Friday, June 15, 2012

B-Movie Review: “Murder, Set, Pieces” (2004)

A neo-Nazi hooker-killer is terrorizing Las Vegas, and only a middle schooler can stop him. It’s been called one of the most disturbing movies of the last decade, but is it ultimately more sucky than shocking? 

Every now and then, you’ll hear about someone calling “random movie X” the “most disturbing” movie he or she has ever seen. The prurient-interest sorts we are, we usually have a bizarre itch to catch these movies, if only to wallow in the depravity of the experience. The problem is, that’s almost always all movies of the like have to offer - they have to go over the top with sex and violence, because, honestly, that’s all the movies have going for them.

Yeah, yeah, there are a few movies that can be labeled as both degenerate cinema classics as well as genuinely fantastic film-making, but it’s certainly a short list. “Salo,” “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” maybe some of Gaspar Noe’s movies, and from there? I have a hard time thinking of anything that’s been praised by Internet shock-enthusiasts while simultaneously receiving critical acclaim.

Well, Nick Palumbo’s 2004 flick “Murder, Set, Pieces” is the kind of movie that might gain a small cult following around horror-hounds, but it’s certainly not a great movie by any means. In fact, it’s not even a good bad movie, as you’ll spend more time trying to figure out what the hell’s going on than enjoying the hyper gory schlock going on around you.

Before we begin analyzing the flick, a few notes; first, there are several cuts of the movie floating around out there, including an R-Rated version (the one I caught), an unrated version and a super-duper un-rated director’s cut that’s almost a half hour longer than the R-rated print. Needless to say, a lot - and I do mean a lot - of the film’s most famous scenes get hacked out in the R-rated version, so if you just absolutely have to see people having their heads chainsawed or want to watch seventh-graders get murdered in public bathrooms, it looks like you’ll have to hit up Amazon and plop down about 20 smackers.

Meet the protagonist of "Murder, Set, Pieces," seen here in one of his more reserved moods throughout the film.

The film begins two middle-school aged girls ditching school and hitching a ride with the film’s primary character - a photographer with this ridiculously hard to describe accent that yammers on and on about how great 35mm film is. We later find out that the main character is dating the older sister of one of the girls he picked up, who just so happens to work at a hair salon (which, I guess, explains the main character’s penchant for slashing people’s throats with barber equipment, anyway.) We get a quick cut in which the main character (who is never named, by the way), which is followed by a scene in which he has a menage a trois with two hookers while generic-sounding techno music plays in the background. Needless to say…the hookers don’t stay in the movie too much longer.

After that, we jump to a scene in which the younger sister tells the older sister that her boyfriend’s kinda’ creepy. This leads to a dinner scene where it appears as if the main character is chowing down on some barbecued call girl, before saying some really, really gross things about menstrual cycles. Oddly, the older sister finds nothing at all unusual about that, for some reason. In the next scene, the younger sister starts snooping around the main character’s house and uncovers some Nazi memorabilia. Apparently, the main character is the son (grandson? nephew?) of a Nazi officer. Huh, a descendant of an SS officer with a thing for weightlifting - if he keeps that up, he might be governor of California some day.

So, the main character has some murder dreams, which leads to him walking around Las Vegas for awhile. He runs into some generic chick playing slots, and takes her back to his place so he can photograph her while Sega CD music plays in the background. Cue a brief montage of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” visuals meshed with work-out footage. And after that, a brief scene where it looks like the main character is spying on the middle schoolers, and another scene involving the photographer cruising the Vegas strip. He finds himself another hooker, takes her home, and shows her his bathtub. SPOILER: when the scene’s over, it’s a far, far redder bathtub than it used to be.

Never have sideburns been THIS terrifying before...

I guess now is a good time to bring up all the cameos in the movie. There are a ton of B-horror icons that show up throughout the film, including Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface, for all of you newbs) as a neo-Nazi mechanic that lives in a trailer. Unfortunately, he’s only on screen for about a minute or two, as we jump straight into another strip-club scene, which is followed up by a montage of sex scenes and the main character philosophizing about society - all the while, with shitty, shitty nu-metal playing in the background. In fact, shitty nu-metal makes up about half of the film’s soundtrack (not score, I mean the entire audio portions of the movie), so if you have a distaste for the Spineshank…yeah, have your finger on the “mute” button throughout the picture.

