Murder Set Pieces (2005)
By: Mr Intolerance on July 15, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Fright Flix (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 5.1. 90 minutes
The Movie
Director: Nick Palumbo
Starring: Sven Garrett, Jade Risser, Gunnar Hansen, Ed Neal, Cerina Vincent, Tony Todd
Screenplay: Nick Palumbo
Music: The Bronx Casket Company, Necrophagia, Zombi, The Giallo Flame
Tagline: The most visceral horror film ever made! Country: USA
The clue is in the title, kids. This film is simply a collection of murder set pieces strung together with a pretty flimsy plot. Our main character, "The Photographer", is dating a rather stupid young woman who hasn't the nous to realise how totally fucking creepy he is, while her 11 year old sister, Jade (played by Jade Risser), has him totally sussed out. In between dates with the elder sister, he pumps iron, tortures, rapes and slaughters women, rants a great deal in (unsubtitled) German, and is generally an all round nasty piece of work. This all takes place with the seedy city of Las Vegas as not just the backdrop, but almost a character in its own right.

The special effects by Toe-Tag Pictures are the real star of the show. And the only reason to watch this. The sheer brutality and carnage on display here make the visual effects in Hostel (regardless of what you think of it, you can't deny it had some good gore effects) look very tame indeed. We're in the realm of the All Night Long, the August Underground (obviously), the Guinea Pig series, folks. The violence is totally unrelenting: cold, inescapable and wretched. The acting, by comparison, is pretty lacklustre, Jade Risser aside – this in itself was a revelation to me: I got to watch a horror film where I didn't want the child star dead in the opening fifteen minutes (unlike that dreadful cunt with the blonde Prince Valiant haircut in Manhattan Baby and House By The Cemetery) – she puts in a very credible performance, and is the only character the audience give a rat's hairy arse about for the film's entire run time.

That all said, this film to me is nothing more than the Emperor's new clothes. I read a bunch of hype about it on the internet before I saw it, and was expecting a great deal more than what I got. There's a quote on the back cover of the DVD from the usually reliable Rue Morgue magazine stating, "Director Nick Palumbo displays flashes of visual brilliance reminiscent of the best works of Dario Argento." What a load of fucking rot. If you can't tell the difference in quality between the director of Deep Red and Suspiria and this, you probably can't tell the difference between shit and clay, either. To me, this film appeared to have been lit and edited by MTV.

I also got pissed off when I looked at the back cover of the DVD and noted that one of the production companies was "Third Reich Ventures", and that the executive producers were listed as: Herman Goering, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Robert Ley. Were the producers trying to be funny? Ironic? Post-modern? Tough? I'm sure the only reason they didn't name drop Otto Dirlewanger, Reinhard Heydrich or Julius Streicher was that they weren't mentioned in whatever 9th grade history textbook they used to find the other 4 names. And then listening to the director and the "star" distancing themselves from the Nazi thing on the commentary track… And then thanking in the credits, "the amazing Leni Riefenstahl" – I did start wondering about the politics driving the whole she-bang.

Instead of trying to establish some kind of Nazi-chic, they should have been concentrating on the script. An obvious factor of importance for the writer was that bad guy gets a catch phrase. So, at a few points of the film, the Photographer's excuse to be elsewhere is: "I have to shoot some girls."

Well, my sides are fuckin' splitting…

Credit where it's due – for a US$2 million budget, this film looks the business. It's a slick, professional-looking piece of work – part torture-porn, part soft-core rape flick, part serial killer biopic – and it shows you how money can be used well to get the desired effect.

Keep your eyes peeled for the cameos: Gunnar Hansen and Ed Neal (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Tony Todd (Candyman), Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever), most of the gang from Toe Tag Pictures (August Underground), one of whom, Jerami Cruise, gets a lap dance in a strip club, the lucky dog. References to other films abound – notably Palumbo's earlier cult film Nutbag – gratuitous self-promotion if I ever saw it.

