A young college student desperate for tuition money moves into a house that streams content to an X-rated website. After a deranged fan determines the house's location, she finds herself in... See full summary »
What do you do when you're a down-and-out Z-lister schlock horror filmmaker and you've witnessed a serial killer claim his latest victims? Why, you blackmail him into being the star of your next film, of course! Naturally, this is a pretty absurd premise for a horror film, but one of the great things about director Douglas Rath's latest film, the micro-budgeted SHOCK VALUE is that he and writer/co-star Anthony Bravo KNOW that it's absurd, and they play that absurdity to the hilt with incredibly clever writing, smart performances, and some really beautiful direction.
The film follows the exploits of Miles Fowler (Zak Hudson), a bad writer/director of Z-grade horror who is looking for his shot at the big leagues, and finds it quite by accident as he witnesses a brutal double-murder committed by serial killer Nick (Anthony Bravo), a wiry yet menacing "quiet loner". He enlists the help of his new producer, the shy and seemingly unassuming Justine (Michelle Campbell), and they confront him with an ultimatum: Star in our new film (entitled "The Whorehouse That Screamed"), or go to prison. Nick very reluctantly agrees, and as soon as Miles casts his leading lady and muse, the incredibly sexy and opportunistic Ashley (Janelle Odair), filming begins. Miles believes that the hook that will make the film work is having a real serial killer play a fake serial killer and then, after turning him in after filming is over, the resultant publicity will pack millions of fans of the truly macabre into theaters to see the film with the now-infamous serial killer. Of course, there are some problems along the way; an aging horror film icon and full-blown loon, Edward Dean Huntley (Malcolm McDowell) is awaiting a script from Miles, and Ashley's handsome and volatile hipster musician boyfriend Jeff (Will Brandt) is intent on wreaking havoc on the set. Complicating matters further, we see Justine's budding romantic inclinations toward Nick, with whom she perhaps sees a kindred spirit, and Miles' own darker impulses coming to life as the film nears its completion.
Rath clearly delineates the world of the film-within-a-film and the real world with some wonderful stylistic flourishes. Clearly lovers of the Italian horror sub-genre of Giallo, both Rath and Bravo give the look and feel of the film Miles is making a very Argento-esque atmosphere, with characters like Ashley playing clairvoyant identical twin sisters and Nick playing a cross-dressing, cleaver-wielding maniac against a 70's pop-psychedelia influenced backdrops of extreme purples and greens, while giving the real world a hyper-real feel a lot of clever Dutch angles, beautiful wide-angle shots, and long takes. The performances are all quite good. Hudson plays Miles, the pseudo-stylishly unkempt and egomaniacal bottom feeder, with gusto and increasing mania. Odair as Ashley is surprisingly vulnerable underneath her sex-kitten exterior making her a fully fleshed-out person and not just a cliché. McDowell seems to be having a lot of fun in his extended cameo as the crazed has-been. Brandt sadly doesn't really have a lot to do here except look handsome and be a huge jerk, and in a lesser film, that would be a greater sin than here, because he does play those moments exceedingly well. As Justine, Campbell plays her as an initially mousy and weak-willed but is in fact a smart, caring, assertive and lovely woman. But arguably, besides Campbell, the real star of the film is Bravo as Nick. With a sharp wit, a fearsome glare, and an outwardly calm demeanor cleverly hiding the beast within, he shows an incredible flair for comic timing, he plays his scenes of horror and drama as effortlessly as the comedy scenes.
And also worth a huge mention, Bravo's script is nearly flawless. SHOCK VALUE is part-comedy and part-horror, but with an undercurrent of metatextual commentary of modern horror tropes, as perfectly demonstrated in McDowell's scene where he lays out the idea for a 21st-Century "reboot" of Dracula which includes backpackers filming everything with their cell phones. Like its stylistic predecessors such as Wes Craven's SCREAM films as well as the Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard collaboration THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, SHOCK VALUE both lambastes and embraces the sub-genre it resides in, and does both with style and verve. The film also delivers a scathing satirical portrayal of what it takes to make it in the horror movie business that often reminded me of George Huang's brilliantly acidic SWIMMING WITH SHARKS. Also worth mentioning is the eerie, stylish score by Jeff Danna as well as the lush cinematography of Jeffrey A. Cunningham, that mostly belies the use of digital film.
Currently, SHOCK VALUE is only available for viewing on VOD platforms such as iTunes and Vudu, and as much as this film is worthy of a theatrical release, it might find a better home through VOD. With the scores of sub-par horror releases with semi-recognizable names and significantly larger budgets, this is that rare diamond-in-the-rough that stands head and shoulders above the very films that SHOCK VALUE is satirizing here, and is, in my opinion, the best VOD horror film I've seen in ages.
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