The main thing Judge Patrick Bromley would like to slay is this crappy horror flick. And the DVD it's recorded on. Because it spoke to him. Unless that was just the pizza.
The hunt is on.
It's late. I've just finished watching the Lions Gate release of Serial Slayer, a shot-on-video, ultra-low-budget horror offering from writer-director Mark Tapio Kines. Despite the best efforts of the wife to talk me out of it, I have ordered and ingested far too many slices of Pizza Hut pizza and at least a liter and a half of Pepsi.
I don't know if it's the lateness of the hour or the effects of all the Hut's chemically enhanced pepperoni, but I'll be damned if the DVD isn't talking to me.
Serial Slayer: So, like, what'd you think?
ME: I'm sorry…did you say something?
S.S.: Relax. I'm not gonna tell you to shoot anybody, Berkowitz. I just want to know what you thought of the movie.
ME: Oh, is that all? Um…yeah. I didn't like it.
S.S.: Care to elaborate?
ME: Gosh, where do I start? It's a movie about three girls hiding in a house from an on-the-loose crossbow killer. A crossbow killer.
S.S.: Tell me something—where do you get off questioning plausibility while having a conversation with a DVD?
ME: Checkmate, jerky.
S.S.: So what are your specific issues with it?
ME: I suppose the thing that most sticks out in my head is the look of the film. I hated it.
S.S.: Do you have something against movies shot on video?
ME: No. Not at all. Lots of good movies have been shot on video—more and more all the time, in point of fact. Extremely well respected directors like Spike Lee (Bamboozled) and Michael Mann (Collateral) are shooting their films on video. My problem is that writer-director Mark Tapio Kines hasn't figured out how to properly shoot on video. He falls into that common video trap—whether it's the freedom of mobility it provides, or the cheapness of the format (it costs way less to shoot hours of video than it does to shoot hours of film), Kines and his cinematographer, Bevan Crothers, haven't bothered to construct actual compositions. They just point and shoot.
S.S.: But didn't you think the visual style complimented the material? The director was trying to make it claustrophobic. That was the original name of the movie—Claustrophobia. Did you know that? Did you know that? I did, because I'm the DVD.
ME: Yes, I know. I learned that on the director's commentary track—which I'm not sure I have the energy to start in on just yet. Let's keep talking about the movie.
S.S.: Whatever you want. It's your hallucination.
ME: I might not care about how cheap and amateurish the movie looked if there was anything onscreen worth watching. Or listening to. It takes three uninteresting characters and places them in one uninteresting location (a big house in Los Angeles) and gives them uninteresting dialogue. All they do is talk about their situation over and over. Given that so much of the movie consists of the three girls sitting around gabbing, you would think that they might have more to say, or that there might be some actual character development. Instead, we get three cartoonish character "types"—the nerd, the bitch, and the normal girl (who doubles as the leader)—which are established in the first fifteen minutes and never stray from those limited parameters.
S.S.: But the acting was good.
ME: No, it wasn't. What the hell do you know about acting?
S.S.: Dude. Low blow.
ME: I was excited when I found out that Mr. Show's Mary Lynn Rajskub was in it. I had just worked my way through all of 24: Season Three and I loved her as Chloe. She's a really funny comic and an interesting, quirky actress, and Mark Tapio Kines fails to capitalize on any of her talent. Like both of the other actresses, she totally fails to register. How did this director convince these women to be in the movie? I mean, Melanie Lynskey is famous, too. She was in Heavenly Creatures, right?
S.S.: I don't know. I've only seen my movie.
ME: Well, I'm right and she was. And that movie was brilliant! And she was good in it! Yet here she is, sucking it up and turning in as bland a performance as I've seen. What could have drawn her to this movie? It couldn't have been the character. There isn't one. The story? There isn't one. The scares? There aren't any!
S.S.: But it's a horror movie.
ME: Well, what does this film think is scary? There aren't any visceral scares; when the lame crossbow killer (not that badass with the super-deluxe crossbow on the disc's keepcase cover, but rather a wimp with a toy weapon and some pantyhose on his head) does strike, we don't ever see it! We just hear a little "whoosh" noise! You don't see any arrows get fired! Just one sticking in the victim, with the tiniest little ring of laughably fake blood around it!
S.S.: It's psychological horror.
ME: Lie! Why does every horror film that can't be bothered with things like plot or production value or special effects claim to be "psychological" horror? The movie doesn't know the first thing about psychology! Or horror!
S.S.: Enhance your calm, John Spartan.
ME: I'm so…wait. I thought you hadn't seen any other movies.
S.S.: All right, I've seen two movies. Serial Slayer and Demolition Man.
ME: Can we talk about Demolition Man? I like that movie.
S.S.: No. No, we can't.
ME: So I should just keep tearing into Serial Slayer?
S.S.: Well, if you don't have anything nice to say.
ME: Ah, can it. I've got to say something about this movie—that's my job. It's not my fault that it's no good. Even the presentation isn't all that impressive. It's a typical Lions Gate fullscreen transfer; since it's video, though, it's free of the usual grain and defects. It just looks like a home movie. There's a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, but that doesn't help—it really only services the score (possibly the best thing about the movie) and those awful footstep sound effects. That's right. Footsteps are scary.
S.S.: Are you going to get into the director's commentary now?
ME: If I must. For as bad as the movie is, the commentary by Mark Tapio Kines (if I have to say that name one more time, I'm going to drink bleach) is from another planet. The track's ability to simultaneously baffle and enrage almost makes the disc worth checking out on its own. Almost. Not only is he pretentiously unaware of just how lousy the finished film is, but he has an almost uncanny knack for rationalizing every mistake and bad choice in the film as though it were some sort of intentional foreshadowing. He claims that an insert shot of a turn signal (you know, the one during the TWELVE-MINUTE SEQUENCE in which ALL OF THE BACKSTORY is laid out OVER THE RADIO while one of the characters is DRIVING? The one that the director himself admits exists to PAD THE ALREADY BRIEF RUNNING TIME? And which is entirely redundant, since he then went back and shot a new padding prologue THAT GIVES ALL THE SAME INFORMATION?) is there to indicate that the movie is "going to take a sharp left turn." Yeah, right. Or that the interminable twelve-minute driving sequence is there as an homage to Psycho, not to pad the running time and force the back story into the movie in the clumsiest and most self-conscious way possible. His madness should be studied.
S.S.: I think I've heard enough. I have feelings too, you know.
ME: No, you don't.
S.S.: Are we still friends?
ME: We were never friends. I don't like you.
S.S.: What do you mean?
ME: I mean that no matter how many coats of turd polish Lions Gate tries applying to you (changing the title, drumming up some fake "edgy" cover art), none of it changes the fact that you are a terrible, terrible movie.
S.S.: What are you saying?
ME: You suck.
S.S.: Quit speaking in code. Give it to me straight.
ME: I hate you.
S.S.: I'm not following.
ME: Can we talk about Demolition Man now?
S.S.: No. No, we can't.
ME: Well, can you at least hand me another Pepsi? All this ranting has made me thirsty.
S.S.: No. No, I can't. I don't have arms.
ME: Oh, man. You really are worthless.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary Featuring Writer-Director Mark Tapio Kines
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