All right, now things cut severely confusing, as jump cut after jump cut ensues. There’s a scene of the main character throwing a head out of window (and if you want to know - and you probably don’t - what he was doing with the head, check out the unrated version) followed up with flashback scenes of the photographer playing with a doll when he was a kid. We get another photo shoot sequence, and then, the only genuinely awesome thing in the movie  happens.

Seriously folks, even if you don’t watch the movie, you’ll want to catch the next scene on YouTube or something, just because it’s so awesomely bad. So, the main character walks into an adult book store, and starts harassing the cashier (played by Tony “Candyman” Todd) about a snuff movie. The two engage in the most hilariously awful shouting match in the annals of cinema, before a couple of robbers just show up out of nowhere and start shooting up the place, ultimately resulting in a sequence in which the main character offs everybody that survives the shootout. It’s hard to describe what makes it so hilariously bad, but once you see it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

More “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” inspired-shots follows. And more nu-metal crap. And MORE montages of the Vegas Strip, followed by MORE flashbacks of the killer’s childhood. After that, another murder scene in the basement occurs (this time, involving hammers and, if you can believe it, homemade dentures.) And then, things get excruciatingly hard to follow. The main character kills a psychic and beats up this hitherto unmentioned German broad, while the film’s soundtrack just starts pumping white noise with tons of treble. Then, we have a scene with the main character sun tanning(?) while having visions of 9/11(??) The camera then pans on some plastic Jack O Lanterns, so we know its Halloween. This is followed up with another workout scene, as the photographer does push-ups while watching “Triumph of the Will.”

This man takes the phrase "shave and a haircut, two bits" very, VERY seriously. 

Completely lost yet? Well, so am I. I’m not sure how much of the censored footage ties into the narrative of the film, but the R-rated version is choppy to the point of incoherency. For all of the arguments we hear against censorship because of First Amendment reasons, perhaps this film can establish a second one - because with all of that missing footage, all we have here is a Dadaist facsimile of a film as opposed to an actual movie.

And so, we reach the climax of the movie. The younger sister finds a key to the photographer’s basement, and hitches a ride with the dude that played the crazy ass hitchhiker in the first “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie. And prepare to have your minds blown, kiddos: that same actor also played Lord Zedd on “Power Rangers.” Now that’s a crazy fact-of-the-day if there ever was one.

So, while the heroine of the film explores the seemingly vacant house, the photographer is busy flaying some chick alive with power tools downstairs. This instigates your paint-by-numbers, chase-throughout-the-house finale that’s been a staple of slasher movies since “Halloween.” Eventually, the younger sister manages to put down - but not kill - the main character with a pair of scissors and a convenient piece of lumber that was just lying around the place. And the film concludes super-anticlimactically, with the photographer donning a cowboy hat and flirting with some random gal en route to Los Angeles on a Greyhound. So yeah, like I said - very, very anticlimactically.

Tony Todd, seen here denying any responsibility for the film whatsoever. 

Taken as a whole, “Murder, Set, Pieces” is a very lackluster movie, filled with bad acting (even for the genre), a narrative that resembles a scatter plot diagram and a soundtrack that’s absolutely maddening. The ONLY reason I can think of for anyone to see this film is for the shocking-for-the-sake-of-being-shocking gore effects, which are almost completely eradicated in this version of the flick. Admittedly, I’ve never seen the director’s cut, but I really can’t imagine all of that additional mayhem and carnage improving the film as a standalone effort. The gruesomeness may make it more interesting, but I doubt that it would make it a better movie in any regard.

The movie has developed quite a reputation over the years, but if you ask me, most of it is unwarranted. In regards to “Murder, Set, Pieces,“ I believe we should all take the advice of that sage social philosopher Chuck D, and not believe the hype on this one.

Two stars. Jimbo says check it out…or don’t.


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