DIRECTED BY: Lee Demarbre
FEATURING: David Hess, Sasha Grey, Jesse Buck, Michael Berryman, Herschell Gordon Lewis
PLOT: An incompetent horror director discovers he can make realistic gore effects by killing
his critics and co-workers and using their severed body parts as special effects.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With Smash Cut, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter auteur Lee Demarbre pulls back the weirdness and takes a step towards the conventional (to the extent that a comedic tribute to Herschel Gordon Lewis’ cheesy gore films, featuring a main character who considers a dead stripper in the trunk of his car to be his muse, can be considered mainstream). The results are, frankly, a little boring, though camp gorehounds might find some entertainment here.
COMMENTS: The one sentence plot synopsis tells you all you need to know; there are very few story surprises as Smash Cut unspools. You can figure out that the diabolical director starts to enjoy killing as his megalomania grows, finds it increasingly difficult to cover his tracks as the bodies pile up, and is eventually thwarted by the clean-cut young heroes. Since we know what’s coming, it’s crucial that Smash Cut deliver on the gags (especially the weird gags), and unfortunately this is where the movie falls down on the job. The best parts are the two films-within-the-film, perhaps because they push their deranged style to its limits and stay true to their own madness. The first is director and future serial killer Abel Whitman’s trashterpiece Terror Toy, featuring a ragdoll clown murdering a busty psychiatrist with an ink pen and one of the worst “dangling eyeball” scenes you’ll ever witness. The second featurette is a silent art film created as a mousetrap to try to play on the felonious filmmaker’s sense of guilt. In between those two highlights are some interesting, mildly absurd touches—for example, a “suicide” by harpoon and a minor character who sets army men on fire—and a lot of deliberately unconvincing, campy gore effects (though the scene where Abel extracts eyeballs with a box cutter delivers a significant cringe factor). The acting is inconsistent, which is not necessarily a problem in the overall spoofy enterprise, but never becomes a virtue, either. David Hess (the rapist/killer Krug from 1972’s Last House on the Left, now reverting to sadism during his mid-life crisis) plays Abel well in the early scenes when he’s asked to be pathetic schlub, looking crushed and drunkenly complaining that the audience who threw popcorn at the screen during Terror Toy‘s debut are philistines; but when he transforms into campy killer he can’t nail quite the right balance of drollery and terror. (Hess’ voice and delivery sound an awful lot like TV comic Jeffrey Tambor rather than Vincent Price, the gold standard of endearingly evil angels of vengeance). Newcomer Jesse Buck hams it up as the suave, Hercule Poirot-style detective, and while I didn’t come away thinking Jesse’s the next big thing, I did think Hess’ villain could have benefited from an injection of a little Buck-style buffoonery. Even with way too much eye shadow slathered on, crossover porn star Sasha Grey has a doll-like, almost unreal prettiness, but she comes from the Connie Mason school of emoting (there’s the mandatory H.G. Lewis reference for you). It’s amusing, in a schadenfreude sense, to watch the aspiring starlet monotone her way through Hamlet’s “poor Yorick” speech while holding a severed head; but wouldn’t be doing my critical duty if I didn’t advise readers that Grey keeps her clothes on at all times—that may be a deal-breaker for her hardcore fan base. As a low-budget studio honcho, generally ghoulish Michael Berryman tries to stretch his range to satire but fails to impress; his ridiculous curly toupée earns more chuckles than the he does. H.G. Lewis, the godfather of gore who’s honor it is to be gently roasted in Smash Cut, delivers the pre-screening warning (“the announcement we are about to make has only been made three times in motion picture history… watch if you must, but remember, your were warned”), and also has a small cameo role. He’s transparently there just to get a paycheck, but since Lewis never made any pretense to being involved in movies for anything other than a quick buck, it’s a charmingly authentic appearance. The one thing that Smash Cut really does well is the 60s-70s grindhouse period soundtrack by Michael Dubue, full of eerie electronic effects, moody music boxes and waka-waka guitars; the composer deserves the opportunity to move on to bigger projects.
A “smash cut” refers to an abrupt film edit intended to shock the audience. The movie in-joke title isn’t really a grabber for the average horror fan, though. In one of the film’s best lines, the killer filmmaker observes, “Fingerprints on a Blind Eye—what a great film title!” Fake movie titles glimpsed on posters around the low-budget film studio include Oops! There Goes My Left Arm and Lover, Take My Liver. Any of these titles would probably have sold a few more units than the anemic Smash Cut.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…something of a curio… Yet Demabre’s self-conscious focus on the z-grade end of the film industry is never quite enough to immunise his film against its own inadequacies.”–Anton Bitel, Little White Lies (festival screening)