8/12/11

Violent Kind (2010): Teddy Boy's Bloody Picnic

When you sit down at home and press play on any film, unless you’ve already seen it, there’s really no telling what you’re getting yourself into. Like most people I try to make judgments based on the cast, the director, or a brief synopsis, but if worse comes to worst and I’m on the fence, sometimes it comes down to cover art. In the case of today’s film, I knew nothing about it when I came across the cover on Netflix. Here it is...

Taking what I could from the cover, I first tried to ignore the connection to both the lackluster Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot, but moving on to the main image, it comes across like a biker themed horror film, Sons of Anarchy with a higher body count perhaps. Having recently watched the entirely tepid biker horror flick Poker Run,  I wasn't really looking for another chopper themed slasher, but something in the synopsis caught my eye, "rowdy bikers who find their partying cut short by a malevolent force and a gang of equally rough Rockabilly types who may already be dead." Now that, I thought, would be worth a watch. So setting aside the qualms given me by Violent Kind's cover, I pressed play wondering if I'd just gotten myself into Night of the Easy Riders. 

The tiny tidbit that intrigued me from the Netflix synopsis was surely a fresh, interesting hook to get me into the film, but it was also only the start of things. Cody (Cory Knauf), his sister Shade (Taylor Cole), and their friends Q (Bret Roberts) and Elroy (Nick Tagas) travel to the California mountains to attend their mother's 50th birthday party at the old haunt of "The Crew" a biker gang founded by their father. Cody's old flame Michelle (Tiffany Shepis) shows up trying to make trouble, but she finally wanders off into the night with the intent to bone her new boneheaded beau. Before Cody can breathe a sigh of relief that nothing had gone wrong at the party, Michelle shows back up covered head to toe with blood. Now possessed by a supernatural force, Michelle attacks Elroy and sews the seeds of dissension among the friends. As if a friend under demonic possession wasn't bad enough, then a group of '50's style toughs show up and start torturing the crew in preparation for a dark ritual  to welcome what now resides inside Michelle. 

If that at all seems convoluted, I apologize. The film shifts in tone so drastically throughout that it's a bit hard to explain. To begin, Violent Kind goes almost a  full twenty minutes feeling much like an episode of Sons of Anarchy stripped of its stars, but when it takes that bloody, bloody left turn, it means business. In the second portion of the film, the possession piece, there were flavors of favorites such as Cabin Fever and Burnt Offerings, but it stayed away from taking the easy pea soup route. Throughout this portion,  the audience is kept guessing and tension is very effectively built. When the film tumbles over into its last third, the supernatural sock hop set, it veers into territory I would have thought far too dark from what either of the first two thirds of the film had shown. It goes dark in a Last House on the Edge of the Park kind of way filled with that specific kind of nihilistic, sexualized violence that can really, really make my skin crawl. 

Violent Kind is the third film from directing duo "The Butcher Brothers" (Phil Flores, Mitchell Altieri), and never having seen 2006's The Hamilton's or their 2008 film April Fools Day, I have no way to compare it  to any of their other output. Taken on its own merits, Violent Kind is easily one of the best horror films I've seen since 2008's Martyrs. The Butcher Brothers skillfully weave together a number of tones ranging from comic (See lines like: "You tried to eat Elroy's face honey."), to deviant (simulated lesbian bottle sex and cling wrap fetish are just two examples) to just plain horrific (Girls covered in blood never want to make out.) They also do an incredible job with using music in the film. I thought they had dug up a number of retro gems, but it turns out that the soundtrack was packed with indie rock, rockabilly, and folk artists. The most effective example to me was the placement of Lys' Guillorn 's song Little Wren  playing while Shepis' possessed Michelle is struggling to resist being tied to the bed. 

I'm already gushing way too much, but I really must talk a bit about the acting. Tiffany Shepis is a well known name to horror fans as she's one of the current reigning scream queens, but I've rarely enjoyed Ms. Shepis as much as I did in Violent Kind. While certainly she spent a good portion of the film muttering and writhing, she does solid work early as "the bitch" and later hit a bloody, emotional home-run with simply the phrase, "you saw me different." Cory Knauf, who also appeared in The Butcher Brother's The Hamilton's, proves that he's an actor that should be in many more things. Providing a vulnerable performance that set a fulcrum for the film, Knauf easily anchored the film's weightier portions. The real star performance though has to be Joe Egender as the greaser's leader Vernon. Full of menace and mirth in a gleeful meshing of David Hess in anything meets Johnny Cash in Five Minutes to Live, Egender  (who has appeared in all three of The Butcher Brother's films) easily summons up more onscreen menace than that freaky puppet in Saw has for the last three sequels. 

Now, let me get back to where we started, the cover. After I watched the film, I pondered what kind if image might have better conveyed the type of film it was. Coming up with something in my mind that would have been inspired by classic, lurid posters for 50's exploitation films such as The Blackboard Jungle, Live Fast and Die Young, or Teenage Doll, I then went looking to see if Violent Kind had any other alternate images associated with it. I did find two. Here's the first.... 
I like this one more, but I think it might be even less indicative of what the film is. While it does actually show the face of Knauf  and the side of Egender's head, I would read this poster as possibly being a French horror film out of the same school that produced Ils and Frontier(s). Here's the second one....

Finally one that conveys something about the film. Featuring the glowering eyes of Joseph McKelheer as Jazz (Vernon's henchman/lover?), it captures a retro feel, draws me in, and would make me want to know what is going on with this flick. While I was lucky enough for Violent Kind to catch my eye, it might not happen for everyone. So I hope this post leads a few people to check out this film. You still can't judge a movie by its cover, but you'd think that they could help you out a bit!
Bugg Rating

3 comments:

  1. The last cover is by far the best. Very similar to La Haine.

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  2. The first thing that came to mind with that DVD cover art was a Larry Bishop written, directed and acted film called Hellride, also starring Dennis Hopper and Michael Madsen. And that's not a good thing, since I think that's one of the worst movies I forced myself to sit through. However, I respect the Butcher Bros. and actually liked The Hamiltons, so taking those elements and your review into consideration, I really want to see this.

    Thanks. :)

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  3. Easily one of the best horror films in the last 5 years and better than anything the major studios have out out in a very long time. Egender really makes the movie what it is and brings a presence to it that is just incredible.

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