Truly independent horror films almost all suffer from the same debilitating problem—total lack of funding. When you have no money, you have no options. So, you take a friend’s cabin in the woods and you cast a few good looking twenty-something newbie actors to populate the ready-made set. You bang out a script using every available resource, and you shoot the film when you can make the time. What you get nine ti bmes out of ten, is the same stand ’em up and slash ’em down shocker wannabe. But sometimes, that tenth time, you get a hell of a lot more than you paid for.
Writer/Director Drew Barnhardt did all the things I just mentioned above and he did them with a style that bodes well for the filmmakers future. See, the difference between most low budget slasher films and the granddaddy’s of the genre (which if you remember, were all low budget too) is vision. And, Drew Barnhardt has vision…really warped vision.
Murder Loves Killers Too is a mouthful of a title that hasn’t really got a ton of point when it boils down to it. On the surface the film looks like any other weekend movie massacre. College kids take a trip to their friend’s lush wooded cabin retreat, where one by one they are systematically stabbed and slaughtered by a madman. Yep….that’s it….Stop me right there if you think that the writers of the new Friday the 13th reboot have a case against Barnhardt! But, that’s the beauty of this film. It’s setting up conventions just so it can totally fuck with them. This isn’t Jason Voorhees. It’s not The Prowler. This killer isn’t hiding in the shadows, chasing his victims through the dark in reckless POV camera shots. This nut job is standing around in broad daylight wearing a robe and slippers, snatching the clueless kids right out of the living room.
Big Stevie (star Allen Andrews, whose a dead ringer for SNL/Reno 911 alumni David Koechner) is just your everyday, neat-freak, serial killer, who takes pleasure in stabbing you with a meat hook and sticking you with a knife and playing with your intestines. He’s a big teddy bear of a demented freak who just needs a little love. Unfortunately for her, Aggie (Christine Haeberman) is the apple in Big Stevie’s eye. But to make with the nice-nice, he’s gotta get her alone, so, he dispatches her friends with relative speed (in fact the first kills are off and running almost immediately). But once he gets her….what’s he gonna do with her.
Barnhardt’s film is almost as schizophrenic as the mass murderer at its center. It begins with a serio-comic “Masterpiece Theater” voice over by British thespian Nigel Lambert that introduces the story in only the vaguest of terms. Next up we get the reckless abandon of youth blasting down the woodland roads, laughing like lunatics until the car breaks down. Once we get to the house the sex and murder start within seconds. But, once Big Stevie has only Aggie left, the film stops almost completely and becomes a measured dramatic thriller with some serious psychological undertones. The end of the film adds almost a black comedy climax to its absolutely bizarre story structure.
Still, even with the script’s moments of anarchic brilliance the film’s character development and performances are still on-par for what you’d expect given the budget the filmmakers were working under. But all that is forgiven because, the thing that really sets Murder Loves Killer Too apart from the pack is the look and feel Barnhardt and Cinematographer Kevin M. Graves bring to the production.
The film employs some impressively long tracking shots that take advantage of the location. And that’s one of the key highlights about the movie. Other than just establishing location inside the house, it is through these tracking shots, that the cabin itself becomes a character in the film. This is more important than you think, because understanding the layout of the house allows the viewer to anticipate where the scares are going to occur. Like most horror films that employ omniscient storytelling techniques, we mainly follow the victim, but, we always know what the killer is planning next–the horror lies in the victims not knowing and our anticipation of her finding out. This film executes that technique very well.
Despite the budget shortfalls and the crazy notion that a cabin-in-the-woods film can still be original, Murder Loves Killers Too, amazingly, works to deliver a story that at a breezy 80-minutes should leave open-minded genre fans with a new underground fave.