Monday, March 1, 2010

Bloody Nightmares #20: Toe Tags (2003)


Acting is hard. I mean, my own experience doesn't go much further than playing Santa Claus in my Grade 6 Christmas play, but my understanding is that being convincing in front of a camera is a very difficult thing. Frankly, it's where many of the no-budget films in this collection falter, and it's something I tend to be quite lenient toward. While more time and planning could improve a script, and a little more money and effort can improve sound and video, when it comes to acting you might simply be stuck with what's available. Darla Enlow's Toe Tags is certainly a victim of bad acting - including a stiff (ha!) performance from the director herself as one of the leads - but it's an unnecessarily confusing plot and a lame twist ending that eventually does the film in.

A serial killer is hacking up people in a local apartment complex and officers Mark Weiss and Kate Wagner (Marc Page and Enlow) are on the trail. While at first the murders seem random, it's soon revealed that the victims have all had some sort of previous relationship with the two detectives. Meanwhile, back at the morgue the toe-tags of these victims have begun vanishing, and the chief just gets angrier and angrier. Could it all be connected? Probably!


I always get a bit tickled when female directors take a stab (urgh) at a genre that has traditionally been the home for misogyny and sexism, as it's a great opportunity to throw the entire genre on its head. Toe Tags is a fairly grisly whodunnit slasher film that unfortunately never aspires to be more than a particularly lame CSI episode with some - admittedly high quality - nudity thrown in for good measure. While it does seem to be missing some of the nastier elements of the genre (the nudity tends to be incidental and not sleazy), these elements are simply not replaced with anything interesting. Not that I expected a feminist slasher film, but I was hoping the female perspective would be refreshing, and instead this is a predictable retread of elements we've seen dozens - if not hundreds - of times before.

As a director, Enlow brings some visual style, often to the point of distraction. To her credit, the film doesn't get too bogged down by the repetitive murder scenes and there is a thoroughline through the film that (generally) makes sense. If you don't pause to think about the details - isn't that guy a little young to be a police officer? That attractive young woman was supposed to have been Mark's girlfriend? Seriously? And why can't they ever bring anyone in for questioning? - you'll at least stick around to see how the whole mess turns out.  Unfortunately, the actual twist is fairly god-damn ridiculous, and I still don't understand what the missing toe tags had to do with anything.


The acting from the leads is quite poor, with only Larry Scott as the comically angry Captain Blake and Scott Killlman as the irritated mortician able to appropriately chew the scenery. Enlow seems to be having a lot of fun, and she delivers the lines without any trouble, but when asked to portray emotion she falters. In fact, emotion seems to be a particularly difficult thing to pull out of the leads, which is a problem when their loved ones are getting mowed down on a regular basis.

Violence is of the corn syrup and red food dye variety, with plenty of sticky blood pouring out of gaping stab wounds. It's certainly messy (the credits give thanks to Craig Lamb for providing 15 gallons of blood), but isn't particularly gory and after the fourth lovely topless lady covered in blood it all starts to get a little repetitive. On that note, there really is a surprising amount of nudity in the film, and the victims - though they are never developed beyond their introduction and immediate death - are certainly attractive.


Toe Tags is presented in perfectly servicable fullscreen that, since there really isn't much action in the film, doesn't show a lot of pixelation or glitches. Sound is fine, and it's all quite watchable. The soundtrack is quite the mixed bag, throwing all sorts of genres into a sometimes inappropriate mish-mash. Still, it's nice to have some original songs on the soundtrack, even if they come from obviously local bands. The incidental music is servicable, but not particularly memorable.

This is another film in the Bloody Nightmares collection, so there are no extras of any kind. There are a few amusing outtakes during the closing credits, which at least shows that the cast were enjoying themselves, though each mistake is accompanied by a "wacky" horn sound that soon become irritating.


Toe Tags differs from most of the ultra low-budget films in this collection as, while it certainly owes a lot to slasher films, it also borrows from police procedurals and mysteries. The elements don't quite add up, but at least the film is able to bring something a little different to the table, though the central mystery plot only barely holds together. Production values are solid, though weak performances sink any sort of dramatic tension, and the end just sort of fizzles out. While I was hoping for something a bit different, Toe Tags is content with being a middling, often slow-moving serial killer film. Competent, but disappointing.

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