These are days where welcome cinematic surprises seem very nearly around every blood-soaked corner for horror hounds. Thus far, each standout has hailed from foreign soil: the Canadian werebabe of Ginger Snaps and her wolfen brothers from across the pond in Dog Soldiers. An Americanized Japanese phenom such as The Ring or England's doomsday zombie chiller 28 Days Later that's rabidly holding its own in a blockbuster-sequel summer. Now playing theatrically, even as yours truly squeals in giddy glee over its digital debut, is yet another 5-star surprise -- this time birthed right here in the land of Drayton Sawyer's chainsaw chili. Behold May, dear CineSchlockers, a charming yet grim fairy tale that's a wry slice of Frankenstein stitched to Taxi Driver's socially-challenged Travis Bickle, vaguely informed by Italian giallo guru Dario Argento.
Right from grade school, little May never really had a fair shot, because of being saddled with a rather startling lazy eye. Even accessorizing with a jaunty eye patch still led cruel schoolyard teases to deem her one parrot, and perhaps a peg leg, short of being mistaken for a pirate. Her only childhood companion didn't even have a pulse. Rather it was a creepy dolly named Suzi whom May's daft mama insisted remain locked safely within its glass case. Lord only knows what happened to her folks, given the flick's final reel, but we do know May (Angela Bettis) did eventually manage to endure the slings and arrows of life long enough to find gainful employment as a veterinarian assistant. A cosmic fit given our lonely wallflower communes so poorly with most two-legged critters. But then fate steps in, followed closely by vanity, with the potential promise of an end to her solitude when May timidly spies a boy she fancies: Adam (Jeremy Sisto) a mechanic and aspiring filmmaker with what she considers to be glorious man hands. Determined to be pawed by said mitts, she ditches her spectacles for corrective contacts, sews a nifty red number that clings to her best assets, practices girly smooches under Suzi's cold stare and then commences stalking, er, arranging chance meetings with Adam. L'amour somehow blossoms amid these encounters despite May's penchant for profoundly odd behavior and one particularly queasy example of questionable dinner conversation involving a good puppy dog's accidental postoperative disembowelment. However, she's uniquely WEIRD and Adam claims to dig weird. This is especially apparent as they spend a handsy evening screening his gruesome student film "Jack & Jill" about two amorous cannibals who literally EAT EACH OTHER like stars of some Herschell Gordon Lewis gore fest. Although, in any romance, there are pitfalls -- to couch it kindly. Say when May later nibbles off a hunk of her wouldbe beau's lower lip, gets herself dumped, sending her in search of after-hours comfort by nuzzling the neck of Polly (Anna Faris), the vet's lesbian sexpot receptionist, only to be unceremoniously turned out for a leggy blonde. What's a gal to do!?! Well, tragically, it's much too late to stash the cutlery before May recalls her mama's fateful words: "If you can't find a friend. Make one."
Odds are CineSchlockers will giggle and wince their way right along May's quest for one-piece-at-a-time fulfillment before ever realizing they've completely fallen under Ms. Bettis' spell. Not since Carrie White has a more enchanting, sweet, inexplicably endearing character been so entirely loveable even in the darkest depths of her depravity. This rarified performance leaves little wonder Angela was tapped as the telekinetic misfit in the recent made-for-TV Carrie remake. Mr. Sisto's also carved himself a cottage industry in small-screen epics as both Jesus Christ AND Julius Caesar (making Adam's choice of Halloween costumes a hoot). One other standout is Ms. Faris who hilariously vamps up nearly every scene with wicked energy never even hinted at in Scary Movie's ongoing experiment in diminishing returns.
No breasts. Five corpses. Pumpkin carving. Sandwich splitting. Thumb sucking. Table dancing. Copious Argento-isms. Lesbian petting party. Misplaced doggie leg. One pussy popsicle. "Scoople" play. Kinky canoodling. Blind kiddos in peril. When not abusing hair-care products, Blank plays it cool, "F@#%! I'm still burning up. Do you have any ice cubes I can rub on my nipples?" Polly wants a, um, ... "You should call me one of these nights. We could hang out and eat some melons or something." Adam proves quite the enabler of freakazoid behavior, "I like weird. I like weird a lot!" and "I love gross. Disgust me, please!" May wilts at the romantic crossroads, "So many pretty parts and no pretty wholes." Only to spark again upon her whispered breakthrough, "I need more -- PARTS!"
It's a constant frustration that so many dud discs are lavished with all manner of extras, while more often, deserving flicks such as this rate modest supplementation or none at all. Although, it's probably somewhat ill-mannered to lament a disc that boasts TWO commentary tracks. Writer/director and instant CineSchlocker fave Lucky McKee emcees both with Ms. Bettis up first alongside amusing bit players Nichole Hiltz (Ambrosia), Bret Roberts (Distraught [Old] Man at Veterinarian Office), cinematographer Steve Yedlin plus editor and "Jack & Jill" auteur Chris Sivertson. They provide a breezy mix of on-set anecdotes and "We made a movie!" hysterics that are highly infectious. Ms. Hiltz, whose bodacious bod got more screen time than she had lines, proves quite the chatterbox whilst taking on the commentary role of hyper-enthused fan. Meanwhile, the second track attempts a slightly more technical angle as Mr. McKee tries to avoid repeating himself with production designer and Suzi creator Leslie Keel, music maven Jaye Barnes-Luckett and co-editor Rian Johnson. Their shop talk very nearly matches the wrap-party mood of the first track, thanks to the ambiguously gay culinary insights of Benji The Craft Service Guy (a la Saul and Dickie-Boy's giggle-worthy Convent commentary). As entertaining and illuminating as these are, an obvious downside is they allude to potential bonus materials fans will now covet such as Lucky's original short film that inspired the picture, the theatrical DTS mix, extensive video rehearsal and audition footage, camera tests, various deleted and alternate scenes including an early exploration of May's first attempt to "make friends" as a child. Had Lions Gate dug its claws only a bit deeper, there's zero doubt this would be a disc richly deserving of a "DVD Talk Collectors Series" recommendation. It's never too late, fellas. (2002, 93 mins, 1.85:1 anam, DD 5.1, Two crew commentaries, Trailers.)
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.