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Smash Cut
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by Jay Seaver

"A potentially killer tribute to a schlock icon."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The appeal of the deliberately shoddy homage continues to elude me, even when I find something to enjoy in one, as I did with "Smash Cut". Wouldn't it be a finer tribute to take what you learned from, and loved about, those films and make something great, rather than so carefully preserving their flaws? Making a movie takes too much time and money, and the finished product lasts too long, to give it less than a full effort. At its best, the people making "Smash Cut" realize this.

Making bad movies is what Smash Cut is about, of course. We start with Able Whitman (David Hess), who makes comically bad horror movies in Ottawa. He doesn't seem to realize just how bad they are until he's sitting in a theater as the audience openly mocks the terrible special effects. Producer Philip Farnsworth Jr. (Michael Berryman) is thinking of letting Able go. And he's just accidentally killed his stripper girlfriend. But from difficulty comes opportunity - he can use his girlfriend's corpse to bring some added realism to his movies! Of course, he's going to need more than one body, and said girlfriend has a sister, April Carson (Sasha Grey), a reporter who convinces her editor to let her hire P.I. Isaac Beaumonde (Jesse Buck) and go undercover in Whitman's new movie when clues start to point in that direction.

Director Lee Demarbre and writer Ian Driscoll - whose credits together include films with titles such as "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter" - have made no secret of the fact that they are making this film as a tribute to Herschell Gordon Lewis (who appears as April's editor). They double up on the homage - not only is it made in the style of an old-school HGL movie, but Whitman is pretty clearly created in Lewis's image, though he's more a hired hand than Lewis ever was. It's a fun idea for a tribute to an exploitation filmmaker, as it's a chance to strike back at anyone who has ever called him sick or otherwise made a director's life difficult - film makers and film lovers will probably get a kick out of the revenge fantasy aspects.

With that bit of winking satire at play, there's reason to hope for a fairly clever movie, but that seems to be the extent of the filmmakers' ambition. After a certain point, the movie seems to get on a treadmill - Whitman kills someone who is either getting too close or has irritated him, he shoots a scene where April holds a body part from the new corpse and screams (not knowing that it's a real body part!), April and Isaac stumble forward on their investigation, and repeat. It gives the audience some of the basic exploitation food groups (murder, bad one-liners, corn syrup, shrieking), only falling short on gratuitous nudity, but outside the kills, it's not a lot of fun. Most of the characters are just a weird personality quirk or two, and April really isn't even that.

What the movie does have going for it, though, is David Hess. Hess has had an extremely varied career in film and music both in North America and Europe, though his most notable movie role was in Wes Craven's original Last House on the Left. He has psycho-killer experience, and attacks Smash Cut like a world champion scenery-chewer, making the rest of the cast seem dull by comparison. He knows just how to attack a scene to bring it from irritated in a sympathetic way to "I think I can use this guy's kidney in my movie" to homicidal rage. It's a funny performance that stops just short of silly, and is always engaging.

No other single element of the film is nearly as enjoyable as Hess's performance, but there are plenty of moments where things do click into place. Even if the punchline is always the same, the kills are just leading up to it the sort of nasty that the audience wants to see, with fine effects work. It's an enjoyably sleazy movie, but in a cartoonishly escapist way.

I still think that Demarbre, Driscoll and company might have done better by not sticking quite so close to the style of their cinematic hero, but other fans of Herschell Gordon Lewis will likely find "Smash Cut" to be a fitting tribute.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19332&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/26/09 23:54:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.

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  DVD: 30-Mar-2010

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