As you may have read a few days ago, I’m pretty excited about the release of “Shark Exorcist” in June from the wonderful people at Wild Eye Releasing. I am a little frightened for those people who’ve never seen any Donald Farmer movies, though, getting caught up in some post-Sharknado hype and picking it up, only to discover it’s…well, a Donald Farmer movie, with all the wonderful highs and insane lows that name brings to mind. His movies aren’t for the faint of heart!
This is the last commercially available Farmer movie we could find, though, until “Shark Exorcist” comes out, so we’ll take what we can get. But…it throws you off from the very beginning, by billing itself in big letters as “a Phillip Newman film”. What? Well, Mr. Newman is the star, but on top of that is the co-writer and producer; I’m going to take a wild guess and say that he either funded or secured the funding for it himself, perhaps alongside co-star and co-producer LP Brown III – their less-than-stellar careers give credence to this theory. If Newman produced, co-wrote and starred in it, then I’m sure he saw it as “his” movie. One quite extraordinary thing, for Farmer-holics at least, is 35mm! Yes, it’s shot on real film, and everything is lit appropriately – almost unheard of. It’s strange how much easier it is to watch something when it’s not fuzzy and washed-out looking. Perhaps it’s something we ought to thank Newman for?
Much like almost every Donald Farmer movie, though, the plot is a rich stew of oddity and will hopefully be as entertaining to read about as it was frustrating to watch. Art (Newman) runs a body shop, and one day is a little late to drive his wife and daughter to church. At the same time as he’s getting ready to go, a group of three ne’er do wells (one of whom is Tina Krause, last seen by us in Farmer’s “An Erotic Vampire In Paris” and actually appears able to act here) beat the crap out of a store owner (B-movie legend Robert Z’Dar, “Samurai Cop”, the “Maniac Cop” series) before driving off at speed.
Well, they cause Art’s car to have to swerve to avoid them, and what looks to the viewer like a minor incident on a mild incline becomes a huge catastrophe (referred to as driving off a cliff later in the movie). The car blows up, the wife is killed, and the daughter is left in a coma; Art, severely injured, sees the villains as they stop to see the carnage they’ve caused, before running away.
It’s about now that the main issue with the movie becomes horribly apparent. Farmer’s movies usually clock in around 70 minutes, and pack enough lunacy into those minutes to fill two normal movies. This, on the other hand, is 108 minutes long and feels like 208 – it’s not so much that nothing happens, just nothing particularly interesting. Anyway, flash to two years later, and Art is still running the shop, and thanks to his Christian faith has remained a decent, caring man – this stretches to him giving a job to an old friend, Billy Ray (Brown III) who has a job lined up at a glass plant, but it doesn’t start for a few months.
I was convinced with the number of pipe shots to the head he took, Z’Dar was dead, but it appears not, and we get re-introduced to him as he drives past a familiar-looking woman by the side of the road. He remembers what happens and goes to tell Art (who he’s never met before, but knows about) just where one of his wife’s killers is. You get revenge or I will, is the message. Art picks her up and offers her a place for the night, as he can’t fix her car til the morning; then, after a really long and completely gratuitous shower scene – you don’t hire Tina Krause for one of your movies and ask her to keep her clothes on, it would seem – she’s killed by a chap wearing a welder’s mask. But not just killed – she’s tied down and spray-painted to death! That is a first, I must admit.
Can you tolerate the subplot with the woman from Human Services who wants to take his daughter into a proper medical environment? What about the loud and obnoxious customer who comes in and has a conversation that goes on for ever, purely to set up his violent murder about an hour of screen time later? What about Billy Ray and his utterly implausible relationship with the much younger, beautiful Amy (Rachael Robbins)? The thing about good subplots is they give you a greater sense of character depth…guess where I’m going with this…but these do nothing. You could take all of them out of the movie and the end result would be positive. Hell, turn the Human Services lady into a potential love interest for Art, she can serve the same role as Amy does at the end, and you’ve just saved yourself 10 minutes. If I had to guess, I’d say Amy was in the movie because Brown III wanted to have a sex scene with her, and for no other reason.
The killer wears a mask, so you know right away he’s not the most obvious candidate (Art). But, Newman clearly heard about red herrings before starting the writing process, so he drops them all over the place, just not skilfully enough to fool anyone. Is it William Smith, the local sheriff who wants to capture the people who committed that horrible crime in his town? Is it Z’Dar? Could it be a double-bluff and really be Art? All this does is just waste more time. What would have been nice is if they’d shown us people getting murdered! You might remember the instruction the producer of “Friday The 13th: A New Beginning” gave to the director, that he should ensure there was a shock, scare, or kill every 7 or 8 minutes – somewhat prescriptive, but it’s good to have something to aim for. This 108 minute movie has a body count of six (including the wife at the beginning and the killer at the end), and no shocks or scares whatsoever; and they have the temerity to do a “what happened next” thing after the end, where they tell you “this guy retired, and this other guy became sheriff”. Huh?
Trust good ol’ Donald Farmer to find yet another new way to baffle his viewing public. It’s slow, thoroughly confusing, incompetently acted (even if I came to a grudging admiration for Newman by the end) and features a few scenes which feel so specifically odd that they must have been fever dreams – take, for instance, the death of the other two car-killers. They’re in the middle of an otherwise empty canyon, the guy watching the girl on a trampoline, before our killer takes them out with a bazooka! It’s handy he’s got plenty of ammo for it, as he’s a lousy shot. Not one thing about the scene makes a lick of sense, and I love it.
It’s just too long, though. It could have been easily wrapped up in 75 minutes, maybe 80, so when all three of the killers are dead, and you see there’s still nearly half an hour to go, the only possible response is “why?” Still, I do love a good redneck revenge movie, and it’s nice to see Farmer trying his hand at something completely different, this late in his career.
Rating: thumbs down
PS – I tried, rather carefully I think, to avoid spoiling the big reveal of who the villain is, but watching the trailer in order to get some screenshots, they not only give the twist away completely, but show the last scene of the movie! Should you wish to have the ending ruined for you too, here it is: