Slasher Films are a dime-a-dozen, dotting the low budget landscape like convenience stores. The only sub-genre of horror films more prolific are zombie films and both of those productions stem from the same based concept—if you’ve got some friends, some time and some money, you too can make a film. Writer/Director Joseph Ariloa—who got his start making exercise videos—follows up his debut feature (the small time mob drama COALITION) with a foray into the world of horror.
KNOCK KNOCK seems to be a simple slasher film on the surface—and certainly based on the box description, which also contains the mother of all spoilers. But, as the opening frames of the film flicker, something is askew in Joseph Ariloa’s world. The music is of the minimalist variety, the camera is a handheld POV shot of someone walking toward the front door of a house. A black-gloved hand knocks on the door. Inside, a beautiful woman descends the stairs. Her hair is big and her sweatshirt is slung off one shoulder—ladies and gentlemen welcome to an Italian Giallo film by way of New Jersey!
To be completely honest the pre-credit sequence is as good as this film gets. It’s slyly suspenseful with a winking nudge to any given Bava/Argento film. The girl looks like she just stepped out of a Rick Springfield video and the culmination of the constant knocks is as expected. In short the scene gives us just what we want, even if it’s not what we expected—like a momentary outtake from TENEBRE. Too bad it’s all down hill from there.
KNOCK KNOCK follows a group of High School students—played once again by folks who couldn’t possibly be in high school—who are systematically slaughtered in varying manners by a masked madman who looks a little too much like Leatherface circa TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2.
The film is a quandary. It’s clear that Ariola is mining the Giallo genre for the overall concept—which follows a retired cop (Antonio Mastrantonio) and a smoking hot police detective (Kim Taggart)—who arrives at the first murder scene in a sheer white top with a black bra underneath—as they try and track down the killer. The big reveal of the film takes place at the end, where the backstory is totally laid out. It’s a tactic that most filmmakers don’t do anymore. Most filmmakers give you the terrible story right off the bat, or over the campfire, or whatever, but Ariola wants the film to pay off in the end. And this would be the case had the Box Art Synopsis not told you exactly everything about the backstory—assuming you read it before you decided to watch the film!
Frankly, I wish that the box art snafu was the only problem with KNOCK KNOCK, but it’s only the tip of very large iceberg. The biggest problem is that the film can’t decide if it’s homage, a satire or a straight up genre film. The producers seem to have taken care to set the film in the 1980’s but they never mention that as a fact—unless I missed it. The characters are cribbed from any age-old slasher film and the acting is nearly as atrocious. I assume that they only made one print of this film—and it was shot on film…no HD or Digital Video here—and that print got run a few times. I note this because adding to the nostalgic ambience of the production is a fair amount of grain, a few errant hairs and I think I even noticed a scratch or two. For a moment I considered that perhaps, this was in fact homage and that in his fanaticism for realism, Ariola actually got old film stock to shoot this sucker on, but please—just my overactive imagination gone wild again. So, with no explanation for any of the bizarreness that appears on film, I’ve got to assume that the filmmakers were striving for a serious horror film. If that was the goal, then my friends they failed miserably.
On a bright note, the gorehounds who pick this film up will be thrilled with reasonably inventive death sequences and copious quantities of blood and guts to be had. It’s not the most sanguine screener I’ve ever seen—not by a longshot—but for low budget, they didn’t spare any expense on the grue.
KNOCK KNOCK loses a lot of points because it’s too damn confusing trying to determine if you’re watching an elaborate in-joke or if your watching a tried and true slasher film with elements of a Gialli. It loses the rest because by the end, you don’t care one way or another, just so long as it ends. It really is a shame; I can’t remember the last time a film’s opening sequence provides such promise, only to squander that promise in a mess of a movie. Just remember, if you want to be captivated by the backstory, DON’T READ THE COVER BOX! (Is it just me or does that sound like the name of a cheap drive in slasher film too!)