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Summer of Massacre, The
The Summer Of Massacre's fevered newness electrifies with spastic, hyper-violent imagery, a breakneck pace, and a disturbing lack of conscience. The Summer Of Massacre's grammatically challenged title, near-total lack of storyline, and cartoon-collage special effects will send you into a zombie rage. This is The Summer Of Massacre, weird graffiti-horror for script-kiddies used to having three screens going at any given time.
Divided into five loosely (I think) related sequences, for an hour-and-a-half of horrific mayhem, the movie reads like a Web-culture inspired trip to hell. Sequence one exemplifies this notion, reading more like a first-person shooter video game than a movie, and convincing me for the next 15-minutes that we still hadn't made it through the credits. Pretty much what happens is that some guy is killed by a bunch of jerks; he then rises from the dead and kills everyone he can in a mindless, sprinting frenzy of brutal death. End of story.
As the sequences progress, writer/director Joe Castro expands the milieu to include other types of murderous vengeance that thankfully include characters you can identify with, and sequential dialog, though the overall effect is still one of wildly primal experimentation. It's hard to determine what this move from pure chaos to clumsy narrative accomplishes. It's possibly an attempt to add gravitas to something that might otherwise be too far out in the avant-garde, or an ass-covering nod towards movie-watching traditionalists, though it misses the mark in performance quality.
Considering the movie is marketed as having the highest kill-count of all-time or some such, potential viewers will be drawn from the bloodthirsty pool, and might not care that much about throughput anyway. They'll be jacked by that opener, though, which starts fast and rough. If your idea of entertainment is watching a goon smashing a jogger's head into the pavement for a while before ripping her scalp off and shoving it down her throat, then you're golden. You'll additionally be heartened to know that, even after this full-frontal onslaught of slaughter, the nasty attitude remains. Chilling CCTV footage of a serial killer talking shop at the police station bookends one sequence, for instance, heavying-up the more traditionally-written final four stories with existential dread.
However, the murders - when they occur at their now somewhat slower rate - are just as stylized and savage as ever. More than the fragmented, not there narrative, kill sequences define the movie, rendering impossible deaths in a gory yet maximally stylized way. Combining home-office CGI with practical effects and ADD editing means each kill is outrageous and completely distanced from the viewer; a manga-violence treat that's enticing but impossible to take seriously. Sequence two, 'Lump', underscores this, with its tale of an obviously male woman sprouting an 8-inch tumor from her forehead. Weirdness, killing, and hilarious sex ensue, ultimately letting us know that we probably shouldn't take The Summer Of Massacre too seriously anyway. Let your bloody freak flag fly!
In writing this review, I wrestled with my perspective: stuck between confused hate and admiration, I had to discover where my priorities and self-imposed perceptions lay. I'm giving Joe Castro the nod this time, even though our DVD-Rom screener comes with a lovely MOVIE-LENGTH burn-in, spanning the ENTIRE CENTER OF THE SCREEN, letting us know exactly who owns this labeled-with-a-sticker disk. The movie is presented in a 16 X 9 ratio, and is likely to have a highly digital look to it, if you know what I'm saying. (Damn, a full-length burn-in, that's like having a voice constantly chanting, "review copy" on your review CD of the new Adele album.)
Having gotten my mitts on retail product, I'm happy to say that this movie looks quite nice. Yes, it frequently looks like a digital collage, even approaching the appearance of a motion-comic at times, but the image is super sharp, with good detail levels when necessary. Colors pop like crazy, and black levels are nice, while the only real problems are some heavy digital grain in some darker scenes, and an occasional bit of posterizing. Does this mean that sending out a crummy looking screener can have an effect on a reviewer's ability to properly enjoy a movie? Mmmmm ... could be.
The same goes for Audio. (Except the Audio doesn't have a voice chanting, "review copy" while people are talking.)
Digital stereo audio features a cool soundtrack that's mixed just a little bit louder than dialog, for maximum impact. Stereo effects are applied with a sledgehammer, (more or less) in keeping with the movie's maximal motif, but lots of dialog suffers from poor, echo-filled source recording.
You can enjoy a somewhat odd Director's Commentary Track from Castro, who comes off as politely unhinged at times. Amidst a rotating cast of actors joining the commentary during the chapters in which they acted, you get fun tidbits from Castro, such as when he points out which scenes were filmed with an iPhone! A Director's Diary (Behind The Scenes) is equally revelatory at 25-minutes*, though there is inevitable crossover. The featurette is just as hyper-stylized as the movie itself. *Viewers should note that though the DVD gives this featurette 25 minutes to run, for some reason my copy (factory wrapped retail product) dropped everything at the 9-minute mark in favor of 15-minutes of a message stating 'media offline' in several languages. Did someone fall asleep at the switch? More functional, let's say, is a complete 8-minutes of Brinke Stevens Interview, two minutes of Cast Auditions and seven minutes of Joe Castro's "Childhood Massacre" - A Short Film. Created when Castro was 14-years-old, this is an odd inclusion considering Joe's introduction; Castro mentions trying as a youth to 'one-up' his colleagues with gory special effects, he's decided now, however, to add his brand of contemporary special effects to this old effort, I guess in an attempt to see how it feels for George Lucas or something.
Joe Castro's The Summer Of Massacre is one whacked-out, balls-to-the-wall anthology or horrorific insanity. If your tastes run towards narrative arc, coherent comprehensibility, and a traditional appearance, then test your stinking perceptions a bit and check this out. However if you're just one of them dumb kids who can't watch a movie without surfing the Web on your iPad while simultaneously holding a conversation on your cell phone, then this movie was made for YOU! Watch it with an open mind and one eye on your neighbor's TV as well. If you're a truly adventurous eater, you'll have to admit that this is Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke