This is another movie from the excellent Wild Eye Releasing. They’ve helped some gems like “They Will Outlive Us All” get distribution, and they’ve got real love for independent horror. So drop some money on their stuff, because they’re doing great work and deserve our support.
But, unfortunately, you shouldn’t spend any of that money on this one. The DVD cover says it’s been “compared to William Lustig’s ‘Maniac’” and I suppose that’s true, because saying “Maniac was really good and the Turnpike Murders wasn’t” is a comparison of a sort. Bear in mind, if your tastes run to the more nihilistic and gore-drenched, then…why are you reading a light-hearted feminist left-wing movie review site like this?…and also, you may well have a very different view to me, so feel free to take everything I say with a pinch of salt.
Right from the first scene, I knew the next 86 minutes were going to be rough. We open in a murder cellar, with bodies all over the place and a couple of screaming women in the corner. It’s always brutalising women, isn’t it? The appropriately named Jon Beest (Bill McLaughlin, a not-terrible performance) is hacking, slashing, and screaming “shut the fuck up” a lot – it’s definitely his favourite line, and indicates he wasn’t given any dialogue for these scenes – all while a dull middle-European monotone goes on about cleaning the streets, or whores, or whatever the hell it was. Who cares? The box handily indicates this is a voice in his head, although he barely seems to respond to it, answer it back, or anything of that sort.
The first half of the movie just idly follows him round, as he talks to his one friend, agrees to do some work, and kills a few more women. One of them comes after he meets a nice woman in a park and chats pleasantly to her for a bit; she turns him down, he immediately calls her a whore and then tracks her down, killing her and her boyfriend. They give a lot of character and screen time to someone who’s just victim no.3 in a long series.
Eventually, a cop shows up, who has problems of his own, what with his wife leaving him and him getting boned in the divorce proceedings. To say he investigates the murders is perhaps overstating it, as he more just picks up the dead bodies that Beest dumps off the turnpike, before lucking into his location right before the end. This doesn’t sound like a lot to fill an 86 minute movie, does it? We can thank our lucky stars that the DVD’s listed running time – 106 minutes – was wrong, because I don’t think I could have lasted 20 more minutes of this.
As I said above, you might just want to see a large monster of a man kill women for 90 minutes. That is your right as a paying customer, and writer/directors Evan Makrogiannis and Brian Weaver have given you that opportunity. However, if you’re bothered enough about whether it’s any good to read a review, then I ought to break down why I think it fails. Most importantly is the structure of it. If you’re going to have a cop character and expect people to care about him tracking down the killer, then bringing him in at the beginning would be a good idea. The woman who gets her tongue ripped out has more screen time than the cop! The dialogue is all woodenly delivered and everyone sounds the same, with the lame quips and swearing, too. And the dutch angles! If I saw one more dutch angle, I was going to turn the TV on its side by 30 degrees.
Then there’s the behaviour of the lead character. He seems indifferent to covering his tracks, leaving crime scenes covered in fingerprints, abducting women from public, showing up in places that have cameras, standing outside the house of women he’s stalking, in broad daylight, and so on. He drops a head off the turnpike, and despite the cops knowing about this MO, he doesn’t even wait for a car to pass before doing it. I’d suggest this is more incompetence on the part of the filmmakers than it is a choice – it was their first movie and perhaps they were more focussed on making it as gory as possible than they were on telling a coherent story.
And then there’s the twist. Spoiler alert, but I can’t really discuss it without spoiling things, so feel free to skip to the rating at the bottom. It turns out that the voice in his head…isn’t in his head at all, but is the dialogue of his father/teacher, who raised him from childhood and taught him to kill the all the filthy women. Now, there are a few scenes where this voice pops up while other people are in the room, so why doesn’t one of them go “er, excuse me old man, but can you stop this nutter from chopping me to pieces?” Not only does it make no sense, it also ensures a good old fashioned pointlessly dark-for-darkness-sake ending.
While the promotional blurb tries to position this with the best grindhouse movies of the past, it feels like the product of someone who watched all of them and whose sole takeaway was that chopping up women was good entertainment. There’s no development, no arc, no remotely interesting characters, nothing but mostly naked women being butchered, with a budget so low they kept having to cut away from the killing blows so it barely even works on that level. There’s an attempt to make it look like a grindhouse film, fetishizing the presentation which of course wasn’t deliberate in those old movies, but all it really does is look a bit out of focus all the time.
Further proof of the ISCFC maxim “not everyone who’s able to make a film, should”.
Rating: thumbs down