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I was all prepared to write this review as an acknowledgment of the pinnacle of Ryan Nicholson's career. It seemed a fitting capper, as a posthumous release. But then I discovered it was completed in 2011, and just never released, I guess. Regardless of that fact, Famine feels like the culmination of Nicholson's efforts behind the camera: it's funny, disgusting, well-acted, perfectly structured, written, and directed. It's got great dialog, and though gory as hell, seems to have been edited with the MPAA in mind. Maybe that's the thing; did Famine represent Nicholson swinging for the fences? And did the fact that it was a non-starter cause Nicholson to go back on offense with unsafe movies like Collar? Or am I over-thinking things?
The reason Famine feels like something close to a studio effort; it's almost six minutes into the film before I'm even mildly offended, when a creepy janitor starts fondling the open sore on his cheek. For those in the know, Nicholson movies tend to be a bit more aggressive in their transgressions. Famine is gory and gross, mind you, and its restraint will seem non-existent to garden variety horror fans, but for this Nicholson fan, the movie seems almost polite. In Famine a hot teacher at Sloppy Secondary High School, Mr. Balszack (alternative spelling meant to sell the joke, I'm sure) gets all burned up by acid in a freak accident during the school's oddly-named fundraiser, "Famine", a 24-hour student-wide fast purportedly meant to help end hunger, (while sounding like a knock-off Hunger Games). But speaking of knock-offs, the next time the school holds the "Famine", somebody dressed up as the school mascot starts spiking students in the head, or cutting open their bellies so their guts come popping out.
What makes a Ryan Nicholson film so awesome is the fact that, though he attempts to offend all viewers in the deepest ways possible, Nicholson was at heart an incredibly thoughtful, humanistic person who just wanted to have fun. It shows in Famine with throwaway jokes in the background like blurry posters that say "Anorexic? Better control that shit, Skeleton!" Or when the super-hot Cathy (Beth Cantor) says to the janitor, "do I know you from somewhere?" and he replies, "ever been to Afghanistan?" But what really sells the message is the fact that mostly, the masked killer's victims are only the cool kids, who are real assholes. These people deserve to die, you see!
The elements always found in a Ryan Nicholson joint are certainly here, what with all the gore, (including a fairly over-the-top throat-slitting) hot chicks, slick dudes, big laughs, and all around excellent performances. There's even a little actual suspense to be found, and the heroine is as delightfully crazy as the villain. Fans of no-holds-barred horror will find Famine Highly Recommended (and if you like what you see, check out some of his other movies, including Gutterballs, Collar, Bleading Lady, and Hanger).
Nicholson was also an accomplished special makeup effects artist with credits including The Predator the Blair Witch remake, Warcraft, eXistenZ and many more. But what's most important to me, if you'll allow me a moment, is what a nice person he was. Nicholson "lost his battle" as they say, with brain cancer, far too young, in October, 2019. Those few films of his that I reviewed often disgusted me, until I came to understand them, this in large part because Nicholson was very present as a filmmaker. He almost always contacted me after reading my reviews, usually with a kind word, sometimes allowing that I helped him understand something in one of his movies that he wouldn't have seen otherwise, and always with genuine thanks. He was a nice follow on Facebook, too! He would sign his notes, "Cool, Ry" which I though was kind of neat. Does this mean I'm not an impartial critic? I don't think so, still, but I do want to say "Cool, Ry, we'll miss you."
Famine sprays out of your screen in a 1.78:1 ratio 1080p MPEG 4 AVC encoded transfer, that looks positively spanky for a low-budget joint. Details are good and clean, not eye-popping, but better than you might expect. Colors are vibrant and rich, and darkness is handled OK, with just a tad of crush in the shadows here and there.
English DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Audio is your option, and it does tend to reveal more of the low-budget nature, with some variation of volume and clarity. Things sound a bit muffled occasionally, and often seem sourced from room sound, but hey, what are you gonna do?
Nothing much in the way of extras here. A handful of Trailers, including one for Famine and a Stills Gallery are pretty much it. But hey, what are you gonna do?
If you're a Ryan Nicholson fan, you're probably going to want to pick up a copy of Famine, that's what you're going to do! While at times feeling a slightly restrained version of Nicholson's trademark insanity, Famine has all the gore-hound reprobate could want; splashy kills, gruesome humor, cute actresses, plus, great acting and writing. I couldn't think of a much-better send-off for the low-brow horror auteur. Even without extras, it's Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke