Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bloody Nightmares #38: Up For Rent (2006)

Hooray! Another anthology! Actually despite the overwhelmingly piss-poor selection of anthologies in the Bloody Nightmares collection, I tend to welcome their arrival. For one, the short running times of the individual segments at least prevent the material from being interminably stretched (a common problem in this set as a whole), and I - being an eternal optimist - can sustain myself through an awful segment in the hopes that the next one will be an improvement. Thankfully, in the case of Up For Rent the final segment is the best by far, though considering the quality of the other two (and the surrounding story) that's not really saying much. Still, at least by having three different directors - Derek Cole, Shane Cole and Kayla Richardson - there is a minor variation on the styles on display, and unlike some other anthologies (like, ugh,  Scarlet Fry's Junkfood Horrorfest (2007)) there seems to be some attempt at building to an eventual twist or resolution in the individual segments. It's still pretty bad, but there are worthwhile bits here.

As the title would imply, these three stories (with one wraparound segment) all focus on a particular apartment. The implication is that it's cursed, though we don't really learn that from the stories. In fact, the actual fates in the individual segments don't seem to connect to the apartment at all. It's simply that a lot of bad stuff has happened there We begin with a young couple being shown around the modest location by a renter obviously aware of its troubled history. Soon we're launched into the first story.

Push concerns Cynthia Caldwell, a young female film director (her friend compares her to Almodóvar. How cute!) pushed to the edge by a suspicion that her boyfriend is cheating on her with his secretary. Haunted by the memories of her own mother's abuse, her mind rapidly deteriorates until she ends up stabbing her dude to death. Of course the bulk of her mental anguish happens in the HAUNTED apartment. But the twist is that he was never really cheating at all! In fact, he was getting her flowers and the rest was all a big misunderstanding! What a nut! 

This first story - directed by Kayla Richardson - might actually have been fairly effective, but is sabotaged by a lead performance that seems completely disinterested. Sharon Savene as Cynthia not only looks a bit like Shelley Duvall, a definite strike against her, but completely fails at showing any of the emotional damage that her character is supposed to be experiencing. Her mental breakdown becomes completely unbelievable, and her eventual insanity becomes laughable. I'd like to believe that the director was at least attempting to make a statement about the cycle of abuse, but by hanging the entire thing on the lead it never ends up coming together. A disappointment. 

The second segment is called Eye to Eye and centers on a twisted necrophiliac serial killer (a believably unhinged Derek Plonka - who looks disturbingly like Robert Sean Leonard) who is being tracked by a pair of frustrated cops. The killer is - of course - staying in the expected apartment, murdering young women and spending his time talking to their corpses (while placing plastic bags over their heads) and just generally being a total nutball. The big reveal at the end is that there's actually a copycat killer targeting the same young ladies and using similar methods, leading to a brief skirmish that leaves one of the killers dead. Which one? Guess. 

This one ends just as things are starting to get interesting, but is a definite improvement over Push. For one, it's less reliant on acting and more focused on the various scenes of murder and the investigation of the killings. There's even a bit of comic relief where the two cops accidentally stumble upon an S&M couple doing some role-playing. Shane Cole handles the direction, and it's a bit more reliant on handheld camerawork than the static camera of the first segment. It's also, unsurprisingly, a bit more grisly. There's more blood than gore in the film, but the sexual content gives this segment a bit more edge.

Wanna-Be Deadly is the third segment of the anthology, and is by far the best thanks to a healthy dose of mostly effective humor. John (Greg Ashamalla) is an office drone who spends his days fantasizing about being a memorable serial killer (these fantasy sequences take the form of a newscast where co-workers talk about how mysterious and effective he is), while his actual murders feature general disdain from the pursuing Detective Smith and being labeled as The Plastic Killer (as opposed to his preferred moniker of The Micron Murderer). This time the twist is that Detective Smith has also been killing people, and has intercepted evidence from John that suggests that some of the killings he's been accused of were committed by someone else.

Ashamalla does a terrific job as the psycho who just wants a little respect, while Ed Cole as Detective Smith brings the proper amount of smarm and dickishness to his part. Even the direction (by Derek Cole) and editing are a step above the other two entries, with small flourishes (like John's inner monologue actually being played by a second actor) working quite well. The humor skirts the line of bad taste but it works, and even the fake newscast (a thorn in my side in this collection) is a bit more palatable when presented as one of John's bizarre fantasies.

The framing story ends with the couple (having rented the apartment) fighting over possible infidelity (just like in Push!) with one contemplating a knife before the closing credits roll. Will the accursed apartment take another victim for some reason? Eh. Who cares?

As with most of the films from the mid-2000s featured in the Bloody Nightmares collection, Up For Rent looks absolutely fine in its full-screen presentation, but features the usual video glitches now common in most of the featured transfers. Much more distracting are consistent audio drop-outs throughout the entire running time of the film, which was particularly noticeable since the sound quality is otherwise quite good with most dialogue being perfectly intelligible. It doesn't kill the entire thing, but proves to be rather irritating once you start noticing their frequency. The soundtrack is all over the place, with moody ambient pieces (by Peter Stone) mixing with industrial music from the bands Bile and Exorcist.

As with all of the films in the Bloody Nightmares collection, we unfortunately are not even treated to chapter stops (which would be particularly useful in an anthology film like this), and there are no special features.

Once again the anthology format proves tough to crack as a majority of Up For Rent, despite moments of inspiration, is simply a waste of time. The creators never really sell the theme appropriately, and the first segment is so terrible it would turn away all but the most patient viewers. Wanna-Be Deadly is the gem here, but even it falls victim to sound issues despite its unique stabs (ha!) at humor and some impressive performances. Inconsistency is simply a reality of this format and while this anthology is better than some in the collection, it simply never hits the mark. Not worth your time.

No comments: