What is your favorite splatter epic? Is it John Carpenter's The Thing? How about Jörg Buttgereit's sickening Nekromantik? Perhaps you are more inclined to enjoying such icky Eastern offerings as The Guinea Pig Series or the Mediterranean macabre of Lucio Fulci. From Day of the Dead to Hostel, Cannibal Holocaust to Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, blood and its onscreen bounty has been a jolly genre given since the gruesome gave way to the gory. Of course, there has to be more than mere vivisection, as many of the above titles and artists confirm. Still, some movies want to get away with being nothing but autopsies and atrocities. Take the recently release The Summer of Massacre. Jack-of-Too-Many-Trades Joe Castro set out to make a record-breaking bit of human deconstruction. Because of the means used to achieve this redolent record, however, the end result is nothing short of ridiculous.
Though it starts out like a standard scary movie, The Summer of Massacre suddenly shifts into that most dreaded of horror dynamics - the anthology. Yes, we will witness five separate stories of terror, told within the setting of a single, sultry summer. Though not connected content-wise, all offer the same level of specious splatter, beginning with our flawed framework material:
Intro - the police have surrounded a warehouse. Inside, we see a huge pile of corpses and three insane murderers. Eventually, we watch 'FBI' tape of the trio, each explaining their murderous modus operandi.
"Rampage" - a beefy jogger is assaulted and brutally beaten by a gang of robbers. Instead of dying, however, he 'lives' and goes on a massive multi-person killing spree.
"Lump" - a young paraplegic is given very little time to live. So naturally her slutty sister takes her to the park and pushes her off a cliff. Of course, that doesn't stop this handicapped killer from Hell.
"Son of the Boogeyman" - a young man tells his girlfriend about his questionable past. Suddenly, his paranormal parent shows up, seeking to satisfy his bloodlust.
"Burn" - while on a camping trip, a group of teens are regaled by the story of two gay firemen and their hate crime death at the hands of their buddies. Naturally, their burned bodies were never recovered.
Epilogue - our trio are cornered...and take it out on each other.
At first, you kind of like The Summer of Massacre. The over the top feel to the animation - and yes, this is nothing more than film manipulated by computer images - and the bookend material prepares you for a slaughterhouse sensation that offers a weird combination of EC Comics and lo-fi calculation. You recognize the need for such technological tweaks (no one could handle the F/X job pragmatically) and support director Joe Castro in his attempt to deliver a definitive blood bath. But then something surreal starts to happen. You start to see the wizard behind the curtain so to speak. The CG goes from intriguing to inexplicable, the various narratives - remember, there are four to five separate stories here - provide little in the way of characterization or circumstantial consideration. All we are left with is the Desktop drone of various vivisections - some good, most just mediocre. By the ending, you want the overload to stop and wish that someone had sat down and devised an actual story to circle all this digital death.
Of the four plots present, the first makes little sense. Our jogger, who is apparently possessed by some manner of rage virus (or zombie-like death disease) is just a vehicle for various Voorhees level kills. The filmmaking flow offers up a random victim, a momentary pause, and then animated mayhem. No investment. No rhyme or reason. Just brutal, sadistic murder. At least "Lump" provides Scream Queen Supreme Brinke Stevens, doing her best considered Mom routine, to get us interested. Even the simple storyline delivers a few moments of meaning. But once our handicapped cretin is reanimated and in full Shape mode, however, we're lost. Perhaps the most underwhelming of all the set-ups is "The Son of the Boogeyman." Again, it's a great idea for a fright film, like the boy who became a giant insect monster in The Beast Within. But Castro can't find the right tone. Is this something serious? Satiric? Or just plain silly? That just leaves "Burn," which is nothing more than a crappy campfire tale with an unnecessary same sex angle. Snore.
In the past, gorefests like this would get a pass from most horror fans for purely technical reasons. The chance to watch some make-up effects wizards work their magic was much more important than a cohesive core idea. Here, Castro has four chances to get things right - five if you count the opening and closing bits - and yet he can't find a way to make it work. This is partially because of the reliance on CG. Once the novelty has worn off, the Emperor's crimson clothes are painfully obvious. Some of the 'stunts' work, but most are middling, like a teenager's attempt to bring his favorite Tales from the Crypt funny book images to life. It's not just that the work looks and feels cheap. It is applied to randomly and with such bracing ambivalence that we wind up wishing for less. Since the movie loves to claim its proposed place in the Guinness Book of World Records for highest body count (155, though that seems REALLY high), it's clear why Castro does this. It doesn't make it any more interesting, however.
Here's what high definition does to The Summer of Massacre. It illustrates all the flaws in production and presentation in huge, blood red warning signs. All of the CG F/X work - ALL OF IT - is rendered undeniably fake. Any physical make-up or practical work suffers the same fate. At least the shot on video variables are handled well. Thanks to the medium used, the various composited elements come together with only minor low budget leanings. Overall, the 1.78:1, 1080p AVC-encode is colorful, clean, and often very creative (Castro loves to play with desaturation and lens gags). The blacks do suffer, and since much of the movie takes place at night, that is a problem. Similarly, we can see many of the post-production manipulation in full format glory.
First off, the dialogue (what little there is) is easy to understand. The Dolby Digital Stereo mix (there is no HD audio track that this critic could find) may be a tad overfull, but at least we can tell the difference between conversations and crazy background ambience. The musical score, like the gore, is over the top and irritating. It's like a combination of death metal and Danny Elfman.
First up is a director's commentary, and Castro acquits himself quite well. He is personable, presenting the problems and pressures he faced on set with a nice amount of mea culpa. We are also treated to a series of Behind the Scenes featurettes, including a look at the movie's making, the audition process, and an interview with Brinke Stevens. Finally, a short film made by Castro is offered. It is intriguing, if not wholly needed here.
Like the five stages of grief presented by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, The Summer of Massacre moves the viewer through various phases of critical consideration. There's intrigue, followed by irritation. We then travel through boredom, anger, and finally, resolved rejection. Trying to outdo an already ridiculous world record robs this title of any potential it has. Modern horror fans may enjoy its hampered hysterics, which is why the disc earns a Rent It rating. Otherwise, be prepared for a pure Skip It experience. Sometimes, intention can be thoroughly undermined by realization. In this case, the use of current technology is The Summer of Massacre's raison d'être, and the reason for its rejection.
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