Butcher Block is a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them. Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
Ryuhei Kitamura’s latest film Downrange, now on Shudder, continues his trademark nihilistic gore and style. It also brought a realization that it exists as a sort of spiritual sibling to his previous genre film, No One Lives. Both share that same gleeful mean spirit and ruthless carnage; death doesn’t come easy to the characters in either film. Both also will elicit polarizing reactions from its viewers, but above all, both share Kitamura’s passion for practical effects that supplement his no holds barred style when it comes to action and violence.
In No One Lives, a tried and true plot in which an unsuspecting couple get caught in the crosshairs of a rough group of thugs quickly gives way to something far more interesting. It turns out this group of bad guys picked the wrong couple to mess with, when they discover a kidnapped victim locked in the trunk of the couple’s vehicle. For Driver (Luke Evans), he takes his kidnapping in stride until his lady love Betty (Laura Ramsey) loses her life in gruesome fashion. Enraged, his quest for vengeance brings about an epic bloodbath.
Granted, David Cohen’s script is plagued with terrible dialogue guaranteed to ruffle feathers. There are questionable character choices, and one liners that will make you cringe. However, the concept is strong, and Luke Evans manages to bring so much charisma to Driver. Driver is as creepy as he is charming, and extremely inventive in his kills. Between Evans performance, Kitamura’s directorial efforts, the fantastic special makeup design and prosthetic effects by Robert Hall (Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, Quarantine, The Crazies) and key makeup effects by Leo Corey Castellano (Zombieland, Quarantine, Thor: The Dark World), No One Lives is far more fun than it had any right to be.
There are visceral throat slashings, death by meat grinder with the goopy remains later splattered onto a porch, a face shredded against a revving car engine, and various everyday items used as lethal weapons on display. But the real shining moment of glory is the scene that pays the goriest homage to The Empire Strikes Back ever committed to screen. Looking for easy transport back to the undisclosed hideout of the bad guys after the loss of Betty, Driver easily dispatches the biggest member, Ethan, played by massive pro wrestler Brodus Clay. Driver then does what any sociopath in love does; he slices open Ethan and crawls inside to hide, waiting for Ethan’s buddies to retrieve his body.
It makes for Driver’s emergence from the corpse so over the top bloody in a satisfying way, gore-covered with sticky blood and viscera. That Hall’s team crafted such a realistic looking body replica of Ethan for this scene is nothing short of incredible. The number of hours put into its creation, from airbrushing the skin tone to individually punching in every bit of hair, is extensive compared to the few moments the “skin suit” appears on screen. Between takes, one of the actors mistook the fake body as Clay napping and tried to wake him. Driver hiding in a corpse suit is outlandish on paper, but that Kitamura, Hall, and his team could make it believable on screen is why special effects team are often the unsung heroes of film. Then, to contend with the Louisiana heat consistently drying out their blood during shooting further complicates an already arduous task.
The most common phrases associated with directors during production are “Action!” and “Cut!” When it comes to Kitamura, the phrase most used is likely, “More blood!” Gallons of fake blood was used during production, of all types. Sticky, coagulated blood, runny blood, to blood with chunks of organ bits. Kitamura’s desire to aim for the jugular when it comes to shock value and Hall’s love of ‘80s horror and practical effects elevates No One Lives to something remarkable on a technical level.