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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

THE VICTIM -- DVD review by porfle

Inspired by the fake-grindhouse ambience of Robert Rodriguez' PLANET TERROR (in which he played a pivotal role), actor Michael Biehn promised the director of that exercise in old-school exploitation that he would someday make his own directorial foray into similar territory.  The result, THE VICTIM (2011), fulfills that promise by being not so much a self-aware homage as a genuine example of low-budget, anything-goes grindhouse filmmaking.

Biehn's film, in fact, resembles the sort of cheap exploitation flicks I used to watch at my local drive-in when I was growing up.  It has a small cast and crew (mostly friends and family), takes place mainly in that most cost-effective location of all--the woods--and contains generous amounts of affordable sex and violence.  It even boasts a slumming big-name star for marquee value, along with a cult fave (the bubbly Danielle Harris of those crappy HALLOWEEN sequels and other noteworthy genre films). 

There's just enough plot to get things going and keep them chugging along till the semi-suspenseful conclusion.  We join strippers Mary and Annie (Harris and Jennifer Blanc, Biehn's wife and a producer on the film) in the forest, making out with a couple of cops--virile young narc Cooger (Denny Kirkwood) and sheriff's department big wheel Harrison (Ryan Honey), whose political aspirations are placed into jeopardy when he accidentally breaks Mary's neck during some rough sex.

The coked-up cops decide they must cover up the crime--literally--which sends Annie fleeing for her life through the woods until she stumbles upon the secluded cabin of recluse Kyle (Biehn), whose troubled past has prompted him to shun society.  Suddenly finding himself with a screaming woman on his doorstep followed by two nosey cops searching for a "fugitive" forces Kyle to step up and get involved in a big way.

This leads to the aforementioned sex, as Annie uses her "feminine wiles" to convince Kyle to help her and they end up in a steamy softcore bump 'n' grind sequence.  This is followed quickly by a series of action-suspense scenes as Harrison and Cooger make their move and each side gains, then loses control of the situation. 

A red-hot tire iron becomes an incentive for the captive Harrison to reveal the whereabouts of Mary's body--the only proof of his crime that Kyle and Annie can offer police--until the tables are turned and Kyle finds himself in the hot seat while Cooger leads Annie outside to be executed.  Fights are realistically messy and awkward (little choreography was used) and in one instance ends with some quick but nasty graphic violence.

All of this is competently though rather artlessly directed by Biehn, who has a future in direct-to-DVD filmmaking but needn't start making room on his mantlepiece for any awards just yet.  His performance is as good as one might expect although he isn't quite channeling Stanislavsky here--in fact, he seems at times to be holding back in order to help the rest of the cast come off better than they actually are.

Biehn's screenplay (from a story by Reed Lackey) is similarly rough-hewn but contains a few zingy exchanges here and there, mainly between Kyle and Harrison, and allows Biehn to play one of his scruffier characters.  I like their first conversation as the two cops try to gain entry into Kyle's cabin:

HARRISON: "Can we come inside?"
KYLE: "No one's here."
HARRISON: "You seem nervous."
KYLE: "You seem nervous, too."

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonus features include a commentary track with Biehn and Blanc, and a lighthearted making-of featurette, "THE VICTIM: Behind the Scenes."
If you're looking for one of those startling revelations in which an actor proves himself an amazing new directorial talent, you're in the wrong place.  But if you'll settle for a fun night at the old grindhouse (or the local drive-in), take a chance on THE VICTIM and you probably won't be disappointed.

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