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Saturday, June 18, 2011

DVD Review: Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer

Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer
2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In college, I scored an A++ by my psych professor for a lengthy term paper I wrote on serial killers. Perhaps it was my love of horror films that drove me to such a cryptic subject. Perhaps it was youthful curiosity as to the reasons mankind has the propensity to destroy one another in such ruthless, barbaric manners. All I know is I attacked the research end of that paper with such intensity it gives me shivers to think about it now.

That was a long time ago and forensics are triple more advanced than they were when I wrote that paper. Society has likewise changed greatly and the motives for criminal behavior has been amended, appendaged and tapped to the nth so much the average armchair analyst thinks he or she indisputably knows what makes a serial murderer tick, simply by watching NCIS and CSI.

Naive thinking, just as my paper from more than two decades ago is naive despite the grossly favorable grade it fetched. I'm far less proud of that paper nowadays, frankly due to the inexpicable romanticizing of serial and spree killers we've seen in the media today. You can blame Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lechter more so than you can Jason Voorhees. Voorhees is a near-primate horror caricature, while Lechter presented a discomfiting human face behind a mask of evil. Prior to Hannibal Lechter's insane popularity, there was Michael Rooker's savage and alarming Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer from 1986. Talk about discomfiting.

Only Make Them Die Slowly and Cannibal Holocaust is more shocking than Henry, yet the modern horror film has evolved (or rather, de-volved) into a celebration of dragged-out torture and stomach-busting evisceration. Hostel being one of the primary culprits for this new renaissance of grievous bodily harm in horror presentation, it's gotten so severe that even a seemingly stealthy thriller like Eden Lake turns into a game of can-you-take-it where nobody wins except the disgusting teen-creep who pisses you off at the film's end for having gotten away with some absolutely reprehensible business.

Hell, we can pin the bloody tail on Henry, since most horror filmmakers will acknowledge that film has left a gnarled impact upon how they tell a terror tale. Certainly Henry comes raging to mind with Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, another disturbing examination of degenerate behavior. While Henry's modus operandi as a shock film differs in vantage, mood and setting, Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer is purportedly based upon true events and it effectively gets under the skin even if you know exactly what's coming by story's end.

Brian Krause (from Charmed, and not the brother of Six Feet Under, Parenthood and Dirty Sexy Money's Peter Krause) helms the title role as Cyrus, a beast of a man with a textbook horrid background which has sent him over the edge as an inhuman corpse grinder. The twist to Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, however, comes by the other two leads in the film, Lance Henriksen and Halloween and Hatchet II scream queen Danielle Harris.

Harris plays an overeager television investigator who trails the bloody legacy of "The County Line Cannibal" to a reserved town where the locals appear to be covering up the fact they've unwittingly hosted a notorious serial murderer, Cyrus Danser. Harris' character Maria Sanchez and her cameraman Tom confront Lance Henriksen, who is far too knowledgeable about the events associated with Cyrus, whom he reports is long-gone along with his victims.

It really wouldn't be a spoiler to note that Henriksen, it turns out, is in cahoots with a very-much alive Cyrus, revealed at film's conclusion when Harris' obsession costs her and her cameraman. Simply by Henriksen's repeated warnings that their filmed documentation isn't going ever going to be seen by anyone, you get the idea right away he's serving them as sausage fodder, a chewy fate befalling all of Cyrus' victims.

We learn that Cyrus was abused by a crack whore mother. We learn he was MIA in the heat of combat and tortured by his capturers. We learn that Cyrus weds a crack whore wife (with a ginormous tattoo down her back, which doesn't seem in-line with the kind of woman our holy rolling butcher would take to the altar before God). Eventually he kills the wife upon catching her screwing a traveling salesman and Cyrus also snaps the neck of their infant in the midst of his anguish. Naturally, he reports all of this to the townsfolk as abandonment, meanwhile serving his family's ground-up carcasses to his neighbors and customers.

Motel Hell, anyone? Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Destruction's Mad Butcher, for that matter? EC Comics?

Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer may operate on the basis of a few facts or perhaps an entire slew of murders attributed to one mortal monster. Still, it does feel like a hodgepodge of existing slasher flicks and snuff films with a few random bits of "authority" testimonials peeling off psychobabble about what makes a serial killer tick. In the case of Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, proseltyzing while slaughtering human beings is sadly, a been-there, done-that affair. Even American Gothic, the 1988 film with Rod Steiger and Yvonne DeCarlo, is an ancestor to this film.

I say it's sad, because we've come to the point in horror where just about every taboo has been crossed and Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer leaps over the line as much as it can while trying to pass off as a legit psychodrama. A lot of drawn-out gutting, branding and intestine ripping are to be had in this film, albeit director Mark Vadik is wise enough to flash and cut his violence so you actually see less than you think you are. The thing is, even CSI is pretty damned gory for mainstream television, albeit Cyrus has plenty of flopping bazookas and profanity (the latter a no-no in Cyrus' world, but well-teased by Lance Henriksen in the film's finale) to set it apart from CBS' literati take on human suffering. Between CSI, Hostel and now Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer, audiences are destined to become desensitized to scenes of animalistic conduct. As Jane's Addiction would quip, nothing's shocking.

However, Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer is a well-done bit of splat cinema that really carries its good standing card on the backs of Henriksen, Krause and Harris. Without Lance Henriksen, this film might've gone into the B ranks. His obtuse, callous delivery overrides all of the plot's obviousness to the point you're ready to dip back into Truman Capote's In Cold Blood to get a better feel for the origins of Henriken's frosty but punctual performance.

Though Michael Rooker continues to haunt to this day as the nastiest exposition of a random city crawler who rips and tears to relieve his pent-up angst, this film leaves its own scars. Don't call Cyrus a bastard, whatever you do.

Rating: ***1/2

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