As a gorefest, this succeeds admirably. If splat is your schtick, run, don't walk to get a hold of this. If torture porn floats your boat, you should be ashamed of yourself if you don't own it. If cold, bleak grimness and grisly violence are your bag, go for it. If you like films with a story and technical competence that goes beyond the special effects, you might want to give Murder-Set-Pieces a miss.
Apart from the MTV nature of the editing and lighting at time, good. Crystal clear, in fact – in that regard the DVD is faultless (okay there's minimal line shimmer once or twice, but that is nit-picking). The cinematography is quite good.
Good. Can't say much more than that. Clear, certainly – the "score" becomes more than a bit intrusive – just like in Mad Foxes, Demons or Phenomena, the metal tracks ruin the atmosphere..
Extra Features
Audio commentary with the director and the lead actor, moderated by Ultraviolent magazine editor Art Ettinger. I became increasingly annoyed watching the film with the commentary, where Palumbo brags that certain scenes in his film were better than their counterparts in High Tension and Irreversible, slags off Ted V Mikels by inference, slags off various cast and crew who have no right of reply, pisses and moans about how no-one except himself and Fred Vogel are making real horror films these days, bangs on endlessly about Kubrick, comparing himself favourably with him, then – crime of all crimes – states that he must have been "subliminally" influenced by Argento in a couple of places – nothing fucking subliminal about it in my not so humble opinion. Not to mention boasting of having to physically torment actors to get a performance – something he seems to take far too much pride in. Generally, he's too much of a braggard by half. He has the temerity to complain about Bill Lustig "blasted" him, and called him an "asshole" about certain sequences in the film, and sound genuinely aggrieved about it – y'know, Lustig knows a fuckin' thing or two about slasher films, pal. There's way too much self-justification going on, in my mind – like, is he trying to convince us, or him? Being self-assured is one thing, self aggrandisement is another.

Deleted scenes (nothing special; if I wanted to watch a bunch of footage of early 70s Plymouth Barracudas or Hemicudas, I'd watch the Phantasm films), Director's Notes (misleading; it's just a bio on Palumbo), the Gallery of Outrage (critical reception of the film – some justified, some not so much, both positive and negative – gushing sycophantic praise is just as annoying as blinkered negativity), a poster gallery, a photo gallery, a (very) brief bio of Fright Flix (more gumph about how great Palumbo is), and trailers for Murder-Set-Pieces (2 of them, including some footage I didn't see in the film), Nutbag (again 2 of them) and Sinister (only 1, but you'll have fun spotting the cameos and references in it).
The Verdict
I like really extreme ultra-violent films. Flower of Flesh and Blood, the All Night Long trilogy, Men Behind the Sun, Black Sun, Naked Blood – you name it, I'll watch it and probably enjoy it. This film left my inner-gorehound very well satisfied. But the horror fan I am first and foremost? Well…not so much. In terms of serial killer films, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Maniac are way better, despite how dated either might seem. In terms of some kind of reasoning behind the splatter, the All Night Long series has this trumped. As an exercise in creating unlikeable characters and brilliant gore effects – this is the film for you. I can't recommend this wholeheartedly – the storyline is way too thin, the references to other films to numerous and knowing a la Tarantino, and as a preening, strutting arrogant self aggrandiser, Palumbo comes off on the commentary track second only to Eli Roth. If you do watch this, watch it without the commentary track – it's far too irritating. Was I scared by this movie? Nope. Was I grossed out by the violence? Uh-uh. Did I feel it was pushing boundaries? Nein. Was it offering anything new to the genre? It offered nada. It is an efficiently made horror flick aimed squarely at the slasher/gorehound market which wears its influences on its sleeves, no more, no less. I've seen movies more visceral, bloody and brutal made on a lower budget that had a more profound effect on me. Like Public Enemy used to say: "Don't believe the hype."
Movie Score
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