Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #5: Serial Killer (2002)

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A few years before Demon Slaughter, Director Ryan Cavalline put together a much more serious take on the horror genre in Serial Killer. More of a meditation on the mind of a murderer than a straight stalk and slash type of movie, Cavelline nonetheless packs the film with naked ladies and a few familiar faces to Z-grade horror fans.

The film spends much of its running time cutting between Michael (Adam Berasi, also the lead in Demon Slaughter), a professional writer who has begun to receive violent videotapes after publishing a book on serial killers, as wel as the exploits of an unamed serial killer (Vic Badger) who has apparently captured Michael's wife and child. Also interspersed throughout are filmed testimonials from actors portraying serial killers, including low-budget legend Joel D. Wynkoop, as well as terrified statements from the serial killers (naked and tied up) victims. And guess what? There's a twist at the end! Try your best not to guess it in the first ten minutes.

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At times Serial Killer is quite an unpleasant movie to watch, but unlike Nightmare Asylum this time it's actually intentional. The serial killers speaking to the camera, while sometimes unconvincing, provide some powerful and disturbing moments that, frankly, give the film more power than it deserves. The main plot leaves much to be desired, and while the serial killer scenes have some strong elements, it's a bit too grim and humourless to be entertaining. And while I appreciated the bevy of naked adult entertainers on display, their frequency began to feel more and more exploitive as the film went on, particularly when they detail their respective sexual assaults.

But despite my objections to some of the content, Cavelline was smart to edit these scenes in to break up some of the monotony of Michael's brooding. He spend much of the film drinking and looking dour which quickly starts to become tiring. It's also interesting that graphic violence is mostly avoided, at least until the end, which was a surprise after the goopy excess of Demon Slaughter.

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I praised Adam Berasi's performance in Demon Slaughter, but here he's really quite unconvincing as a tormented writer. Much better is Vic Badger who hammed it up as Satan in Demon Slaughter, but his unhinged act works much better here. The serial killers on the interview tapes (which include producer Ron Bonk and z-horror mainstay Ron Ford) do their job efficiently, but it's Wynkoop who is most memorably creepy.

While it uses only a few locations, the technical aspects of the film are respectable. Aside from an ill chosen rock song during a cemetary scene, the music is very well done. Dialogue is usually intelligible, and the special FX are all tolerable, though again sometimes hurt by poor editing.

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Though it's only a small detail, there was one particular moment of the film that felt quite careless. I was irked by Michael writing "Your Dead" on a note for an autograph seeking visitor. It's difficult to believe that a professional writer would make such a slip on Your/You're, and it's almost equally hard to believe that it ended up in the finished film without someone noticing.

Serial Killer is presented in a decent fullscreen transfer free of some of the pixelation issues that plague other films in the Bloody Nightmares collection. Luckily there are none of the sound issues which made Demon Slaughter so difficult to sit through.

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A decent stab (ha!) at a difficult genre, Ryan Cavalline deserves credit for trying something a little different in Serial Killer, though he fails as often as he succeeds. Hampered by some bad performances and an uneven story, there are still enough effective and creepy moments throughout to make it a worthwhile watch. However, a bit more care with the production side of things could have resulted in a much stronger film.

6 comments:

Ash said...

Have any of the directors from these films gone on to do any studio (or even legit B-level) films?

Doug Tilley said...

Actually, from my experience it's quite rare for a z-grade shot-on-video distributor to ever go on to anything much larger than, say, a Troma film. Of course, most of the films in this collection are from 2002+, so it's possible that one of these directors will rise up. Frankly, I haven't seen any director thus far that is ready for anything much bigger. Todd Sheets has, I think, made a few actual b-level films, but he started out much earlier than the filmmakers i've encountered.

What's interesting is the community that surrounds these z-grade features. It really is a weird subculture, since it takes a very specific sort of person to seek films like this out. It's the cheapest sort of thrill.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice review. Also, I still hate that picture of me with the Lipstick. ;) It was pretty fun to make, though I didn't enjoy having to watch the weird SM porno while we shot. Thanks, too, for pointing out the whole "your dead" thing. I always scream "Your dead what?" when my cronies and I MST3K this flick. BTW, yes, this really is Vic Badger. Incidently, the whole plot was changed cause Adam Berasi and I couldn't sync up work schedules to actually film the climax of the movie where we were supposed to fight. And I still have divots in my hardwood floor from whaling away with Sam Hoyle's mid-90s Cell phone. :D

Doug Tilley said...

I'm glad that you enjoyed the review, and i'm certainly glad you noticed the "you're dead" thing. In my research for the review, I noticed that most other reviewers praised your own performance most of all.. and rightfully so. And I give credit to Adam for the inclusion of the "interview" segments, even if they arose out of necessity to break up the film a bit rather than a strict stylistic choice.
I try not to be brutal when it comes to reviewing low budget films like this. I've worked on some productions myself and I recognize that it's really just a series of compromises to vision, and the final product can constitute an accumulation of any number of frustrations.
That said, it must be pretty neat to get distribution enough that some dumb-shit in Ontario can review your movie. :)

Anonymous said...

It's really fun to find folks that have seen them, though I'll admit that there's an element of embarrassment that goes along with it. I think I was one of the few actors Ryan used that had much acting experience outside of his movies. I'd done lots of Theater; both in school and with the local community theater, and even a few student movies at Penn State.

I give mad props to Ryan for being consistent and getting his work done and out there. I did four movies with him; Shudder, Demon Slaughter, Serial Killer and Day of the Ax 3.

I just saw Demon Slaughter for the first time tonight, and I think it was the best looking of the bunch, though it was probably the poorest acting I did. ;) The devil make-up was lots of fun. Plus, I got lost driving home in this little cul-de-sac, and kept going by the same handful of houses. There was a group of little kids playing in the yard that stopped dead the first time I went past. The second time they watched me pull around, and then ran away. :D

I don't know if Ryan would want to work with me again, and now that I'm married and have a kid, I don't know if my schedule would allow it to happen. It would be more fun to write him a script, I think, and maybe do a little cameo or something.

Thanks again, Doug, for the kind words.

Doug Tilley said...

Thanks again for dropping by. I've worked on a few low-budget films, and i've found that often the behind-the-scenes stories are as entertaining (if not more-so) than the finished product.

Kudos to Ryan for sticking to his guns.. I believe there are a few more of his films in this collection, so i'll at least feel like i've experienced a sample of his work.

It would be a shame if you got out of the game completely. From my experience it's sadly rare that actors in these productions throw themselves into the roles like you obviously did.

Either way, good luck in the future.