5/22/10

Smash Cut (2009): David Hess Meets Sasha Grey (And the Clothes Stay On)

AMC’s filmsite defines a smash cut as “a cinematic term that refers to an abrupt, jarring and unexpected change in the scene or film's image (and the audio), in order to surprise the viewing audience.” The official site for the 2009 film Smash Cut says it is “the story of Able Whitman, a horror-film director whose career is on its final reel.” There are plenty of examples of the former technique in the latter film, but Smash Cut is far less interested in surprising the viewer than I would have expected. After reading the synopsis and finding that it starred David Hess, I expected a bloody, brutal film, but instead, the flick turned out to be a horror comedy that worships at the altar or Herschell Gordon Lewis. A while back I reviewed director Lee Demarbre’s first feature film, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, and much like that film, Demerbre sets his sights on a sacred cow only this time it’s the classic era of gore films.

As the one line synopsis says, Smash Cut is the story of Abel Whitman (David Hess), a horror film director whose latest film Terror Toy is panned for a severe lack of realism. While drowning his sorrows in a strip club called the Ass Menagerie, he meets stripper Gigi (Jennilee Murray), and the two leave the club together. Abel runs the car off the road, and Gigi is killed in the accident. Cracking under the strain, Whitman sees a way to finally get a realistic looking corpse in his film. When the police seem less than inclined to investigate her sister’s disappearance, TV reporter April Carson (Sasha Grey) approaches renowned investigator Isaac Beaumonde (Jesse Buck) to help her find Gigi. Their search leads them to Farmsworth studios and Abel Whitman, but when April goes undercover as an actress in Abel’s film, she might end up on the cutting room floor.

While the box art for the DVD may hint to a film with Hostel’s violent tones, Herschell Gordon Lewis is the real inspiration for the film. The man himself introduces the movie (and appears in a minor role), and my notions of what Smash Cut might have in store changed entirely. The film that followed was one cut from the same cloth as Lewis’ but with a tongue planted firmly in the cheek. It’s certainly not the best horror comedy I’ve seen in the last year (that honor goes to the hilarious Brutal Massacre), but it successfully walks the line between a cult film and a film made to be a cult film. Most wacky entries into the horror genre fit into the latter category, but Smash Cut chews up and spits out its influences in such a way that winks at the viewer without making too big a deal out of the broadly played humor.

If I was casting an actor for a horror comedy, David Hess would not make the shortlist. I’m not sure that he’d make the long list or the even longer list, but that would be my loss. Hess is what really made this movie for me. He’s made a career out of playing sadists in films like Last House on the Left and Hitch Hike, and casting Hess as the nebbish director Abel Whitman who cracks under the strain of his own incompetence is a stroke of genius. The years have mellowed Hess’ appearance so that at first glance he doesn’t look like a big eyed psycho, but make no mistake, that psycho is still lurking under the surface. Hess gives a pitch perfect, broadly played comedic performance. I’ve seen some criticism of the “bad acting” in Smash Cut, but the acting by Hess and everyone else in the film is on par with any of H. G. Lewis’ films which is surely what Demerbre was looking for. Even if it wasn’t, by the time Hess wipes the sweat off his brow with the sleeve on a severed arm, I was a believer in Hess’ comedic abilities.

There are a few other actors I should mention. This was actually porn starlet Sasha Grey’s first mainstream role though her breakthrough performance in Steven Soderberg’s The Girlfriend Experience made it to release first. Soderberg’s film, while technically better than Smash Cut on practically all levels, was plodding and dull, and it didn’t allow Grey to show any potential or personality. That’s surely not the case with Smash Cut. Her performance is probably the best of the bunch, and the scenes she shares with Jesse Buck as Beaumonde are high points in the film. This is the first film I’ve seen Buck in, and I really hope I see him more in the future. The first scene of Beaumonde where he strips away a disguise to reveal himself a la Inspector Clouseau had me in stitches. The film also proudly boasts some other familiar cult film favorites so look out for a nearly unrecognizable Michael Berryman in a crazy wig, Montag the Magnificent himself Ray Sager as a pervy evangelist, and, of course, H.G. Lewis as April Carson’s boss at the TV station.

Lee Demerbre has made several films in the intervening years between Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter and Smash Cut, but he clearly hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for making low budget gems. With the films or Mr. Lewis as a jumping off point, Demerbre made a film that was witty, snappy, and full of great touches. One of the best decisions he made was having the special effects be at the same level as Lewis’ films. So don’t expect blood and gore unless you’re looking for the Wizard of Gore. On the whole, Smash Cut is not as crazily manic or fun as Vampire Hunter, but it definitely proves to me that Demerbre is more than a one trick pony.

Smash Cut is a film I would surely recommend with a few caveats. If you don’t like large portions of camp and humor in your horror, Smash Cut is not for you. If you are expecting buckets of blood and realistic gore, then Smash Cut is not for you. If you want to spend ninety minutes laughing, looking for references to H.G. Lewis’ film, and the thought of David Hess as comedic lead interests you, then I highly recommend you check this one out. In the pantheon of horror-comedy, Smash Cut may never make the list of the all time greats, but it surely does not disappoint (if you know what to expect).

Bugg Rating


5 comments:

  1. Sounds a bit like "Brutal Massacre", a VERY funny comedy that came out last year or so. I'll check out Smash Cut--you check out Brutal.

    Also, anal me says: I think you put interpreted when you meant interested. :)

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  2. Thanks for the heads up on the correction, you are indeed correct. Such is the hazards of late night writing.

    I've actually seen Brutal Massacre you must have missed the line that said ". It’s certainly not the best horror comedy I’ve seen in the last year (that honor goes to the hilarious Brutal Massacre" Brutal was a way better film (I woujld give it a 3.5), but Smash Cut had it's moments.

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  3. Yes, I missed that paragraph apparently...such is the hazard of late-night reading... :)

    I'd have given Brutal at least a 4 out of 5. You would too if you'd worked on a horror film. It's like that writer was WITH me when I shot my movies!

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  4. Looks just gawd awful, in the best meaning of those words.

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  5. Due to my love for the movies of H. G. Lewis alone I'm going to have to see this one.

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