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CampBlood Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Murder-Set-Pieces Nick Palumbo 2004

Bei Mir Bist Du Shame

You know, I started out by writing a serious dissertation about the nature of ‘lowest common denominators’, but I soon realized that I was putting more effort into writing a review of this film than was put into writing the film itself. Of the many crimes perpetrated by Murder-Set-Pieces (start the meter with the pretentious title), the most grievous is probably the crime of being boring. Sure, it’s bloody. Sure, there’s a ton of shaved nookie. Sure, it’s distasteful in a “hey, Mom and Dad – FUCK YOU!” sort of way. But more than anything it’s like watching a bad Italian giallo as directed by someone who actually takes that sort of thing seriously – perhaps a landmark for the genre, but certainly not interesting in terms of filmmaking.

If you have a thing for following people around on escalators for 10 minutes at a time, this film is what you’ve been waiting for. Likewise, if you hate having to watch several different films to meet your quota of bad horror movie clichés, this is just what the doctor ordered. They’re all in there: monologues into mirrors; guilt nightmares that feature the dreamer in fast-motion covered in blood; dolls; jack-in-the-boxes; crayon drawings as a means of imparting information; pretentious third-person flashbacks; dead hookers; killer photographers; the list goes on and on. Playing out like an uninspired knockoff of New York Ripper set in Sin City, the “action” consists of the baddie wandering the strip, picking up hookers, and raping and killing them. But whereas New York Ripper at least had a mystery killer, a sense of humor, and that awesome duck-voice, this film has only bad quasi-Italian music, breast implants, and an affinity for repetition that borders on outright autism. Seriously – absolutely nothing of interest happens for at least an hour.

The structure is the cinematic equivalent of the idiot who actually follows the “Wash, Rinse, Repeat” instructions on shampoo bottles until his hair falls out. We have a boring dialogue scene between young Jade and her friend (which boasts some of the best uncoached child-actor “palms-out” acting I’ve ever seen on 35mm). We have Old Blue Eyes wandering around for awhile. We have quick, bloody rape, followed by hooker or stripper in crucifixion chair. Cut to nightmare of undisclosed childhood trauma, insert speed-ramped footage of killer screaming and shaking around, and repeat. This determination to neither reveal any new information about the killer or victims nor make any sort of comment on what’s happening on screen is so consistent that it almost seems like it’s intentional – if so, director Palumbo needs to find a new line of work immediately, preferably in a field that doesn’t involve storytelling. If it’s just an accident and he was actually trying to “say something” with this pathetic assemblage of boring, poorly-executed clichés, then… well, I’m still sure there’s a night shift at Staples with his name on it.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh here, but this movie is an incredible disappointment. I live for films that disturb me, shock me, horrify me, and move me. They are few and far-between, and usually the work of a particularly sensitive artist or someone who got really fucking lucky. I love films that make me question my own humanity and that of those around me, that make the fabric of our society seem to unravel. This is not an easy feat to pull off, and a great deal of intelligence, grace, and raw passion are required (love or hate them, the films of Haneke, Noe, Ozon, and Von Trier come to mind). This film demonstrates none of these. The approach used to “tell the story” of the killer (a misnomer, as he is never more than a two-dimensional, vaguely threatening and incredibly silly Eurotrash stereotype) doesn’t provide or even allow any contextualization of his actions -- and the result, then, is that we have a load of gratuitous nudity and blood existing in a vacuum of meaning. In short, pornography. Without any sort of narrative to provide a contextual framework, we are literally presented with a collection of naked non-actors faking sex and murder. It’s not realistic, it’s not shocking, and it’s not engaging in the least. The closest thing it gets to is mildly arousing, which I’m not ashamed to say considering that there’s no tension or suspense to make the viewer think that anything is happening more than an amateur soft-core porn with some genre affectations. And really, given the choice between being bored stiff by a badly-executed serial killer movie or mildly titillated by its attractive cast, I’ll certainly choose the latter, particularly if I paid for my ticket. And honestly – if the filmmaker is having a ball objectifying these people, why shouldn’t we? Right?

There are two things that Murder-Set-Pieces has going for it, one of which lies in the Teutonically thick-waisted yet undeniably humpy person of Mr. Sven Garrett, who plays our wacky and lovable (yet thoroughly unconvincing) serial killer. Incredibly easy on the eyes, Garrett nonetheless is completely ridiculous as a love interest (the relationship between him and the Final Girl’s sister is laughably ill-rendered) and wholly uninteresting here as anything other than a piece of hot ass, to be quite blunt. Granted, he is given absolutely nothing to work with in the script, which requires nothing more of him than grunting, glaring, and screaming in German (there are a few awful monologues that are better left unmentioned), so I can’t really blame him entirely. In fact, his chiseled mug is one of the only things that kept me in the theatre.

The other good thing the film has going for it – and I’ll always give credit where it’s due – is in the decision to make the Final Girl a literal final girl – our heroine (the obviously untrained but likeable Jade Risser) is probably about 10 years old. This makes for a legitimately creepy climax that even manages to overcome enormous gaps in logic in order to be a genuinely brutal, scary sequence. It’s a shame that it feels as though the scene drops out of the sky after an hour of lapdances and bloody porn – it would have saved them a hell of a lot of karo syrup and tip money if they’d skipped the cheesy crap and cut to the chase. The fact that the filmmakers felt the need to show the graphic stabbing of a child in a park bathroom is also unfortunate, even were it not completely incongruous with the rest of the film in every regard (the man spends countless hours brutally raping, torturing, and killing sex workers as a way of punishing his “whorish” mother, an oddly cross-eyed woman seen only in flashback, only to suddenly start murdering children in public and with no apparent motive). See, stabbing a kid in the chest on-camera is a pretty easy way to get a reaction out of people, and requires very little artistry. How about blowing up a dog? Shitting on a picture of Jesus? Going at a baby with a bloody straight-razor? Ooops – that’s in here, too. The point is, anyone can yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre and get people to run; it doesn’t mean anyone should do it.

There are plenty of other things wrong here – for one, the movie is as derivative as all get-out (there are three scenes nearly identical to scenes from Haute Tension; not to suggest that it’s ripped off, but at the very least they’re picking low-hanging fruit). The Pulp-Fiction-via-House-of-1000-Corpses scene in the adult bookstore is plain awful, and is only barely salvageable in that it features Tony Todd, the only real name associated with the film. The scene also contains a groan-inducing self-congratulatory reference to Palumbo’s earlier film Nutbag, which sounds about as disposable as this one, only without the fancy 35mm photography. And the nagging problem: try though I might, I can’t figure out who in the hell the film is supposed to be about. We jump points of view so frequently and randomly that it’s impossible to be anything other than passively objective throughout.

That a director can make such things as rape and murder so trivial and borderline amusing should really be infuriating, now that I think about it. But it’s hard to get mad at a film that’s so woefully misguided from start to finish and that apparently revels so much in its own “Controversial!” and “Shocking!” nature. It’s just kids playing around, really – only someone was dumb enough to give them really expensive toys to play with. I certainly think there’s room for a nasty, interesting, unflinching serial killer flick that really gets into the nitty-gritty of people who kill for pleasure – this just ain’t it. Note that both Skullies below can be attributed to the last 20 minutes of the film.

Rating (out of 5):