Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pretty In Blood

For better and worse, Wes Craven’s Scream was a landmark film for horror cinema. The 1996 sleeper renewed a mainstream interest in slashers, a tepid love affair that had basically laid dormant (in spirit) since Freddy pondered fatherhood and Jason tasted New York bagels. Well-versed genre fans chuckled at Kevin Williamson’s cracking self-aware dialogue and classic references while a new generation of Noxema-using young people hit the mall in search of similar fare. (As for me? As my 14 year old friends got lost in Skeet Ulrich’s big browns and snidely mocked Neve Campbell’s Kmart wardrobe, I ceased upon the opportunity to show “scary” movies at previously dull slumber parties; sadly my fellow eighth graders did not appreciate Mothers Day as quite the tongue-in-cheek comedy it was).

Most importantly, the echo of Scream inspired--well, that may be too artistic a word considering the result--studios to throw mid-ranged budgets at a slew of slashers starring fresh-faced WB stars (aw, a moment of silence please). Some, like the convoluted but not irredeemable I Know What You Did Last Summer, achieved decent success and birthed unfortunate Brandy-based and excessively wordy sequels, while others--like the dreadful Disturbing Behavior, starring a pre-Mrs. Cruise as a Goth girl--had shorter lifespans than a Tomogatchi pet in an emergency room full of Beanie Babies. Or something.

If I learned one thing this week, it’s that Scream’s effect was airborne and made its way across continents to the Land Down Under. Cut, a 2000 slasher with meta film intentions, is clearly surfing on the Ghostface-d wave. It utilizes a rubber-faced killer, cinema savvy victims, and lazy but affectionate film references ranging from to Shock Corridor to Jules and Jim.

Quick Plot:
Cammy from Street Fighter (aka pixie pop sensation Kylie Minogue) is a low level director trying to finish a mediocre horror film--a daunting cast when your lead is a divaliscious Molly Ringwald and your villain has the IQ of a pea. After insulting her male lead, Minogue meets her poorly edited end, leaving Ringwald to stave off the killer and rise to the minor stardom allowed to second string soap opera actresses.

Fast forward thirteen years to the Australian version of Scream 2’s film class. Budding director Raffi Carruthers and ambitious producing major Hester Ryan decide that the best way to ace their senior project while stepping into the public eye is to complete the infamously cursed slasher film, much to the brooding consternation of their mentor who has his own connection to Hot Blooded (the unfinished movie, sadly not the Foreigner song). They amass a blandly attractive crew, fly over former star Vanessa Turnbill (Princess Ringwald) in coach class, and roll the old reels to the original location of the ill-fated shoot. Will a superstrong but silent unidentified masked man pick off the snarky Aussies one by one, replacing prop garden shears with sharp weapons of decapitation? If you have to ask, you’re reading the wrong blog.

You won’t find humor up to Scream par, nor are the scares worthy of other on-set horror like John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns. Cut, however, is not a total waste of time, particularly if you happened to have been raised on 80s slashers. I was reminded of films like Popcorn, which also had a dedicated spirit devoted to its own genre. The effects are passable enough, though the story could have used some sort of invigoration. One of the biggest barriers while watching a film like this is the responsibility you constantly feel to identify the killer before the plot does it for you. This isn’t necessarily Cut’s fault because (HELPFUL SPOILER) the villain is not among the introduced cast. Unfortunately, we don’t discover this until too late, so much of our own viewing time is wasted with unnecessary theorizing. Then again, that process may be what keeps films like this from boring us to our own bloody deaths.

High Points
Watching Ringwald channel her inner bitch truly is a joy

The decision to make the creative artists of the film female is a nice and refreshing touch, especially since it’s not overly pushed as being revolutionary

Low Points
While all the young actors are likable enough, none leave any sort of lingering impression or cause us to actually care about their fates

A minor character revelation is supposed to do something for the action, but once revealed, it’s never revisited and feels like a late attempt to give unneeded substance to a lite film

Lessons Learned
It’s hard to scream without a tongue

Stunt drivers are always expected, even when the only required driving is out of a driveway

Throwing garden shears is surprisingly easy

Today, hearing dialup onscreen is as quaint as watching the Amish churn butter

About a month ago, my brother texted me that he was in a discount store that had a bin of DVDs on sale for $2.50. I hadn’t heard of Cut, but a quick sneak on IMDB during work hours, along with the very presence of Ringwald at a rather unpredictable point in her career, was enough for me to approve the sale.

At that price, it’s hard to go wrong with any movie, much less a decent, occasionally clever slasher with an earnestly positive attitude about it. This is ultimately one of those unoffensive, but uneventful films that doesn’t really deserve your searching energy, but won’t hurt you when viewed in the background of a spring cleaning or miniature toy village assembly (I dunno, what DO you people do with your spare time?). Fans of 80s slashers will get a soft-toed kick out of its retro style and Rinwald devotees should revel in her diva performance. The effects are above par and the gore, though not extraordinary, doesn’t play chicken. For those horror lovers okay with the occasional imitation brand servings, give it a low expectation intentioned try. For the others, delve into the 80s and find something else.

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