Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #14: When Heaven Comes Down (2002)


There's something to be said for filmmakers who have loftier goals than simply churning out an exploitation film. Sometimes an audience simply wants a little bit more substance, even when that substance comes housed in a no-budget slasher film. Gary M. Lumpp's When Heaven Comes Down deals with the issue of abuse against women, and there is obviously supposed to be an empowering element to these women revealing their abuse and fending off attackers, but whatever message was supposed to come out of this is drowned by shoddy production values, cardboard cut-out characters, and a script that limps to its final act. A slasher film about a killer targeting abusers of women, with perhaps a hint of the 70s genre of Women revenge films (like I Spit On Your Grave or Ms. 45), might have been interesting, but Lumpp does little to distinguish his film from the plethora of crappy slasher films in this collection.

Samantha 'Sam' Eckhart (Emily Albright) is a bartender with a secret. A few years back she was attacked by a serial killer calling himself The Savior (Joe Gordon) and barely escaped with her life. Today she runs a therapy group for battered women, but often has flashbacks to the traumatic incident and finds herself having trouble being intimate with her (ridiculously nice and supportive) new boyfriend, Josh (Cory Schiffern). Soon, the abused women from her therapy group start turning up dead, sometimes along with their abusers, and Sam begins seeing signs that The Savior may be killing once again. Or, could it be someone a bit closer to her? (It is. Try and guess who it could be. It's fun!)


A feminist Slasher film sounds like a terrific idea to me. So often the genre has presented women as weak, slutty or expendable, and combining a modern edge with the awful reality of spousal abuse could have led to an interesting, original spin on the material. Instead, Lumpp's film still presents its female characters as constant victims, only letting the protagonist show some grit at the very end. Most of them are easily dispatched of by the killer, and the male characters are almost all abusive, hateful pricks that show almost no redeemable qualities. This two dimensional approach to characterization means that only Sam ends up being the least bit sympathetic or interesting.

Lumpp's direction doesn't add much to the proceedings, though at least there are a few camera swivels to remind us that we're not just watching a play. Unfortunately the biggest technical limitation, and it's one that pops up again and again in this collection, is the sound. While dialogue can usually be made out, there's an audible hum in almost every talky scene, and this makes camera angle changes jarring. It's a constant irritant, though hardly the only technical issue with the film.


Giant chinned B-movie legend Robert Z'Dar (Maniac Cop) actually had a hand in producing the picture, and shows up in a totally disposable scene having a heart to heart with the boyfriend of an abuse victim (played by Jeff Dylan Graham from Hellbound: Book Of The Dead). I'm not sure why he felt like trading dialogue with a guy who beats up his girlfriend would make a fun appearance, but I don't question the lumpy faced lothario. To his credit, Z'Dar acts circles around everyone else in the film, though that speaks more to the film than to his own particular abilities.

Aside from Z'Dar giving it his all, the acting is really poor. They made the right decision sticking Emily Albright in the lead, as she delivers her lines strongly even while being a bit wooden, but practically every other actor wouldn't even pass muster in community theater. Joe Gordon as The Savior seems to be having some fun, but his overacting is hammy and annoying. Anthony Sabatino as the ridiculously abusive Ozzie (who literally "pops up" in a few scenes randomly) is pitiful, and gets a totally superfluous sex scene with sex-pot Syn DeVil just in case you thought the movie might be trying something a bit different. Ha ha, sucker.


No, that's not Ortiz The Dog Boy from Freaked, that is our killer in one of the few scenes which has anything visually interesting going on. Special effects are generally non-existant, with kills being relegated to stabbings and strangulation, and gunshots taking place off-screen. There are a few instances of the red stuff, but if you're here for some gore you're barking up the wrong tree.

When Heaven Comes Down is shot on DV, and certainly looks the part. Everything is reasonably lit, and it generally seems free of the video glitches common in the Bloody Nightmares collection. Soundtrack music is generally inobtrusive though totally forgettable. Yes, it's all quite a bland experience.


What could have been an interesting spin on a tired genre becomes a wasted opportunity in this predictable slasher film. When Heaven Comes Down could have used a little more ambition, and a lot more talent both in front of, and behind, the camera. The serious topic at hand is occasionally treated with a modicum of respect, particularly in the therapy scenes, but too little effort has been made to escape from the cliched trappings of the genre.


Burgundy LaRue said...

I was wondering when you would get back to these. I've enjoyed reading your reviews. :-)

I've got my two 100-movie packs, along with the Russ Meyer collection and the Drive-In Cult Classic sets. Throw in some Midnite Movie Features and film noir and I'm in for a good mvoie-viewing summer!

Doug Tilley said...

The suicide list was more work than it looked and I, foolishly, let some life stuff get in the way for a bit there. My priorities are screwed. ;)
Actually, i've had a bit of e-mail contact with the directors of the last couple of features, THE VEIL and I DREAM OF DRACULA. Really humble, nice guys who didn't take much offense at my various criticisms.
I know I give a lot of these films crap, and they deserve it, but I still love these 100 packs for the fact that most of these films would NEVER be seen without this sort of distribution. And there are only so many public domain films to keep cranking out..
For the month of June we're going to be focusing entirely on films from Japan, so there will be a short break with the collection.

Kaijinu said...

you sure are digging a lot of overseen choices here, mate. I like a good feminist slasher, myself, but I might think seeing this one over...