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Simon Read [Celluloid 10.05.09] Canada movie review horror comedy

Year: 2009
Directors: Lee Demarbre
Writers: Ian Driscoll
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcylops
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Smash Cut is a film by Canadian film-maker Lee Demarbre (Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter). It is a kind of throw-back to the horror fantasy yarns of the 1980's, when a director could rent out a studio lot and go nuts for a week - try his best to get some kind of film put together. I'm talking Charles Band, Golan-Globus, Canon. I'm thinking Orca and the Outlaws, Arena, Trancers: Cheap, quick and there to get cash for the next project, certainly not out of major artistic vision. In the film, aging director Able Whitman, played by David Hess (The Last House on the Left), is sitting in the back row during the screening of his latest effort: Terror Toy. A film so laughably bad that the audience jeer and promptly empty the cinema. After drowning his sorrows at a strip bar he takes a young stripper called Gigi Spots for a drive and promptly crashes the car, killing Gigi. Able panics and stashes her body in the trunk, heading to a car wash and then onto the set of his next film 'Terror Toy: 2'. Lamenting the lack of realistic blood and gore, he's suddenly inspired to use Gigi's corpse to add a realistic touch to his next masterpiece.

All goes well, with spirits high on set as the crew marvel at the sudden influx of realistic props, and Able is ready to create a horror classic, until Gigi's journalist sister April (Sasha Grey - The Girlfriend Experience, My Evil Sluts 3, Massive Facials, etc) starts to investigate her disappearance. April hires a charismatic and flamboyant detective called Isaac Beaumonde, and the two head to the strip bar to look for clues. After quickly realising Able is involved somehow, April manages to land an acting job on Terror Toy: 2, and she and Beaumonde find themselves getting more than they bargained for, as Able tries desperately to keep-up supply of blood and guts for his film, by killing those who might stand in his way while profiting from their mutilated bodies.

This set-up is inspiring, and the film-makers really do try their best to create as much manic comedy and insanity as they can to keep the audience on-side, while including three or four scenes of very intense violence so as to keep horror fans happy. The main problem with Smash Cut is that, as well intentioned as it may be (going as far as to have Herschell Gordon Lewis introduce the film and play a cameo role as April's friendly editor-in-chief), the film doesn't quite manage to rise above the movies that it's paying respect to. Quite simply, for every scene that got my attention and made me sit-up and think, "Wow, these guys are doing something really clever and interesting here!", there comes another half-dozen scenes where I was thinking, "This doesn't work... this isn't working..." Some of the comedy is spot-on, most of the violence is suitably over-the-top and amusing, but each time I thought that Demarbre, Hess and Grey had finally hit their respective strides and were on track, along came another scene that either fell flat, lacked emotion, was badly acted or simply unnecessary.

So, here's the good points: The set design is visually quite dazzling. Smash Cut is set in a sort of timeless fantasy world where there are no computers or cell phones, there's no mention of a police force aside from Beaumonde's PI, and each separate set has a colour-scheme that fits it's intended purpose, so the film at least looks good. There's also posters for all of Able's previous films decorating his offices: 'Lover Take My Liver', 'Flood Of Blood' and 'Oops! There Goes My Left Arm!' The camera work is impressive too, for such a budget restricted production, there's one tracking shot that lasts a minute or so and has Able arrive at the theatre and head inside, while the camera rises and enters through an upstairs window, moving through corridors, past staff and visitors, to voyeuristically observe him setting-up a booby-trap.

The dialogue is, for the most part, quite witty and cool. During the first cinema scene one patron whispers to his friend, "This guy makes Ed Wood look like Orson Welles..." After an audition Able turns to the camera and bemoans, "Eighteen auditions and the only thing that qualifies any of them to be in film is that they reflect light! What am I gonna do?" Hess shines as he delivers a speech to Grey about Hamlet, citing it as the first true horror movie, "I mean, by the end there's bodies EVERYWHERE! Don't you see?" All this while she performs the most famous scene in the play, not with a skull, but her sisters decaying head. My favorite scene though, has a snooty female film critic who has a grudge against Able, describing him in her column as, 'The cinematic Anti-Christ'. She's sitting at her typewriter trying to think of synonyms to the word 'cliched', and out comes the thesaurus! Well, we've all been there with this job. Ahem. During his killing spree Able occasionally calls the head writer at the studio and picks his brains on how a hypothetical killer might avoid detection, using his ideas to set-up fake suicides or household accidents ("How does a man kill himself, with a harpoon? Hmm...")

Bad points? Basically just patchy acting and writing, an uneven pace and promises not delivered. While things get going in the third act, with Able poised to finally inflict his new film on the public, Demarbre seems to change gear and we have no premiere, but a standard hero vs villain death-match. Part way through the film, after Able kills a lesbian video artist who's applying for the same arts grant that Able needs to finish his film, he discovers a film reel while stashing her body in the vault. The film is called 'One Trillion Leaning Towers' and Able's eyes widen as he realises it's the legendary Worst Film Ever Made, the film that caused audience members to die in their seats and murder the director. His plan is to screen this cinematic cyanide pill before Terror Toy: 2, thus murdering his audience before they can even watch his new movie. Do we see any footage of either film? Nada... But maybe that's the point, after all, we do get to see the end of Smash Cut instead.

It's not the fail that some reviewers have claimed, but it's hardly going to set the world on fire either. Hess is in every scene in the film and has a lot of work to do, his performance isn't bad, but nothing special (although the scene on the bus earns him a special place in my heart). A lot of scenes look improvised and some of the actors say their lines without any real investment, but I'll keep an eye out for Grey, who's doing a good job of leaving her porno roots behind and working as a mainstream actress, and more power to her. She's not the weakest link in the movie, nor the shining star, but she gives a game performance here, she manages to pull it off pretty well (no pun intende- ... who am I kidding?).

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drunken_hopfrog (12 years ago) Reply

If this is from the mind of those that completely screwed up the movie attached to the best title ever in cinema (Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter) then I'd have no faith in this project. JCVH was one of the worst travesties I've ever witnessed.

I forget the budget on that film, but I think it was 5-6x El Mariachi; after watching the inteerviews I had to think they spent that cash on weed. Which is cool, but the movie sucked.

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