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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Van of the Dead DVD Review: Some Guy Who Kills People

Some Guy Who Kills People
2012 Lightning Media/Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

We've come miles from the days of The Boston Strangler, The Hillside Strangler and Helter Skelter.   Those affiliated acts of barbaric murder were once appalling to us as a culture.  Even the power of suggestion in the filmed stories of Albert Desalvo, Bianchi/Buono and the Manson Family respectively were horrific enough without the benefit of grue as shock value.  That's been lost to us over the years.  These days, we're on the cusp of calling graphic depictions of methodic slaughter on celluloid popcorn films.  Seriously, as Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction would chant, there's simply  nothing shocking. 

Used to be we lived in fear of the Zodiac and John Wayne Gacy.  Now we immortalize twisted acts of serial depravity as entertainment value.  Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Murderer was horrific, but it was the first step in what has become a trivialization and unsettling farce of cold-blooded misconduct.  American Psycho changed the horror genre as much as it ushered Christian Bale in as a future superstar.  Disturbingly comical, American Psycho and later, C. Michael Hall's wildly successul Dexter series, gave rise to the serial killer as a pop icon.  Hell, Dexter even has own bobblehead figure, for crying out loud.

While much of the aforementioned are standout moments of the horrror genre, there's become a need of a reckoning specific to the serial killer's role in it.  Whether you're talking about the Friday the 13th stalk and slash motifs resurrected in the Laid to Rest and Hatchet films or the openly brutal examinations of inhuman cruelty via Cyrus:  Mind of a Serial Killer, Neighbor, Bereavement, Sick Girl, The Human Centipede and the Hostel series, it's been high time someone called the genre out.

John Landis has always had his finger on the pulse when it comes to horror and comedy.  His segment comedy films Schlock, Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women On the Moon may have been over-the-top pokes at politics, sex and social issues, but they were precursor to the undercurrent of hilarity wafting through his horror vehicles American Werewolf of London and Innocent Blood.  Landis has a flair for gallows humor, which naturally led him to get behind the production of Some Guy Who Kills People.

The suggestive title indicates a cheeky, sanguinary romp, which is the intent behind Some Guy Who Kills People.  While not consistently hilarious or gut-churningly nasty, there's a fair balance between the two and crazy enough, a settled sense of normalcy emerges from it all.  At the very least, Some Guy Who Kills People is a dicey number directed by Jack Perez (Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus) that dangles a carrot overtop its audience while sneaking in a plot twist (no spoilers coming, take comfort) and it's a pretty decent payoff. 

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) is an unhinged refugee from a troubled past.  We're offered the notion that he's picking off tormentors from his past in gruesome but articulate fashion.  Having spent many years in a mental institution (assumedly) as a result of a severe beatdown from his high school's basketball team, Ken's maladjusted adult life as a kickaround toy gives Some Guy Who Kills People its premise, albeit a routine one on its muggy face. 

The difference here is, Ken has an eleven-year-old daughter Amy (Ariel Gade) from a one-off fling, one who has been hidden from him by her mother.  Discovering she has a biological father, the rebellious but sweet Amy seeks Ken out and turns his life around--all while he is purported to be enacting calculated acts of vengeance.  Ken's affinity for drawing leaves behind a trail of assumed guilt, given the terrifying themes of murder in many of them.  Amy's discovery of her father's sordid secrets sets up the film's flim-flam finale.

You can't go much deeper into the film's plot without tipping off its ending, but for the sake of this review, Kevin Corrigan plays his role with an appropriate level of smugness, paranoia and a striking bit of sympathy.  The closer he draws to his daughter and his fragile love interest, Stephanie (Lucy Davis), all while living with his disapproving, critical mother (Karen Black), the more Some Guy Who Kills People becomes a better prospect than your average psycho film.

What really sets this film apart from its ilk is its flagrant nuttiness.  Poor Ken is sent out in the streets dressed as an ice cream cone.  People in town treat him like a turd.  His boss is no better.  He comes off as a poor schmuck and you end up snickering at him as you did Melvin Ferd in The Toxic Avenger.  The show stealer, however, is Barry Bostwick as the town sheriff.  His police department comes off as inept, but really, Bostwick is as desensitized to gory murder as the rest of society and his dark humor rubs off on his wannabe deputy.  Herein lies the film's primary potshot against the prevailing nihilism that infects our world .  At one crime scene, Bostwick examines the setup of the remains like an art critic, comparing it to Dadaism.  At another, the deputy tries to match Bostwick's flair for puns overtop a victim with an axe in his face.  Finding a beheaded corpse at an old drive-in, Bostwick munches down on popocorn while his deputy steps on the lopped-off head mere paces away.  It's all funny as hell, to be sure, but it's Landis (by oversight of the project) holding up the mirror and casting the world's pessismism straight back at it.

While Some Guy Who Kills People leaves a few question marks and plot pitfalls along the way, it is a nervy throwdown against the serial killer film that for once, doesn't leave you feeling like a cretin for having watched it.  The unexpected feelgood ending is more than just a catharsis; it's a strange validation. 

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