Many of the movies I love are a kind of heightened or polished exploitation. They’re the standout kicking and stabbing movies that were mass-produced in the ’70s to fill slots at drive-ins but exceeded their mandate and ended up acing the test of time. Or they’re the modern, more expensive movies in popular genres that evolved out of the best b-pictures. But occasionally I’ll take the seatbelt off and step into the muck of legitimate 21st century exploitation.
That’s what I would consider CRY HAVOC, a mashup between a slasher movie and a Charles Bronson movie that came out on VOD and DVD this week. I don’t mean a Charles Bronson type movie. I mean there is a straight up Charles Bronson impersonator trying to rescue his daughter from a masked slasher. And it’s important to emphasize that this is not a SHARKNADO deal. There are zero jokes in the movie and if it’s meant to be funny it wisely doesn’t let on.
I first learned of the Robert Bronzi phenomenon in 2018 when I reviewed DEATH KISS. Writer/director/editor/cinematographer Rene Perez, who has been doing horror and fantasy b-movies since 2010, spotted him in a wild west stunt show in Spain and put him in a horror western called FROM HELL TO THE WILD WEST, followed by that DEATH WISH riff. Both DEATH KISS and CRY HAVOC take place today but make Bronzi look like the actual Charles Bronson, transported through time, mustache, clothes and attitude intact. A timeless, ageless, nameless spirit of vengeance.
CRY HAVOC opens as a standard no budget digital age throwback slasher – Playboy type babe (IMDb entry for this one is sparse) wakes up in the middle of a forest fire (digital fire, but real burnt forest location, shot with most of the color drained). She realizes she’s shackled and follows the long chain over a log to discover it’s attached to a big, grunting, quasi-classic movie slasher, Jason-Leatherface hybrid, torn jacket over overalls over flannel, weird mask (skin? doll?) strapped and barb-wired to his face. And he’s tranquilized and holding a bunch of skeleton keys. He’s later referred to as Havoc, and he’s played by J.D. Angstadt, who also played a killer clown called “Tormentum” in a movie called IT HUNGERS, for those keeping track.
And wouldn’t you fuckin know it, there’s a security camera on a nearby tree because this is a planned happening for sadistic entertainment within the movie. In this case it’s not a livestreaming event – there’s just the guy who set it up (Richard Tyson, THREE O’CLOCK HIGH, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY), a dude hooked up to an I.V. watching on his computer. “Fame is the only real truth left in this world,” he says very proudly to nobody. We’ll later learn that nobody knows his name but he’s on the FBI’s most wanted list as “The Voyeur.”
I’m not sure what Havoc’s deal is. He tears open the woman’s shirt so the audience can see her boobs, but he himself cowers in fear of them. Things get more interesting when one of The Voyeur’s security guards wanders too close to the action. Havoc grabs him by the mouth and pulls his jaw so hard it splits his head in two, one of many gnarly practical FX in this movie. Respect for that. You definitely can’t take that for granted in modern low budget horror.
Cut to title. Then cut to Bronzi, whose character I don’t think is ever given a name, wide collar over leather jacket, bellbottoms, smoking a pipe, watching two biker henchmen (one with mohawk) from across the street. He follows them, or maybe the reporter Ellen Weaver (Emily Sweet, THE DRAGON UNLEASHED) who they’re escorting to the compound to interview The Voyeur.
His lawyer Mrs. Wallace only calls him “my client,” says he’s “very eccentric” and “extremely wealthy” and tells Ellen that she has to choose from a rack of dresses to change into for this major interview she’s doing for “Ottumwa, Iowa’s leader in breaking news, Channel 4 Action News.” She thinks it’s her “express ticket to CNN” so she says out loud to no one, “Guess I could get all dolled up. This interview’s gonna make me a star reporter.” And she puts on a tiara and a prom dress with lights built into it.
From the interview we learn that The Voyeur was a rich guy who went to prison, found out about Havoc, knew he had to bust him out and hold auditions for “Terror Mountain, the ultimate horror reality TV show” to lure in victims. He considers his videos great art, is offended if they’re referred to as “snuff videos,” doesn’t seem to mind “macabre experiments” as much, calls Havoc “it” but compares “it” to Beethoven. Tyson is good in the interview scene, elevating the material a little, though I sort of enjoyed him more when they had him saying ludicrous things like “the lion needs to feed” or “I control death. I am its master” or “A storm is coming” or “Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!”
He victim-blames his “actresses” because “most of them want to be celebrities, not really artists, if you know what I mean.” And this seems to indict Ellen as well, given her ambitions. But he asks her about her absent father and she has a paragraph or two of “characterization.”
I appreciate the attempt. Unfortunately she’s Havoc’s only victim that could count as a character. The rest appear without introduction, name or dialogue, get chased and horribly killed, breasts exposed if they’re women. Havoc hacks an arm off using a wrench, saws a big toe, commits two bare-hand disembowelments and one with a big cartoony handsaw, chainsaws a guy’s crotch. Every one of these could be a great payoff in a good cat and mouse sequence. But I think we need at least a bad scene introducing these generic screaming babes who he stalks in red tinted utilitarian warehouses or woods. We could root for or against them getting away, but we need some context for it to have any kick to it.
