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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

LEFT FOR DEAD -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared at in 2007.)

The prolific Albert Pyun's career as a low-budget indie filmmaker has had its high and low points, sometimes within the same movie.  A good example of this is his latest effort, LEFT FOR DEAD (2007), a Western-horror combo which has all the elements of a really good movie but jumbles them into a puzzling, frustrating mess.

During the exposition-packed opening credits we learn that after a priest named Mobius breaks off an affair with town prostitute Mary Black (Janet Barr), she rounds up the other hookers and they wipe out every man, woman, and child in the small Mexican mining town of Amnesty (remember, these were the days before Prozac).  As they're flaying and disemboweling the bound Mobius, he makes a deal with the devil in which he gets to return as a ghostly gunfighter and haunt the now-empty Amnesty until the opportunity for revenge against Mary and her psycho-sluts presents itself.  He can't leave the town's limits, though, and he can't enter the church. 

Flash forward fifteen years, where we find gunslingin' babe Clementine Templeton (Victoria Maurette) on the prowl for her runaway husband Sentenza (Javier De la Vega).  She crosses paths with Mary and her cultish female followers, and discovers that they're looking for him, too, since apparently he's knocked up Mary's daughter (she claims rape) and pulled another disappearing act.  His trail, as it turns out, leads them all straight to Amnesty, where Mobius finally gets a chance to begin his bloody rampage of revenge as soon as they all cross the town border.  Blood, guts, bullets, and dramatic twists 'n' turns ensue.

The first thing I noticed about LEFT FOR DEAD is that it looks terrific.  Albert Pyun's directing skills have gotten better and better over the years, and he seems to have a first-class cinematographer in Alejandro Millán.  He also has a fine cast--Victoria Maurette makes a great gunfighter babe, with piercing eyes and a hard, darkly pretty face that Pyun explores in depth.  She looks cool in her tattered dress, ankle-length duster, and cowboy hat, and her attitude and accent are so convincing that I kept imagining how much better THE QUICK AND THE DEAD might be with her in place of Sharon Stone. 

As the vengeful, black-eyed Mobius, Andres Bagg reminded me of Johnny Depp in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, giving the character a mocking, almost playful quality without the cliched villainy one might expect.  The rest of the actors are uniformly good, right down to the bit players, and the story itself is interesting.  Gorehounds will be pleased, especially when we're finally shown the horrifying extent of Crazy Mary's torture of the priest and his pregnant wife fifteen years earlier. 

So what's wrong with this movie?  It becomes clear pretty quick, when we notice that this film has been overly-edited and played around with all to hell.  Pyun uses dramatic freeze-frames like Michael Jackson uses crotch-grabbing--just way too much for comfort.  It looks cool at first when Clementine is bashing some attackers' skulls with a rifle butt and Pyun freezes on her intense face a couple of times, but when he just keeps doing it for the rest of the movie, sometimes giving us sequences in which every single shot ends with a freeze-frame and a fade to black, it just gets to be way too much.  Heaping helpings of slow-motion, long lap-dissolves, rapid-fire imagery, and other cinematic frou-frou thrown into the cuisinart also conspire to yank me right out of the movie whenever I start to get into it.

Rarely have I seen such post-production overindulgence so thoroughly sabotage what could've been a really cool flick.  I couldn't help thinking what LEFT FOR DEAD might look like if all the great footage that Pyun shot were handed over to someone like Robert Rodriguez to fool around with for awhile.  But he'd have to redo the soundtrack, too, since listening to it is like trying to watch TV in the middle of a construction site between two giant speakers playing Metallica at eleven.  Ear-piercing blasts of rock music alternate with screeching sound effects throughout, with even simple things like a pan from one actor to another accompanied by deafening noise.  After a few minutes of this ceaseless racket, I felt like a frantic old geezer grabbing for his nerve pills. 

Cheap-looking CGI mars several shots, especially when the advancing Mobius is getting shot full of holes like a T-1000.  On the whole, however, LEFT FOR DEAD is a visual feast--but like any other feast, too much seasoning ruins the flavor.  There's a cool movie in there somewhere, and I'd really like to have seen it, but a dizzying lack of restraint in the editing room proves deadlier than Mobius' haunted six-shooter.

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