Coming down from the Festival of Fear high, the House of Horror is gearing up for a freaky fall and horrific Halloween, with B.O.A.B. hard at work on some mayhem of miniscule means. However, to start off the fiscal year on the rot foot, I bring you a one-two punch of independent horror, one a polished piece of trash (in the best way possible), the other a tarnished gem of potential.
BLOOD: Two words: chunky splatter
BUDGET: Considering its gritty polish, I would estimate it in the tens of thousands
Disguised as a slick slasher set in a sub-culture shared with the Suicide Girls, this modern mangler is an apt about-face for the genre.
With some fair to poor acting and a scatterbrained structure its only drawbacks, this atypical horror establishes an uncomfortable moral compass through the killer – a long-haired, grandly bearded religious zealot, decked out in a blue jump suit (à la Michael Myers) and ratty canvas mask (à la Jason Voorhees circa Friday the 13th Part 2) who seeks out and slays sinners. After the sermon-soaked intro, gears shift to the seedy societal underbelly of the film’s main setting.
Strip club dancer-cum-survivor girl Heather (Natalie Jean) is far from your virginal waif. Tall, tattooed and full-bodied, Ms. Jean is a Scream Queen that can give as much punishment as she can take, as shown when she punches out the teeth of a dude that demands she take off her top.
Heather’s world of stripping, prostitution and drugs is given ample time to develop before the killer is introduced, as she and others in similarly shitty situations (her lover Bunny, two fellow strippers and a skeezy, wanna-be filmmaker) get entangled in a hefty drug deal for scum-fuck club owner Harry, who’s introduced as he gets his dick sucked for coke.
Once the gang enter the warehouse/hideout/pad of a pimp and drug-buyer, they discover that not only has the guy become the latest victim of the titular Cross Bearer but that the killer is still on the scene. At long last, the herd is thinned with bloody abandon – a showcase of gore effects reminiscent of a darker, more modern Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Like most other slashers, tits and blood take up a lot of the movie’s run time but the cliché is addressed openly in a scene where Heather eloquently explains that trashy flicks with mammaries and maiming are simply more entertaining than talky art pieces. The copious amount of nudity that smothers the screen is also not so much used for titillation as it is simply an element of the story. The refreshingly natural-looking ladies that bare themselves in front of the camera are fleshy human victims, not just gratuitously bloody bodies.
There are no pretty bows to wrap up Cross Bearer (including its lingering and effective ending), but it’s a slasher that takes responsibility for its sins and has a hell of a time doing it.
BLOOD: Hefty homemade grue gives this a thick ruby sheen
BUDGET: A labour of love to be sure. I’d be surprised if it reached three digits
…and on the fifth day, Lord Forey created Monster Kids, those mid-century munchkins who grew up on the great monster classics, who both created and praised the violent flick of the ’70s and ’80s and begot the slasher spawn, who in due course praised and created the extreme gore and found-footage films of the new millennium, and who’ve now given rise to a new breed of horror hound. These juvenile delinquents have seen all of the August Underground films of the world, and with such easy access to filmmaking technology, are making their own fan films that feed off their influences in order to evolve our ever-evolvin’ genre.
Writer/director/star/producer/illustrator/et cetera Toby Johansen is a bona fide member of these new fright-o-philes and has created his very own portrait of a serial killer that, despite being incredibly abysmal, warms your decrepit heart with his makeshift murdering.
Bookmarked by monologues that over-explain the emotions and intricacies of the character in cryptic language, this camcorder culmination of clips drenched in rudimentary film effects is a series of torture scenes perpetrated by a deranged individual (played by the director himself) who slowly kills those who have treated him poorly because of his skin cancer, an affliction that has given him icky facial scars.
It becomes clear pretty fast (whether purposely or not) that it’s not so much the cancer that is scaring people out of his life, but the character’s bad attitude. A conversation shown with his late ex-girlfriend (ya, he killed her) illustrates how manipulative this character can be: when his former love tries to explain why she left him, he interrupts her, claiming her abandonment was solely due to his skin condition, peppering his accusations with depressing admissions such as, “…all I have is sheer darkness.”
Formatted in a 4:3 screen ratio, this sordid slasher is plagued with technical problems – including dialogue that cuts out, shoddy sound, a Casio keyboard score and digital errors – which make it look both authentically created by a psychopath and a very hard watch.
Nevertheless, a putrid passion shines through. The fact that Johansen himself took on most of the production roles for the years it took to make Hacksaw reveal just how determined he was to get this film made. Watching the film, one can easily picture all of the parts where Johansen hit record and quickly ran in front of the camera to perform his scene. The gory set pieces look pretty fake too, but seem all the more fun when you know that they were probably all fashioned from common household items. Johansen’s promotional art for the film is also something to be marvelled: crude, aggressive and entirely fitting of this unsettling shocker.
Although not very watchable, Hacksaw, akin to one of the films Don Glut made as a teenager, hints at the glorious mayhem that could be in store from this future captain of cult film. Keep ‘em comin’, Toby.
Hacksaw: Documentary of a Psycho Killer is available on DVD from the Gory Pumpkin website, where you can also read Johansen’s comics, see upcoming Gory Pumpkin productions and check out a countdown clock to Halloween 2012. Cross Bearer is available for pre-order through Adversary Films, along with Ahlbrandt and Jean’s second collaboration, The Cemetery, or catch it at a festival or convention near you.