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Case Number 07971

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Nail Gun Massacre

Synapse // 1985 // 85 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // November 4th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Paul Corupe wants to plunge a nine inch nail through this DVD.

The Charge

Chainsaws are for wussies.

Opening Statement

Hey, remember the rack of big box horror tapes you always passed by at the local mom and pop rental shops in the mid-1980s? C'mon, you know the movies I'm talking about—lewd and crude slices of independently-lensed trash like Splatter Farm, Killer Workout, and Sledgehammer—films you were maybe a little bit curious about, but never could convince yourself to rent. Well, if you've ever wished that somebody would mine this almost-forgotten toxic waste dump of North American horror for a DVD revival, then you're about to break out in a big, bloody smile. Now that Nail Gun Massacre, the preeminent Texas indie slasher epic is set to be the first in what promises to be a steady line of 1980s horror making the leap to the digital format, we can finally answer that pressing question you've had since passing it up for rental so long ago: Does Nail Gun Massacre actually live up to its incredible name?

Facts of the Case

Not long after a woman (Michelle Meyer, Free Enterprise) is cruelly gang-raped by a crew of brutish construction workers, a strange masked killer appears, wielding a high-powered pneumatic nail gun. One by one, the construction workers are killed, falling prey to the bloody ker-chunk served up by their motorcycle-helmeted executioner. The clueless sheriff (Ron Queen, Trespasses) is suddenly up to his neck in dead welders and carpenters, and enlists the help of the hopeless town doctor (Rocky Patterson, Repligator) to help him put a stop to the nail gun-fuelled spree of death.

The Evidence

Nail Gun Massacre isn't the first hardware horror film to explore the kill-potential of a pneumatic nail gun, but it is certainly the worst. A sleazy slasher from the "anything goes" VHS heyday of the early 1980s, Nail Gun Massacre is, for all intents and purposes, a one-man rape-revenge show put on by Texas entrepreneur Terry Lofton—an incredibly amateurish, low-budget schlock-fest riddled with technical errors, and all around bad filmmaking. There are moments of unintentionally hilarious reprieve on display throughout the film, but they're a weak antidote for the painful shots of 3/4-inch galvanized movie ineptitude.

In his sole contribution to the world cinematic canon, novice filmmaker/screenwriter/actor Lofton simply falls victim to his lack of experience behind the camera, and is unable to come up with anything particularly compelling. Not that there's much competence in front of it either- Lofton's actors are atrocious without exception, a mix of amateur thespians, centerfold models, and locals who seem completely baffled by the nonsensical script, to the point of shooting pained looks directly into the camera. Together, they try to give a little narrative thrust to Nail Gun Massacre, but only manage in pushing the plot towards each subsequent nail gun death, rather than contributing to any story arc or satisfying resolution—in fact, the filmmaker's attempt to keep us "guessing" at the true identity of the nail gun massacre perpetrator is not only irrelevant, but also vaguely insulting. To make matters worse, the unconvincing sheriff and town doctor, ostensibly the only ones who can stop the killings, are infuriatingly incompetent at their jobs, seemingly driving around on a hunt for more bloodied victims rather than the actual killer. At one point, they even leave a nailed corpse at the roadside because "she's not going anywhere."

Of course, some of these things might be forgivable if the film actually made sense, but it doesn't—Nail Gun Massacre falls further, subject to continuity errors too numerous to mention, including several scenes that have obviously been accidentally swapped in the editing process. This gives the film a disjointed, bizarre atmosphere, made even stranger by heavily padded and tenuously connected subplots that seem to have more to do with offering up glimpses of female flesh from obvious victims-to-be rather than contributing anything at all to the rape revenge plot.

The dialogue also deserves special mention, especially the nonsensical one-liners spewed forth by the killer—"You shouldn't fall to pieces over me," "Those are the worst headaches—the ones between the eyes," and, after accidentally being peed on by one victim, "Well, you've just pissed me off!" Delivered through what sounds like a Darth Vader voice changer, these no-brow witticisms are enough to make Freddy Krueger beg for mercy. Not to be outdone, the town shopkeeper (played by Lofton's grandmother) asks some customers if they "remember when we could sit outside on our porch and not have to worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?" Once the film ends, and the doctor expresses relief that the murders are finally over, the sheriff inexplicable asks, "Is it?" before they walk off into the sunset.

But I digress—if you were expecting to savor such filmic tropes as character development, coherent scripting, and plot logic then you probably wouldn't be reading a review for subcretinous cinema like Nail Gun Massacre. What you really want to know is, how does the film stack up, nail victim-wise? Well, in this respect, I'm pleased to announce that the film does deliver all the steel spike action you could ask for, and much more. While Nail Gun Massacre is surprisingly light on the blood spurts and flesh piercing scenes, it is clearly aiming for quantity over quality, a goal which it easily achieves with a non-stop parade of at least a dozen unlucky victims. In fact, not more than two minutes have gone by when already the nail gun is being used for nefarious purposes, dispensing its clip into the mouth and crotch of a loutish construction worker. Now, there's no getting around the fact that "death by nail gun" sounds actually worse than it is, especially as actors desperately flail around and die after receiving a few minor puncture wounds to the hands and stomach, but the film really sticks to the concept and offers enough interesting variations on the nail gun death to please any inebriated crowd—even though being physically nailed to a paved road seems illogical, at best. We never do see a nail actually come out of the gun or sink into flesh, but there are a few gory highlights, including a scene in which one character is shot while operating a chainsaw, causing him to inadvertently hack off his own hand, and a much later killing where a corpulent victim belly-flops onto his barbecue grill—even though the corpse has to visibly steady himself so he doesn't topple the whole set-up over.

Given Synapse's excellent track record with cult film restorations, I'm inclined to believe that every effort was taken to present the film in the finest possible quality, but it still doesn't look entirely impressive. There aren't any artifacts to speak of, but grain is a constant problem, and the whole movie seems rather soft—no doubt a limitation with the source material. Likewise, the soundtrack is quite muffled, with dialogue and the sparse electronic score often struggling against each other. The best part of the disc is undoubtedly the extras section, which includes Nailed, a half-hour interview with Terry Lofton on the making of the film. Lofton, well aware of the shortcomings of Nail Gun Massacre, offers some entertaining behind-the-scenes stories about the film and gives some explanations on why it turned out the way it did—improvised dialogue, reshoots to up the T&A content, and even cast and crew confusion over whether the movie was supposed to be serious or a comedy. He mentions a possible sequel(?!) Also on board is a badly beat-up eight-minute outtake reel, which has a running commentary by Lofton on how he got into the film business (he bought cameras from a company going out of business) and the critical reception to the film. There's also a promotional trailer included, but it's not very interesting.

Closing Statement

Here's a film that's really difficult to recommend to anyone, including the film's target audience. There is an undeniable, Ed Woodian entertainment value to many of the scenes, but I found it something of a chore to watch, which is saying something, considering I've enjoyed certified grade-Z trash like Rock N Roll Nightmare and The Corpse Grinders more times than I can count. Fans of slasher horror—even lower rung titles—should probably grab The Toolbox Murders or My Bloody Valentine for some better crafted nail gun kills and leave Nail Gun Massacre for that peculiar breed of masochist known as the bad movie hound.

The Verdict

Guilty—case (nailed) closed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 71
Audio: 66
Extras: 75
Acting: 35
Story: 37
Judgment: 51

Perp Profile

Studio: Synapse
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Unrated
• Bad
• Cult
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Interview with Terry Lofton
• Outtakes
• Trailer


• IMDb

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