(I’m not gonna count this as a Slasher Search since it’s a new movie I had been anticipating, but it’s the completion of a trilogy that I reviewed the first two-thirds of in Slasher Search 2012)
Years ago there was this weird pill junkie guy I knew who obsessive-compulsively watched stacks of crappy murder mystery movies that nobody even around here ever heard of, and he kept telling me there was this amazing horror movie called MALEVOLENCE (2003). I had to know what it was this guy was so obsessed with, but as expected it was kind of cheap and ugly. “But it has its moments. I like what it’s going for I guess” raves Outlawvern.com.
When I was looking it up on IMDb to write a review I noticed that writer-director Stevan Mena made another movie in 2010 called BEREAVEMENT that had some of the same character names. Turned out it was a prequel.
And to my surprise I really liked it! It’s got little in the way of originality, and it’s more nihilistic than I generally prefer, but with a bigger budget and more experienced cast he was able to make a creepy, atmospheric, character-driven riff on TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE type material. (And then his great heroine Alexandra Daddario got to star in the officially licensed but not as good TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D. “Do your thing, cous’!”)
So I was excited to learn years later that Mena was working on a third film, and disappointed when I heard that it fell apart under tragic circumstances. It was a low budget thing in the first place ($21,425 of a $75,000 goal raised on Indiegogo), and after they’d shot approximately 75% of it one of the stars committed suicide. Mena hadn’t filmed the introduction or conclusion of his character, and was out of money anyway, so he felt it was impossible to complete.
And then the other day I noticed the Blu-Ray on the shelf at Scarecrow Video. Turns out Mena (who this time around is writer, director, producer, director of photography, editor and composer) figured out a way to use some of the scenes with the late Scott Decker’s character Agent Roland and then shoot new ones that made his partner Special Agent Perkins (Kevin McKelvey, “F.B.I. Agent” on three episodes of The Wire) the lead investigator. It’s not something I would’ve noticed, and the main part of the movie, at least now, is totally separate from these characters.
Part 1 had some bank robbers hiding out too close to an abandoned slaughterhouse where a mad slasher lives. He turns out to be SPOILER a teenager named Martin Bristol who was kidnapped as a boy and taught horrible things by a psycho. Due to an unusual condition he can’t feel pain or sympathy and now he’s a mess. The prequel (unfortunately retitled MALEVOLENCE 2: BEREAVEMENT on the re-release Blu-Ray) delved into that whole story while having him discovered by a new, more likable protagonist.
Part 3 begins with the end of MALEVOLENCE, so it’s jarringly old and rough footage at first. Police have arrived at the scene of terror and found a bunch of bodies, but Martin escapes on foot. It’s not on IMDb, but I think it’s still Jay Cohen, now 15 years older but still supposed to be 16? Most of the time they only show his feet and body, which are pretty much dressed like Michael Myers in case you have amnesia and forgot which movie they’re lifting from most.
Some choppiness and lack of familiarity with the first film got me a little lost, but I eventually figured out that he does kind of an ALIEN 3 fuck you where he off-screen kills the protagonists of the first film. According to Mena on his commentary track the legs we see coming out of a bath tub really are the actress who played the little girl, but he couldn’t show her 15-years-older face.
Martin returns to the childhood home he was abducted from, now rented by some college girls, hides in a storm shelter and sneaks around killing people in and around the house, hiding the bodies so that it’s a while before anyone knows. Agent Perkins has correctly guessed who was behind the killings in part 1 and that he’s going to go home, so he goes to find Martin’s mother Katherine (Ashley Wolfe, returning from BEREAVEMENT) to warn and protect her.
Aside from some nice drone shots of corn fields and stuff in the Allentown, Pennsylvania shooting locations, the production value is much lower than BEREAVEMENT’s, shot with too-clean digital video that looks real bland and soap opera-y in the day time interiors (some darker shots are nice), and just like the first time around it’s very obvious that the cast are mostly non-professional actors.
It’s put together well enough that I can be forgiving of that, especially knowing the backstory. Bigger problem: there’s very little in the way of twists or personality added to the most basic elements of the generic slasher movie. So you could call it a throwback, but it’s a throwback to the ones that, even though they were shot on film and looked more like real movies than this, were disappointingly generic.
I’m honestly unclear what this is supposed to add to the larger story. BEREAVEMENT was built on ideas we’ve seen a million times before, but the execution and ambition made it work. MALEVOLENCE at least combined genres by having hostage-taking bank robbers cross a masked slasher. Here we just straight up have a guy stalking women in a house, there’s not even, like, a holiday or an occupation or something to theme the murders around. And the camera is sure to be there to document it if they, say, need to take off their clothes to put on different clothes, or to get into the shower. Which honestly is surprising in a 2018 independent movie. Sure, I like seeing butts, but it seems archaic to be so blatant about it in this day and age.
I suppose that’s a little bit counter-balanced by a motif of men disrespecting Elle (Katie Gibson)’s agency. There’s a sleazy landlord who implies she should have sex with him to save on rent, and a stalker-y ex who repeatedly disregards her requests to leave her alone. It seems very intentional that these guys feel the need to grab her hand or shoulder. The latter is sort of an I guess pink herring or something, not intended to throw off the audience, who know who the killer is, but to make the characters believe that’s who’s stalking them. But I’m not sure what to make of Elle’s cheeseball bro friend Simon (Todd Litzinger, BROADCASTING CHRISTMAS with Dean Cain) convincing her she’s wrong and should give that prick another shot.
The closest thing to a big twist on the genre is the idea left over from parts 1 and 2 that this killer has a normal family out there who don’t know he’s alive, remember him as an innocent boy, and have no idea what he’s become. One of the best scenes involves the FBI agents telling Martin’s grandmother (Adrienne Barbeau, THE FOG) that he’s alive, and watching her go from excitement over a miracle to realizing that there’s something they’re not telling her. But after that nothing much becomes of it. I mean, it doesn’t have to work, but shouldn’t this be about the characters trying to reach the innocent kid in Martin? Wouldn’t that be, like, a dramatic thing we don’t see every time that flows organically out of the premise of the character? Maybe they should’ve done something more with that, in my opinion.
Like part 2, though, KILLER does benefit from a strong performance by a young actress I’ve never seen before. Gibson only has a couple other credits, and one is “Voice Next Door” in BEREAVEMENT (can’t be the same character). She has all the important Final Girl qualities: seems stronger and more down to earth than the others around her, reacts believably to the danger but doesn’t freak out, you really don’t want to see her die. And I like that her character plays violin (convincingly faked) and piano (real) and is often carrying around a violin case, so she seems to have more of a life than some of the other characters.
Surprisingly, Mena’s own daughter Victoria is also quite good as the neighbor kid who Elle helps when she can’t find her mother. On his commentary track, Mena jokes (?) that she really didn’t want to do it, so it’s a relief that she doesn’t get terrorized too bad on screen.
As a fan of BEREAVEMENT and a completist by nature it was definitely interesting to see this, and there’s a little bit of appeal to the way the events all pile up in a limited location and time period. But I doubt anyone uninvested would get much out of it, and I definitely can’t make an argument for KILLER being a cool or meaningful title.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.