enjoyed.
Their care is obvious again in the effort that they put into the DVD, despite its obviously limited earning potential. Included on the disc are a directors' commentary, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a photo gallery. The extras do little to add weight or context to the film, but rather serve to make the process of its creation more transparent.
First up is the directors' commentary. The track runs the full forty minutes of the film and is, essentially, an exercise in self-deprecation. It features the Magyars cracking jokes about themselves and the actors in the film. Vanessa Magyar is quick to point out that in her brief appearance in the film she meant for her acting to come off as stilted and labored, so that it would seem more, well, authentic. The commentary has its interesting moments, but it begins to drag as the Magyars' belittling of their own skills becomes old news. That said, their affection for the project is obvious, as is their affection for those involved.
Also included is a collection of about twenty-two minutes of footage generously called "deleted scenes." It is fairer to consider this footage both a mixture of deleted scenes and outtakes. In a loosely-scripted environment where the actors have a wealth of freedom, some takes just don't work, and sometimes the actors just lose their composure. This collection of extra footage is a sampling of the more than eight hours of material that was not included in the final film. Much of it is amusing; some of it is self-indulgent.
The scenes are a worthy addition to the disc, providing insight, again, into how a film like this is made. It gives further testament to just how integral the role of the actor is in a film as loosely scripted as this. The onus is on the actors to produce amusing and useable dialogue. Certainly, there are missteps. There are awkward moments, but they are of little distraction.
The next extra, an alternate ending, exhibits the importance of the roles of the writers and editors. This ending—the original—does a poorer job of wrapping up the various loose ends in the story. It contains a number of humorous episodes and an homage to The Shining, but was wisely excised in favor of the ending included in the film.
Lastly, included on the disc is a photo gallery. The gallery is a collection of black and white stills that seem to be both "behind the scenes" shots and cast portraits. The photos are played back in a slideshow over which is played a song by Esovae, who did the music for the film. The stills gallery is of little interest, as, honestly, none of us know who any of these people are.
The video and audio bear witness to the origins of the film. Make a Killing was produced much more cheaply than studio films, and it shows. There is some pixellation and digital noise in the picture. This, however, is likely due largely to the quality of the original footage and not any fault of Stomp Tokyo's. Regardless, it is rarely distracting. The sound is adequate and effectively conveys the dialogue throughout the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The crux of the issue is that Make a Killing is not a big-budget film. The actors are primarily members of a small Denver theater company called Buntport Theater. The directors are novices. Accordingly, the final product is not as polished as filmgoers are accustomed to seeing. Should this be held against a film that is otherwise enjoyable?
Make a Killing is not a great movie by any means, but it is fun. The people involved put more effort into it than big studios often put into releasing smaller films, and they did it on a much smaller budget and with much less of a prospect for seeing any returns. All that, and it's available for the price of a movie ticket in Manhattan. Fans of the slasher genre and B-movies are encouraged to check it out.
The Magyars and their colleagues are to be commended for producing this film for its own sake and for managing to come up with a pretty entertaining product as a result. Some technical aspects of the DVD are suspect but will be forgiven due to mitigating circumstances. The defendant is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Stomp Tokyo
• Directors' Commentary
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