Wednesday, March 24, 2010
For as long as he can remember all filmmaker Able Whitman has wanted to do is make a truly great film. A universally maligned director, Whitman has spent the majority of his career making one schlocky horror film after another with each one being critically despised than the one before. Able, who considers Shakespeare’s Hamlet the first horror masterpiece, is in love with the genre though and refuses to abandon it. When his most recent leading lady, stripper Gigi Spot, is killed in a car accident, Abel suddenly gets a gruesome idea on how to make his newest film more authentic. With the line between reality and fantasy becoming more and more blurred, he sets out to make his masterpiece no matter the cost.
A wonderfully entertaining, clever and colorful tribute to the gory films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Smash Cut is one of the best kept secrets of the past few years. Shot in 2008, but only now hitting DVD, Smash Cut is a genre-bending film from director Lee Demarbre and, as a sincere nod to the glory days of over-the-top exploitation pictures, it is a real doozy. Starring Sasha Grey along with genre favorites David Hess, Michael Berryman, Ray Sager and even Herschell Gordon Lewis himself, Smash Cut isn’t a film that is going to be to everyone’s liking, but hardcore fans of exploitation and horror cinema will get real jolt from it and it screams future cult film in every frame.
Canadian born Lee Demarbre announced himself as a talent to watch in the late nineties with his award winning shorts, Harry Knuckles and Harry Knuckles and the Treasure of the Aztex Zombie. His first feature, the delightfully titled Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, showed him as fearless filmmaker adept at mixing action, horror and comedy with a tongue in cheek charm that didn’t feel pandering or elitist. Demarbre’s films are obvious love letters to a very particular type of cinema and he knows his stuff, as his reference filled movies show, but he’s talented enough to not just stand as a ‘tribute artist’. Smash Cut is his best and most stylish work, despite the fact that it was shot for under half a million dollars in just a few weeks.
Writer Ian Driscoll has provided the scripts for Demarbre’s scripts since the early days and his work on Smash Cut is particularly strong. The film’s dialogue is pitch-perfect in the way that it manages to capture the hilariously melodramatic and off-kilter quality that was so specific to the films of Lewis and some of his peers. Taking cues from works as varied as Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to Lucio Fulci’s Cat on the Brain, Driscoll’s script also has a surprising amount of substance in the way that it questions the line between film and reality and it gives Demarbre and his actors a lot to work with.
All of Smash Cut’s on-screen talent make the most of their time in front of the camera. After a career of being known as one of the most terrifying actors the screen has ever seen, his role in Last House on the Left alone made him a legend of carnage, it is great to see David Hess being given such a large role that allows him to both stretch, and poke fun at, his persona. A talented actor, and terrific songwriter, Hess is really marvelous here and plays the tongue-in-cheek character of the quite insane directory perfectly.
While the film is almost totally controlled by Hess, who appears in nearly every scene, supporting player Sasha Grey proves quite a charmer as a local TV reporter searching for her missing sister. Grey, who shot Smash Cut before her stirring turn in Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, is a real natural and she has a very refreshing and stylish quality about her. Smash Cut also reveals an aspect to Grey that The Girlfriend Experience played against and that is her natural warmth in front of the camera. She’s good throughout the film, specifically in the film within a film where she shows herself naturally adept at horror, comedy and (yes) even Shakespeare.
I really admired Smash Cut and not just because I love a lot of the films it is paying tribute to. Cinematographers Jean-Denis Ménard and Karl Roeder provide the film with a wonderfully diverse and striking color-palette (Argento's Suspiria was obviously a major influence and not just on the closing credits!) and Michael Dubue's tremendous score highlights the many genres and films (I especially love when the main theme takes a cue from Hermann's score for De Palma's Sisters) that Demarbre is touching on. Smash Cut is a particularly well-considered film and I was really impressed by how clearly thought out and planned it was.
The very self-aware and smart Smash Cut is, as mentioned, finally out on DVD and thankfully it comes fully loaded. Featuring a commentary, deleted scenes, documentary, a gag reel and Sasha Grey's video diaries it is hard to think what else one could hope for. The Media Blasters disc looks splendid but the sound mix was a little low to my ears. Otherwise it is a real knock out of the park.
< Not a film for everyone, some not at all familiar with Lewis or any other gore maestro from the sixties and seventies will probably view the film with a perplexed overly critical eye, Smash Cut really captured me in its fairly brief 85 minute running time. Dedicated to Herschell Gordon Lewis, the spirit of the film to my eyes can be summed up by a brief moment during the documentary when Demarbre tells Sasha Grey (who is a huge Godard fan) something along the lines that Lewis might not be Godard but he is his Godard. Smash Cut manages to be both horrifying and ridiculous but, more than anything else, it is genuine.