I caught an early look at The Tattooist back in November at AFM (review here) and didn’t like it one bit. We shot B-D writer David Harley a copy of the DVD – now available from Sony and Ghost House Underground – to see what he thought. You can read his review inside. “Tattooist” casts Behr as a tattoo artist who becomes fascinated by the Samoan tatau tradition, but his desire to learn the ancient skill brings him into conflict and danger with the island mysticism and a deadly spirit is released as a result.Once upon a time, the idea of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House banner was something to get excited about. The two geniuses behind THE EVIL DEAD going back to the genre that made them famous, even if it was only in a producing role, was great in theory. THE GRUDGE did big business and was, I think, good for what it was: a film cashing in on the success of THE RING remake. Unfortunately, everything else they’ve released has been awful. When you release four films in a year and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is the best one, you’ve got a problem.
I thought that maybe their new branch, Ghost House Underground, would be a decent label. After all, Ghost House was just picking these films up for distribution, they weren’t making them. And with New Zealand Films having recently given us the very fun BLACK SHEEP and THE FERRYMAN (which I haven’t seen but I hear its great), it seemed like they’re newest film, THE TATTOOIST, would be a great starting point for Underground.
Jason Behr stars as Jake Sawyer, a tattooist who makes a living illustrating people’s skin with art that supposedly holds healing powers, despite that fact that he doesn’t believe it actually works. Attending a tattoo expo in Singapore, he stumbles into a Samoan tent and becomes enthralled with their tradition of tatau. On his way out, he decides to steal one of their tattooing tools and cuts his hand open with it, which spells grave consequences for our hero… but more on that later. Then, all of a sudden, he decides to travel to New Zealand to presumably find Sina (Mia Blake), the woman he made googly eyes at in the Samoan tent.
Arriving on the island, he takes up residence at an old friend’s parlor and begins having vivid nightmares. After finding Sina and settling into his new surroundings, all of his customers begin dying. You see, when Jake cut open his hand, he released a Samoan spirit, who kills anyone his tattooing tool was used on. Now it’s up to Jake to stop the spirit before he and his newfound girlfriend are killed.
The premise had some potential though I will be honest: I kept expecting it to become stupid fun like William Friedkin’s tattoo based episode of Tales From The Crypt, ON A DEAD MAN’S CHEST. Unfortunately, it never got there. What I did get, though, was basically a ripoff of every Asian ghost movie I’ve ever seen. I’d even go so far as to say if I replaced the word “shame” with “grudge” every time it was used, I would actually have a remake of THE GRUDGE… but with tattoo spirits.
Not to my surprise, Jason Behr’s performance was flat out terrible. He hit a new low with last year’s SKINWALKERS and at the rate he’s going, it doesn’t look like he’ll be trying to raise the bar anytime soon. And being the generous guy that I am, I don’t want to leave the rest of the cast out. They’re pretty bad too. I think everyone just put a list of facial expression on a wall, threw darts at it and just went with whatever they got for the entire film.
The film is almost entirely exposition, which causes it to move along at a slow, plodding pace, where nothing really happens until about 40 minutes in. It doesn’t help that when the kills finally start to rack up, they’re all off-screen, which brings up the question of why THE TATTOOIST is even R rated. Heck, the sex scene even feels heavily edited and tame in today’s world.
The best thing about THE TATTOOIST is that is provided me with one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes I’ve seen in quite a while. When Jake is searching for the identity of the killer spirit, he runs into a 13 year old gangster on the street of Auckland and pays him and his cousins $50 each to help him out with his problem. Long story short, it leads to racing down the highway, with rap music blaring out of the speakers, to become possessed and contact the spirit world.
THE TATTOOIST isn’t exactly the debut picture I was hoping for from Ghost House Underground and it definitely wasn’t what I expected from a script penned by Jonathan King (writer/director of BLACK SHEEP). Its a mess and all over the place, never really living up the potential of its premise and feeling very toned down. It’s a shame too, because it could have been a fun supernatural murder mystery.
Audio Commentary: Star Jason Behr and director Peter Burger give their invaluable two cents on the film, occasionally saying things like “Oh, that was a terrible line” like I didn’t already know. I was hoping for a little more insight into the clairvoyant gangster scene but, alas, much like the film, the commentary sells itself short.
Deleted Scenes (4:40): Three deleted scenes here. The first one gives a better reason for Jake leaving Singapore, though if they had left it in, they would’ve had to add another subplot and well, the film is already going nowhere, it doesn’t need any more help. The second scene is pointless, so kudos to them for cutting it out and the third is an alternate ending, which I thought worked a little better.
The Tattooist: Behind The Scenes (11:44): Typical behind-the-scenes featurette, where the cast and crew talk about how wonderful each other and the movie is. A small portion of it, dedicated to the art of tatau, is somewhat informative, if not fairly basic.
Behind The Tattoo Designs (2:25): An interview with Dean, the tattoo designer for the movie. He talks about coming up with the designs and gives cultural information on the all the different tattoos used in the movie.
The Colors of The Tattooist (2:20): Peter Burger talks about the color schemes in the film. The featurette is really way too short to really learn anything of merit and since there really isn’t anything intricate done in the movie, it’s kind of pointless.
Real Life Samoan Tattoo (3:18): Hands down, the best feature on the DVD and the only one that feels genuine. An interview with a man, before, during and after he gets his body worked on. He talks about how he deals with the pain, the significance of the particular design he is getting and what the tradition of tatau means to him.
Becoming A Chief (1:50): Peter Burger talks about how he and Jason Behr were asked to become high chiefs while shooting and researching THE TATTOOIST.
Digital Copy: I’m assuming it was included so that you could show your friends the film’s unintentional hilarity on your PSP or laptop anytime you wanted to, though I could be wrong.