Several years ago, documentary filmmaker Julian Hobbs created a fascinatingly distasteful documentary entitled Collectors. In that production Hobbs focused his camera’s unflinching eye on the subculture of serial killer memorabilia. Amongst other things, that film questioned the motives behind such an obsession. Fast-forward six years, and director Craig McMahon’s answer comes in the form of low budget exploitationer- Machined.
Motor Man Dan, an obese, bald and shockingly hairy hermit keeps himself sheltered away from polite society, in his wayward desert gas and service station. Out here alone, he has ample time devoted to life’s simpler pleasures, like masturbating to rancid headlines and stockpiling serial killer souvenirs. One day while old Dan is out cruising the two-lane blacktop, he accidentally plows down a slick city boy who’d been having some car trouble. For a moment it seems like Good Samaritan Dan is going to nurse the injured pedestrian back to health, but, like some Victor Frankenstein version of Kathy Bates, he takes his newly found friend, and with the help of a few power tools and nifty welder’s mask, fashions himself his very own serial killer protégé. Now Dan no longer has to franticly search the newspapers for quality spank material, he can just sit back, flip on the surveillance cameras and watch as his newly minted psycho, slashes a constant stream of decidedly unlucky patrons.
As far as premises go, Machined seems like a no brainier, interesting concept, reasonably frightening villain, quality location and an influx of youthful meat puppets to poke at. So how come the film fails miserably at not only being horrific, but at even being remotely entertaining? Could it be because Dan’s back hair is so distracting that the audience can’t focus on anything other than his overstuffed overalls? Perhaps it’s because most of the action takes place on a video monitor while Dan slurs random syllables and smacks the screen. Or is it because, the whole damn mess made me feel dirty – not in the good old Alfred Hitchcock/Dario Argento kind of kinky voyeuristic way, but more in a Michael Powell/Peeping Tom sort of hardcore pornography way.
If McMahon’s intentions are to force the audience into actively participating in the murders, the way that Powell did with his 1960 thriller Peeping Tom, then I guess he succeeds here and deserves our praise for effectively presenting his vision and procuring the desired result.
For my money, McMahon’s film is gratuitous for no other exercise than excess – and that sin makes for unforgivable filmmaking. Victims are lined up like ducks in a row, as Motor Man Dan’s little out of the way service station sees more action than the Vegas Strip on a Saturday night. It is unreasonable to assume that every car that passed this place was in need of servicing. It is also utterly ridiculous to have two characters playing sex games with one another in the filthy and dimly lit back room. Frankly, those characters deserved to die for being so stupid, and the filmmakers – who are asking an audience to swallow, what is an obvious ploy to plop a pair of perky breasts into the film, in the hopes of securing a distribution deal – are frankly sad. This is exactly the type of unpleasantness that genre fans have to sit through periodically in the hope of finally seeing a film worth $4.00.
It’s been a while since I needed to shower after watching a film that didn’t star Jenna Jameson, but McMahon’s Machined is as greasy and nasty a ride as they come.