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Monday, July 28, 2008

BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY -- DVD review by porfle

Although it's been likened to THIS IS SPINAL TAP, writer-director Stevan Mena's BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY reminded me more of 1993's "...AND GOD SPOKE", a similar mockumentary about bad filmmakers battling their way through a hellish bottom-of-the-barrel production. In that movie they tackled the misguided task of filming the entire Bible on a shoestring budget; here, they're just trying to get through the making of a single craptacular slasher flick alive.

Harry Penderecki (David Naughton) is a low-low-budget horror filmmaker whose previous bargain bin fodder includes titles such as "Fish Who Ate Flesh!", "Bowel Movement", "Saquatch at the Mall", and "I'll Take Back the Ring--And the Finger, Too!" After finally scrounging up enough backing and assembling the most inept cast and crew ever, Harry launches a grueling two-month shoot in the middle of a freezing cold wilderness where everything goes horribly wrong from start to finish.

One thing's for sure, this is definitely my all-time favorite David Naughton performance. He completely inhabits the character of Harry in a wonderfully deadpan way that's consistently right on the mark. I like him better at this age--graying and a little paunchy--than any other time in his career. If he'd started out at this age instead of wasting all those years being young, dancing around drinking Dr. Pepper, starring in failed sitcoms, and being a werewolf, he would already be one of my favorite actors.

The rest of the cast is a delight. Ash's sister Cheryl and girlfriend Linda from THE EVIL DEAD (Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker) are on hand as Harry's frazzled production manager and burnt-out casting director. Ellen's part is bigger and she makes the most of it, her most memorable scene coming when her character, Natalie, tries to empty the filled-to-capacity toilet tank in the location RV and...well, I won't tell you what happens next, but it may be even worse than getting raped by trees. This could be Ellen's "Oscar" moment.

DAWN OF THE DEAD's Ken Foree plays the key grip whose duties increase every time Harry fires someone. Kevin Smith regular Brian O'Halloran plays Jay, the A.D. with ADD. As Harry's loyal East Indian cameraman, Hanu, the diminutive Gerry Bednob gets funnier as the movie goes on. Director Mick Garris and Fangoria's Tony Timpone show up early on as themselves. And playing a (what else?) googly-eyed psycho who may or may not start killing people at any minute is old Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen.

At first it didn't seem as though this film was really going to come together. Then, as I got accustomed to its rhythm and low-key approach, I really started to enjoy it. The hilarity isn't non-stop, and there are some slow spots, but just when things threaten to get boring there's another unexpected belly-laugh to goose them again. And as everything grows progressively more bleak and hopeless for our stalwart filmmakers, I almost started to get a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT vibe that somehow enhanced the black comedy.

There's some pretty funny stuff going on here: a key scene is interrupted when the cast and crew discover that they're in the middle of a firing range; after miles of footage is exposed, Harry finds out that his sound man has no idea what he's doing; a group of rowdy local teenagers keeps ruining shots by driving their jeep through them; and the "fake corpse" that Harry's supposed FX expert is secretly laboring on throughout the production turns out to be less convincing than a CPR practice dummy. Aside from this, there are several funny instances of Harry trying to direct his talentless actors through terrible dialogue scenes and ridiculous action.

Of course, Harry's film features the prerequisite blonde bimbos and plenty of boobage. Amy (Emily Brownell) has lofty aspirations both cinematic and intellectual--when asked if she's well-read, she replies, "Well, I read the entire script." Her co-star, the even less intelligent Tanya (Michelle DiBenedetti), has no qualms about exposing her charms on film, reasoning that she's only using what was given to her by God and then enhanced by her surgeon. And as a nod to the kind of flicks this film is spoofing, female characters often find reasons to bend over so the camera can focus on their backsides.

The DVD features 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Besides the trailer, extras include several deleted scenes, some of which are really funny (you've got to see Ken Foree and Gerry Bednob furiously wrestling each other to the death in the motel bed that cheap Harry has forced them to share). There's also a behind-the-scenes featurette which is also a mockumentary with everyone still in character, so it's like an addition to the movie itself.

Not on the same level as SPINAL TAP or the other Christopher Guest mockumentaries, with less spontaneity and improvisation, BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY is still an often giddily funny valentine to low-budget horror fans. It's also the movie that finally, after all these years, has made David Naughton a household name. In my house.

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