Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Killing 9 To 5

It’s been seven months since I last watched Severance and nearly one year since I began my first actual office job. Having now suffered through dry meetings scored to the buzz of overhead lighting and office scandals regarding lunch orders, I’m truly shocked by the lack of horror films that utilize a corporate setting. Where’s the weapon arsenal sponsored by Staples and uncomfortably ill-defined relationship barriers riddled with career-climbing ulterior motives? 

Hence, when the 1997 issue of Fangoria I recently bought at a yard sale featured an article about Office Killer, I rearranged my Netflix queue faster than you can say coffee break. Directed by famed photographer Cindy Sherman and starring an impressivey miscellaneous cast, Netflix defined it as “a thriller with surprising hilarity,” which should have quickly warned me that a genre film I had never heard of was buried in time for a reason.

Quick Plot: The always intriguing Carol Kane plays Dorine, an efficient copy editor (and if my boss is reading, allow me to assure the world that ALL copy editors are efficient) who lives a lonely existence with her invalid mother and chubby cat. At work, supervisor Jeanne Tripplehorn (who may have been in 65% of films released in the mid-late 90s) hands out downsizing slips instructing employees that they’ll now have to work part-time from home, much to the horror of the workaholic Dori. Meanwhile, surprisingly non Jersey accented Michael Imperioli (yes, Christophuh himself) puts in some IT hours installing this revolutionary new office tool called "email" on the employees' home computers. The world is a changing place.  

While working late to meet a deadline, Dori’s verbally abusive and hair abusing boss electrocutes himself while trying to fix an internet connection. Instead of calling 911, Dori decides to break the all sorts of rules by stealing the ultimate office supply--the corpse of her supervisor.  

A few days later, Dori once again finds herself alone with a rude and authority drunk superior, this one an asthmatic chain smoker with a dangerous comfort level in pleather evening wear. Spike an inhaler with a little butane and Dori is on a killing roll, always in less than expected manner and with a slight comic edge. Corpses pile up in her basement to be posed, dismembered, and Febrezed. Only Molly Ringwald as a cynical secretary with poor fashion sense suspects the suddenly confident grammar expert of being less than a model employee.  

Everything I’d read about Office Killer made it seem like a film I would love. Unfortunately, nearly everything about it just doesn’t work. Sherman has a definitive visual stle, casting the entire film in a sad and stale orangey brown that makes everything inside look rusted. By today’s standards, such a choice feels stuffily uncomfortable but also, oddly outdated a mere 12 years later. Instead of the icy uniformity done so well in films like Office Space, Office Killer’s title setting just feels messy. Even a low level publisher heading into the red wouldn't feel as if a retirement home was converted into magazine headquarters.  

More troubling is the tone, or lack thereof. Most of the characters are flat stereotypes which could certainly have worked had the film known what to do with them. Instead of forging ahead into campy wickedness, Office Killer sits on its unpleasant cast without any intrigue. Sometimes it seems as though Tripplehorn is our heroine, while Kane’s manic Dori bounces back and forth between sympathetic shut-in and psychopathic murderess. It’s fun to watch her chide the corpses of Girl Scouts, but when we have no idea why she killed these little girls in the first place, why should we care? Fuzzy narration and a few flashbacks hint at sexual abuse (and hey, if said sexual abuser was Eric Bogosian, I too would probably grow up with more than a few issues) but nothing’s really done with that thread. Ultimately, it feels as though the script presented a premise that called for sharp black comedy, while the director treated it straightforwardly with a static eye. It’s hard to laugh at jokes that feel flatter than the page they were typed on and even harder to fear for characters that lack the slightest hint of depth.  

High Points 
While she seems to have no idea what to do with her poorly drawn character, Kane is still an intriguing presence in just about any film she's in

Following her divaliscious turn in the Aussie slasher Cut , Ringwald has convinced me that she should henceforth only accept roles that call for serious bitchery 

Low Points 
What’s the point of featuring a motorized Gremlins stair chair if you’re not going to use it?

Um, the rest of the movie?  

Lessons Learned 
The Internet might occasionally kill you, but it’s pretty easy to hack

Masking tape is great in a pinch, especially if said pinch involved holding in a corpse's intestines

Never feel up your daughter while driving

Like mace, a silk headscarf with an elaborate and too colorful print can indeed be used against you

When in doubt, always say no to pleather

The female factor of Office Killer makes it interesting in concept, but this is sadly one of duller 90+ minutes I’ve recently endured. I have the slight feeling that it may, like many dark comedies, improve a bit on repeat viewings but I have absolutely no desire to revisit this film and unless you’re nursing a Carol Kane crush, I’d skip it. The DVD contains no special features, so despite the fact that this film feels deliberately cultish, it seems nobody involved in its production cared enough to come back.  

I know how they feel.


  1. Awesome review, Emily. It does sound like an excellent concept wasted. I wonder exactly how many office-themed horror flicks there really are... time for Google!

  2. If you find any good ones, send them my way!