We do get that when The Voyeur drugs Ellen and leaves her tied to a tree for maestro Havoc. Then Bronzi walks out of the woods, up to the bikers and the lawyer, holding a photo of his daughter, wearing a badge around his neck, pointing a loaded “search warrant.” As in DEATH KISS, Bronzi’s voice is dubbed to hide his Spanish accent, this time with a little more of a Bronson imitation.
When Ellen gets away and runs into Bronzi she’s relieved he’s a cop, then confused as she realizes he didn’t come for her, does not have a SWAT team with him and won’t call for backup. His only questions for her are if she’s seen the girl and “Can you drive a motorcycle?”
There are a couple good shootout bits I enjoyed. A guy misses Bronzi with his machine gun spray, Bronzi takes a moment to smirk, then fires one shot from his revolver and nails the guy. He gets the machine gun and uses it to pop off the top of a guy’s head. I don’t think the real Bronson ever got to do it quite so graphically.
Obviously the whole reason to watch this is for the eventual Bronzi vs. Havoc battle. The bad news is they are never shown clearly in the same frame. This was the best screengrab I could get of them together:
But I did find it satisfying. Bronzi actually puts down his gun and puts up his fists when he sees him. Havoc understands and throws his ax aside. Bronzi nods. Electric guitars noodle over trap beats as they walk toward each other in slow motion, Bronzi taking off his jacket, then his shirt. Then pulls off his badge. ‘Cause this is not about the law. This about two men, and four fists.
It’s not great choreography or anything, but it’s fun to see fake Bronson in HARD TIMES boxer poses throwing hands with a Jason Voorhees type. And at one point Havoc does a Superman punch.
I don’t think it’s a functional slasher movie. The main problem is with the victims, but the killer is not free of blame. I was reminded of a 2019 Australian movie I watched on Shudder (but did not review) called THE FURIES. It’s a similar scenario: a bunch of people are kidnapped and wake up confused in the remote outdoors where they’re stalked by big grunting lugs in scary masks as part of a game. That one’s much better made, with actual characters, a CUBE type puzzle/mystery and a couple very effective gore moments. But I had trouble getting into it because the killers are just Leatherface-Jason composites with some little tweak (pig mask, owl mask), but that’s it, no further story or character to them. So they might as well just be the off brand Jason in the horror-movie-parody commercials that air around Halloween, or joke background characters in CABIN IN THE WOODS. I need to see more effort put into them before I accept them as worthy new slashers. I need to hear the campfire tale.
Havoc has kind of a cool look, but no mythology – at least not in this movie. I didn’t know until some IMDb research that “Prisoner AYO-886” a.k.a. Havoc has already been in PLAYING WITH DOLLS (2015), PLAYING WITH DOLLS: BLOODLUST (2016) and PLAYING WITH DOLLS: HAVOC (2017). On its own, this only tells us he was in prison. No other backstory referenced or built upon, as is traditional in watchable horror sequels.
But is it a movie that has a fake Charles Bronson who punches a masked slasher? In my opinion, yes. I liked that about it. In that sense it is an unqualified success.
* * *
ENDING SPOILER NOTE: I was disappointed though that they (I think) kill Bronzi at the end! He’s in a struggle over the horizon and then there’s a suspenseful couple of beats, perfect setup for him to strut over the hill with Havoc’s severed head like Jason did to Freddy, but instead just Havoc comes back. And right before the credits somebody gets their head split but it looked like a bald guy? It’s kind of confusing. But I now realize they need Havoc alive for future sequels, because it’s alot of work to figure out new ways to resurrect him like they did for Jason and Freddy.
• 411mania has an interview with Perez where he says “I’m well aware these are the cheapest B-movies in the B-movie world,” that he made it because “I just make whatever I’m assigned to,” and “From the moment my check arrives, I have 4 months to turn in a hard drive with a complete movie ready for duplication.” Also he can’t name any “movie making heroes” because he’s “more of a music buff.” He does know Bronson movies well enough to base his look in this one on THE MECHANIC, and I respect that.
• Also, Bronzi has an official websight
May 7th, 2020 at 11:09 am
I got about halfway through this review when I realized some of this sounds familiar. I remembered that I’ve actually seen PLAYING WITH DOLLS: HAVOC. As a slasher movie it is just kinda there, but I was weirdly kind of into the lengthy non-slashery setup, which has a wife surprising her husband at their cabin in woods and ending up walking in on his mistress, who didn’t know she was dating a married man so the two kind of bond over what a piece of shit the guy is. Neither female character as demonized, which was nice. Then Havoc or whatever shows up and I think there’s a team of mercenaries or something, and possibly this guy The Voyeur is in it as well. Everybody dies and then it just kind of ends. Definitely could have used some fake Bronson in there at some point.