"Any criticism is productive...it seems to make you grow as an artist. Positive reviews only serve to inflate the ego."
- Harry Penderecki
After watching Brutal Massacre, I gained a new appreciation for mockumentaries. That form of comedy isn't easy: When done right, you get masterpieces like This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman and The Office. When done wrong, you get efforts like this--a film that tries so hard to feel natural but just come across as heavily rehearsed. I didn't laugh once. Actually I did...when this film made me think about American Movie, the hysterical 1999 documentary that mined similar territory with infinitely better results.
Brutal Massacre follows a documentary crew as they chronicle the most recent effort from Harry Penderecki (David Naughton, best known for An American Werewolf in London). He's a washed-up B horror movie director who had one hit followed by a series of disappointments. The journey starts at Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors convention, where the man addresses his fans and reporters: "My films serve as a safe outlet for the pent-up aggression that festers in all of us."
We're eventually introduced to his cast and crew as we travel through the various stages of production, including some horror film notables: Jay (Brian O'Halloran, a regular for director Kevin Smith), a mild-mannered assistant director with a fear of spiders; stressed-out production manager Natalie (Ellen Sandweiss of The Evil Dead); grip/electrician Carl (Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree), working on his last film before switching careers; director of photography Hanu Vindepesh (Gerry Bednob), an irritable Indian with a violent temper (and misleading finger signals) who filmed Chicken Tikka Massacre; effects man Felipe (Richard Vallejos), who brags about his life-like corpses; lead actress Amy (Emily Brownell, a very, very, very poor woman's Reese Witherspoon), who takes her role a little too seriously; and Tanya (Michelle DiBenedetti), the breast-bearing supporting screamer with a fear of blood.
Along the way, the production encounters various characters and problems: a Southern investor wants "more titties"; a Jeep full of noisy teenagers interrupts various scenes with drive-by insults; and a cuss-happy Vietnam vet (Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen) likes to creep out the crew (enough already! He likes to say bad words, we get it!). Pretty much anything that can go wrong does, from location mishaps to prop snafus to sound malfunctions and out-of-focus nude shots. And as the clock ticks, Harry--convinced an evil presence hangs over him--worries that his new masterpiece may never see the light of day.
The biggest problem here is that every joke is telegraphed. The film is far too aware of itself, and the weak script puts more pressure on the actors to pull off the material--a task most of them aren't up to (some of the acting is so bad that you'd swear it was for the movie within the movie--it's not). The joke formula becomes immediately obvious, with slow set-ups leading to punch lines followed by supposedly awkward silences where you're supposed to laugh:
- Harry describe his latest effort as "not your typical gory exploitation film, it's got a story and shit. It's real sophisticated." When asked what the title is, he replies "Brutal Massacre." Get it? See, that title suggests a typical gory exploitation film, not something sophisticated! So funny it hurts, indeed!
- When asked if positive reviews inflate his ego, Harry replies "I'm sure they would."
- When walking documentarian Bert (Vincent Butta) through a hall of his movie posters, Harry reflects on his work: "So many directors you talk to try to make themselves seem intelligent by bragging about them being influenced by the really obscure artsy-fartsy directors, like Fellini, Eisenstein, Bergman...I don't try to put on such pretentious airs. What you see is what you get." Moments later, Harry notes that the screenplay for one of his films was inspired by the Beatles' Abbey Road.
Every exchange like that is followed by dead air that screams "Insert Laughs Here!" But the only noise in my living room was the sound of crickets. The other one-liners are equally unsuccessful, like when Harry complains why the investors pulled out of his project: "Everything was going fine until they insisted on reading the script!" Yawn! That's just as funny as this tasteless kernel: "You get the occasional fruitcake who wants you to do things like hire a stunt coordinator!"
The film also tries to force chuckles with Harry's movie titles: Sasquatch at the Mall, Fish Who Ate Flesh, I'll Take the Ring Back...and the Finger Too!, People Pesticide, The Mummy's Daddy, The Untrained Surgeon and Bowel Movement, a film where victims are forced to eat gun powder--and explode when they defecate. There are also clips of his early efforts like Killer Koala, a slasher movie for kids. Is that as original as they could get? It feels like the scribbling of an immature junior high school student. Repeated jokes about the movies' success in foreign countries don't help (the theme song to Garbage Man climbed to No. 3 in Germany!).
There's also some T&A, and guess what the acronym in LMB Productions stands for! But the film sinks to its lowest point with a remarkably banal scene involving Natalie and the commode tank in an RV (she later quips, "Hey, shit happens!"). A few moments made me mildly smile inside my head: the awful screaming of Tanya (is DiBenedetti acting? The world may never know!), the line "What, gay people don't drink?!" and the argument Harry has with his casting director over hiring an Asian woman. But overall, the zingers are predictable and repetitive--including the Three's Company-esque mistaken identity scenes and Hanu's incessant mimicking of Harry.
This film had potential, and as far as direct-to-video efforts go (although this did premiere at a film festival on July 13), it looks a lot more "professional" than most. It's just not funny. If you're going to put reviews on your box calling your film the "Spinal Tap for horror" and a "cult masterpiece", you better back it up. Those are lofty claims that stupidly got me excited--much like the buzz surrounding writer/director Stevan Mena's Malevolence, another disappointing DTV entry with a strong marketing blitz. The end of the credits informs us that our protagonist will return in Harry Penderecki and The Black Book of Doom. I can only hope that's another "joke".
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, this is a decent outing. It's got an overall "dull" look to it, with subdued colors. There's also plenty of grain, but it all befits the "documentary" look the story aims for.
The 5.1 surround track is a tad more impressive than the video, offering a few rear channel sparks that help enhance the experience. But this is most dependent on dialogue, so don't expect much.
Up first are 17 extended/deleted scenes (21:34). Most of these are just as boring as the film, and some are worse--primarily the excruciating four minutes (!) of Carl (Ken Foree) and Hanu (Gerry Bednob) fighting in the hotel bed they share. A lot of the new footage is short, tacked on to other scenes. Genre writer/director Mick Garris appears as himself with a few lines. The most tasteless moment comes as Amy (Emily Brownell) grabs the boob of co-star Tanya (Michelle DiBenedetti) in a scene catering to 12-year-old boys: "How much did they cost?" "Nothing! I just let the doctor jack off on them after the operation!"
Next is the full-frame Behind the Scenes of Brutal Massacre (16:15), a faux featurette with all of the actors staying in character as they talk about the "fake" Brutal Massacre, not the one you're watching. It's like more deleted footage, with the cast, crew and industry insiders and executives talking about Harry and the film. All of the scenes are just as uninspired, like fan Daryl's audition footage for Garbage Man 2. Tanya once again talks about her breasts, named "Sonja" and "Fifi": "I'm so proud of my boobs, and I get to show them in, like, four scenes in the movie!" Uh, make that five, Tanya!
Rounding out the bonus features are a trailer for Brutal Massacre (the real one) and three more trailers for other releases, including one for Malevolence (which is the best thing about that movie).
This mockumentary that follows a bad horror movie director as he makes his latest stinker, Brutal Massacre is a predictable bore with telegraphed jokes, bad acting and an obvious self-awareness of its attempted cuteness. Do yourself a favor and see American Movie instead. Skip It.