Late last year, while on my first set visit, I got a chance to chat with actress Josslyn DeCrosta. We were talking about how she landed her role and she mentioned she had just finished working on a film called BRUTAL MASSACRE. “Have you heard of it?” she asked me. Slightly embarrassed, I said “No.” Described to me as a mockumentary, her few comments gave me the impression that it was a cross between THIS IS SPINAL TAP and FULL TILT BOOGIE. In other words, the greatest mockumentary of all time and one of the best behind-the-scenes features ever made. Needless to say, the name BRUTAL MASSACRE has stuck with with me over these past few months.
Director Harry Penderecki (David Naughton) is a bind. Once upon a time, he was famous for delivering low-budget horror hits like The Fish Who Ate Flesh. However, his last few films have been huge flops in the states (“They’re big in Germany” he explains) and he’s lost a lot of credibility. But, he’s got a new idea for a film, a potential swan song of a slasher if you will. BRUTAL MASSACRE has to be hit for Penderecki, to show the world he’s still got the chops to make a great horror film. And he just might do it… if he ever gets through the hellish production.
My biggest concern going into the film was the overcrowded presence of genre favorites. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these actors have been in the most influential and legendary horror films of all time. But its no excuse for a production to turn into the “Where’s Waldo?” of the horror world. Surprisingly, the cast never felt distracting and some actually gave good performances, particularly Gunnar Hansen, who delivers some truly hilarious moments as a disgruntled homeowner and obnoxious drunk.
If my initial concerns were proved wrong, then why does Steven Mena’s follow-up to MALEVOLENCE (a decent little Carpenter-esque film) not work as well as it should have? For starters, the comedy is a little uneven. Granted, there are some great scenes in here but there are many times where the dialogue sounds stilted because the characters are swearing like middle schoolers so they can sound grown up and look cool. Everyone seemed to be trying for laughs entirely too hard. This also contributes to the film’s inability to feel entirely genuine.
In documentary-style horror films like [REC] and CLOVERFIELD, you get a real sense of comradery between those in front of the camera and behind it. The characters never felt like a group of actors getting together to mess around and make a film; they had chemistry. Here though, no one ever comes off as entirely believable. The actors are good in the sense of their comedic timing and serving their purpose in moving the plot forward but their relationship rarely feels sincere. No one wants cheap jokes involving boom mics going in and out of the frame (which is thankfully nowhere to be seen during the 95 minute runtime) but the need for interaction between both crews is a must for the gimmick to work. Aside from an interviewer who sporadically pops up to question Penderecki’s methods and motivation, you never get the impression that a documentary is being made through most of the film. With the inclusion of fluid panning shots, Mena’s realistic approach comes off as entirely too slick and polished. Sure, the cops ask for the cameras to be turned off and they get shaken around a little bit here and there but no documentary crew is going to be able to get the scene composition you’ll see here, especially one that’s following the production of a rush-job film.
What it does best, though, is give a somewhat insightful look into low-budget genre film making. It’s even been said that some of the flubs that are portrayed in BRUTAL MASSACRE actually happened to Mena on the set of MALEVOLENCE. In a genre where many directors get stuck in a rut over releasing rehashes of their same old schtick, I’m glad Mena tried something different with his sophomore effort. Sure, it’s not exactly the sort of step up I envisioned him to take but its certainly not a total misfire either.