Serial killers come in all shapes and sizes - big, brutish lummox to wiry, twisted twerp. You've got your cross dressers, your skin wearers, those with a God complex and your demented Devil's plaything. But it's rare to see a woman take up the splatter mantle. Indeed, gals are given the shortest of shrifts in the world of the wicked. Or sure, they can be witches, or smoking hot hit-women, but there's something antithetical to the female being when it comes to mass murder. So imagine the horror fans surprise when something like Beauty Queen Butcher comes along. A slapdash effort exploiting both the high school and pageant dynamic, this one-off effort is either the worst piece of pop culture perfection ever created, or the best bad movie ever made. Now available on DVD after years as an underground entity, the post-modern macabre fan can decide for themselves.
When the annual Miss Slough Beauty Pageant is announced, the gals at the local high school are excited. The four hottest chicks on campus - Alison, Muffy, Elizabeth and Shelly - all want to run for the title, but none of them want to be voted last place. So they decide to secretly sign-up class cow Phyllis Loden as their glory goat. Hated by everyone except for the notorious nerd who follows her around, this orphaned elephant is a shy, quiet porker, her only comfort being her equally plump cat, Eartha. Though the competition director Betty Prunish thinks Phyllis is loathsome, she accepts the entries. Before we know it, it's time for the sexist smackdown. Formidable favorite Muffy Fairlane wins, with the rest of her clique taking the remainder of the runner-up spots. Phyllis is labeled last, as planned. The newly crowned winners, arrogant with false pride, decide to teach the lame lard ass a further lesson. The results are so awful they make Phyllis snap, and before long, she is transformed into the Beauty Queen Butcher. And she won't stop the slaughter until she gets her revenge, and wears the coveted Miss Slough tiara.
Like the underdog in any contest that you can't help but find yourself rooting for, Beauty Queen Butcher is an earnest effort that wins despite washing out. First time writer/director Jill Zurborg (in what would be her only movie ever) decides to give the slasher film a female-eccentric approach, riffing on previous big ugly gals and bad psychotic murderers in such epics as Criminally Insane, The Honeymoon Killers, and the surreal '70s TV treat The Girl Most Likely To. At two hours, our cinematic novice never met a scene she couldn't let run on in near real time tenets, and there is just too much film here for what the genre demands or needs. But with a cast who really understands where their aesthetic architect is coming from, and a note perfect knowledge of every beat in the fat chick goes nutzoid revenge flick, what we wind up with is a test of patience as a goofball delight, a klutzy combination of high school horror show, teen comedy, geek spaz space out, and out of place drag histrionics. Toss in a few gratuitous murders, absolutely no nudity what to speak of, and one incredibly crappy Lincoln Continental, and you've got the makings of the next big kitsch camp cult classic. All you need is an audience tuned into the retro retardation with all its '80s/'90s nods (including mandatory bad hair and fashions), and the world in your motion picture oyster.
You can tell what kind of movie this is going to be from the very first scenes. Our catty foursome of feminine popularity - ruling the school in true Heathers style - decide to target poor she slob Phyllis because she represents what's socially unacceptable in their limited extracurricular scope. Before we know it, Jim Boggess, looking like Bill Engvall in a really bad bob, is putting on the priss as pageant mistress Betty Prunish. It's a weird creative decision by Zurborg, especially since the cranky old bat plays such a major role in the movie. At every turn, Prunish is plotting, planning, and preening, full five of clock shadow and obvious guy gams in full view of the audience. Perhaps it was a homage to John Waters and Divine. Maybe it was a last minute casting choice. Whatever the reason, it's not completely successful, which is par for the crazy course with most of Beauty Queen Butcher. Another odd aspect is the one hour set up consisting of the most mean spirited glamour pageant ever. Judged on talent (oh boy), intelligence (oh no), and swimsuit/evening gown attire (Oh GOD!) we get to see challenging cheesecake of varying value try to appear like viable contestants. The joke's on them, not us. Sure, some of the material is funny (one participant pulls out the baton to give us her best marching band bravado), but it does drag on...and on. Instead of using the jump cut as a means of timing the comedy, Zurborg simply lets it play out, naturally. The results are more odd than laugh out loud.
What does work is Rhona Brody's performance as picked on heifer Phyllis. It's hard to use one's size as a selling point, especially with 'girth equaling mirth' in most audience's eyes. But this fine actress really makes us believe in her orphaned, friendless fašade. Not every thespian can sell us on a love of lemon Jell-O with carrots (YUM!) or the joys of working in the school cafeteria, but Ms. Brody does an excellent job. Even when she has to go bonkers and turn Voorhees on her classmates, her level of commitment is commendable. It's just too bad that her director didn't amplify the arterial spray when she had the chance. Obviously an issue of budget and technical proficiency, the slice and dice as part of Beauty Queen Massacre is definitely poised at PG. One gal gets it in the stomach with her crown, while others are strangled (boring), bludgeoned off screen (BO-RING), and simply scared off, leaving town for good (ZZZZZZZZZ). What we need here is some good old gratuitous gore, buckets of blood ladled on in queasiness inducing quarts. A little trickle here and there just ain't gonna make it. And what, pray tell, was up with that cotton matting sticking out of the top of the microwave. While this critic won't spoil the surprise of what exactly gets nuked, let's just say that the consequences don't begin to match the crime - another example of this film's 'horseshoes and hand grenades' approach to horror. Lucky for Ms. Zurborg and her capable company, "almost" more or less counts here.
Considering it was made on out of date, old fashioned Betamax technology, Beauty Queen Butcher looks very, very good. The colors are clear and there's a lack of any flagrant flaws - flaring, bleeding, ghosting, or bad tracking. If one wasn't so sure that Camp Motion Pictures would never go to the trouble, we'd swear this 1.33:1 image was recently remastered. It puts other titles released by the company - Video Violence, Zombie Bloodbath Trilogy - to shame.
Obviously the result of poor recording equipment on set, the sound elements of Beauty Queen Butcher are really hard to handle. Dialogue gets lost in a lack of microphone range, and conversations are frequently flustered by too loud musical backing. Even occasional ambient noise can be irritatingly intrusive. Indeed, the overall effect of the Dolby Digital Stereo presentation is trying at best.
Unlike other releases, where substantial supplements and added context were part of the package, the only bonus feature provided by Camp Motion Pictures is a Making-Of featurette produced at the time the movie was made. The footage is horrid (thus the prologue title card warning of the less than stellar visuals) and the insights limited to big dreams and crushing indie realities. Still, it's a fun ride through no-budget cinemania, and a decent part of this DVD. Too bad the company couldn't corral Zurborg and her cohorts into a commentary. It would be interesting to hear their perspective on this motion picture after almost 16 years.
This is going to sound like a stretch, but there is a lot to like about Beauty Queen Butcher. The intentions of the director are obvious from the first few frames, and the cast goes along for the frequently ridiculous ride. Still, the nostalgic elements of such a homemade horror movie, combined with the facets that our filmmaker gets right, means the movie earns an easy Recommended rating. There will be those who scoff at such a suggestion, complaining that telling anyone to waste their money on this moronic exercise in amateur macabre is some kind of filmic felony. But those are just the bellyaches of wannabe critics who complain about anything as long as they can wear the wet blanket that comes with such disapproval. Granted, this is hardly a good film. It's barely even a competent one. But Beauty Queen Butcher really believes in itself, and it uses that confidence to overcome many of its more merciless screw-ups. If you give it a shot, you'll enjoy the risible results.