FACE THE EVIL
One of the things I enjoy about reviewing titles for DVD Talk are the curious films that I probably would have otherwise overlooked as a time-constrained film buff. This year, so far, Poker Run takes the cake in this category. This contemporary torture horror film, released by Phase 4 Films, starred (and was co-written by) 65-year-old one-hit-wonder from 1982 Bertie Higgins. With a "star" like that, the film was memorable, if only for the novelty factor it provides for the VH1 One Hit Wonders types out there.
Well, here comes Phase 4 Films again, just a few months later, with another low budget horror film titled Cornered! that is bound to stir some minor cult interest due to its star. And of all people, this time, it's Steve Guttenberg. Yes, the Steve Guttenberg, the comic actor who appeared in the successful 1980s hits Police Academy, Cocoon, and 3 Men and a Baby. A couple decades have passed since his heyday, but hey, give the guy credit. Like Sean Young in Haunted Echoes, Guttenberg gives it his all, despite the budgetary constraints of the film itself.
Guttenberg plays Morty, a seemingly affable deliveryman who strikes up a conversation with a motley crew of characters in a seedy liquor / convenience store in Los Angeles owned by Steve (Eduardo Antonio Garcia). The small group discusses a serial killer on the loose who targets convenience stores and steals the surveillance tapes after his grisly murders. A generous reward has been posted for his capture. In a rather self-aware exchange, they discuss slasher films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Texas Chainsaw Massacre and imagine what they would do to the killer, if so confronted.
Of course, as movie fate would have it, they get their chance. Playing a poker game after hours in the apartment above the store, Steve and his associates find themselves the latest targets of the serial killer, who dons a get-up reminiscent of the killer's garb in last year's theatrically released The Collector. The script, by director Daniel Maze with Darrin Grimwood, goes to exaggerated lengths to explain why the characters are stuck in the building - with no operating cell phones. And, there's no real mystery here, as it's very obvious early in the film who the killer is. However, for as set-bound as this movie is (with almost all of it occurring between the two floors of the building), the filmmakers do craft a dark yet slightly comic take on the slasher films of yesteryear. Despite its awkwardness and low budget, Cornered! is a run-around that does entertain.
The thing I liked the most about this film is its eccentric, troubled characters. In addition to Steve and Morty, we get Mona, an over-the-hill phone sex operator, Jimmy, a drug addict suffering withdrawal symptoms, Donny, a donut-chowing binge eater, and Jess, a prostitute. The cast isn't bad, although they do tend toward histrionics at times. Their poker game is far from a fun affair, as Steve's apartment is crawling with cockroaches and Jimmy is strung out beyond belief. Yet, there's some darkly humorous moments thrown in, especially a double-edged pun on the word "dealer" during the card game. Maze wisely develops his unusually quirky characters with a lot of dialogue in the first half of the film, saving the requisite carnage primarily until the second half.
Speaking of which, there are a half-dozen effective jump scares scattered throughout. The kills have a dark sense of humor to them, a la the original My Bloody Valentine and its ilk. The most effective kill, though, is a blatant rip-off from the seminal 1974 Black Christmas, but it still worked in context here.
All in all, Cornered! is no piece of art, and I wouldn't really recommend it to the casual filmgoer. However, fans of horror movies may appreciate it, for it captures that dark but slightly cheesy aesthetic of slasher movies in the '80s well enough. Throw in Steve Guttenberg as the headlining actor, and the cult crowd should be satisfied. That's enough for me to give the film a mild recommendation to genre buffs.
Phase 4 Films gives Cornered! an anamorphic 16:9 widescreen presentation. The image quality was suitably sharp, although colors were muted.
Two audio options are available on this disc: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0. Both are English language. The 5.1 track seemed to be the default and was the option I listened to. The mix was strong, with dialogue always clear, and dynamic. No subtitles were available.
Trailers precede the main menu for Midnight Movie, Red Hook, and a little curiously, Cornered! itself. They're not accessible via the menu system.
A featurette titled Cornered! Behind the Crime Scenes (17:58) is the lone additional extra. Typical for this type of extra, it offers brief comments from cast and crew spliced together with scenes from the film. I began this review stating how surprised I was to see Steve Guttenberg in a contemporary slasher film; perhaps expecting this reaction from filmgoers, the featurette begins with Guttenberg himself discussing why he took the role. The featurette, like the feature, is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Low budget, set-bound and talk-heavy, Daniel Maze's Cornered! still captures the feel of vintage '80s slasher movies: dark yet morbidly comic at times. It has some significant shortcomings, but fans of horror films may appreciate its at-times clever dialogue and occasional jump scares. '80s comic actor Steve Guttenberg's inclusion in the cast may warrant some interest in cult circles as well. It's not for everyone, but I'd give it a mild recommendation for genre fans.