Perhaps the most successful Halloween costume I ever whipped up was something we ended up calling the the "pig butcher." When I was a young lad, Halloween costuming was a joint creative endeavor for my mother and me. Deciding on a season's costume was part logistical issue (what could we reuse, what do proton packs cost, and so on) and part aesthetic negotiation. Because we both had to wrap our heads around core concept, anything that was a wholly unilateral obsession was not going to make the cut. One result of this was that I never really ended up dressing as specific characters. With the exception of a rather elaborate Dr. Stantz ghostbusting outfit, all my costumes were more general types: short and tubby cowboy, short and tubby astronaut, short and tubby mad scientist, short and tubby ninja, and so on. Oh, and I was one of the gang from A Clockwork Orange once (an unusually subversive gimmick my mother cooked up that beat The Simpsons to the punch by several years), but not specifically any particular one of them. Whichever one was the shortest and tubbiest, I guess.
This tendency towards the abstract continues today. When I do the costume thing these days, I tend towards original creative expressions that don't have any particular model. (There's an exception for lucha legend Blue Demon, but he's so uniquely awesome that he doesn't have to submit to any rule he disagrees with.) The "pig butcher" was one of these ex nihilo dealies. The name's a bit deceptive as the intended meaning is not "somebody who butchers pigs," rather it's meant to communicate the notion of "a pig that butchers somebody." Basically, I wore a grocery store butcher's outfit: dark pants, work shoes, white shirt, bad tie, white apron. The whole thing was topped off by this really grotesquely realistic pig's head mask. I accessorized with a prop knife and a tin bucket of plastic people parts. Though originally meant as little more than a visual goof, the end result was surprisingly grim and distressing (I'm told - I couldn't see crap through the mask). A few folks dug a completely unintended, but completely logical pro-vegetarian vibe, but most seemed to see it a sort of memento caro, an unsettling reminder that we are all made of meat. Anyway, I remember that outfit fondly.
Which is why - against my better judgement - I watched The Butcher, Edward Gorsuch's derivative 2006 "crazy redneck psycho clan" flick, on Hulu. The promotional image Hulu posts next to the flick's link is a off-kilter full portrait of a chainsaw wielding dude in what is more intense version of the beloved "pig butcher" outfit.
Yet another copy run built using the very familiar Texas Chain Saw Massacre template, The Butcher involves a sextet of young folks are packed into a SUV on their way to Vegas. To absolutely nobody's surprise, they end up on a rural shortcut that leads them straight into the clutches of a small band of mutant hayseed cannibals.
The Butcher is a pretty awful movie. First time feature director Gorsuch is a prolific writer of Skinemax grade softcore such as Sexual Needs (2004), Sexual Retreat (2004), Sexual Revenge (2004), Sexual Indiscretion (2005), and Sexual Cravings (2006). Perhaps Gorsuch isn't comfortable working outside his comfort zone, but the movie's plot is predictable, direction is leaden, and the scares are tame. The movie earns itself some goodwill with its workman-like efficiency: the film completes the characterization of its victims (the jock a-hole, the final girl, the black friend, the lesbians - A and B, the nerd) and racks up the first kill by the four minute mark. There's also a nice late game twist that is not absurd and genuinely moves the plot forward. We're not talking a "Bruce Willis is dead" flip here, but many a better movie has been marred by more poorly handled twists. There's also some allusions to more quirky entries in the "crazy family" subgenre - everybody references Chain saw, but how many People Under the Stairs allusions do we get - that suggest a diversity of inspiration. These are not, however, enough to redeem the picture.
The problem with The Butcher is that it's too softcore about it occasionally creative ghoulish touches. Through laziness or craziness, there's a lot of wacky crap going on in film - but the film repeatedly passes up these opportunities for sustain strangeness in favor of grinding cheerlessly along with its plot. For example, the first kill in the pic involves lesbian A in a topless tree branch accident. The lesbian is topless, not the tree. Lesbian A gets ripped in half. Her lower half drops into the truck while her upper half is left on the road. The remaining characters pour out of the truck and begin to debate what they should do about their bisected friend. Meanwhile, lesbian B has gone to recover the upper half of lesbian A. She drags it all the way to the truck, begins embracing it, talking crazy about how lesbian A promised they'd never be apart (ha! a visual pun!). Lesbian B refuses to leave either half of her lover behind, so when the rest of group goes off looking for help, she stays behind with both halves of her better half, acting crazy. Admittedly, we're not talking great drama here; but if you're going to put all this in your flick, shouldn't you just play it for every freaky detail it's worth. Shouldn't this whole thing be at least as morbidly bizarre and out-there as, say, Macabre. Instead, the whole thing is underplayed. We barely see the damage done to lesbian A and little is made of the fact that she should be spilling all manner of messiness about the truck. Her lover moderately spotted with stage blood, but doesn't look like somebody who has been embracing a recently split open corpse. There's no sense of transgression, no energy, no weirdness.
The film does this again and again. Promising scenes get stepped on or rushed through. When the flick slow enough to start getting deeply gonzo, the director gets gunshy and pulls away. How can a guy wrote made a movie called The Sex Spa II: Body Work be so demure?
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