And Then They Were Dead/Guilty Pleasures (2004/1997)
By: Michael McQueen on August 10, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Cinema Image (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 79 minutes, 105 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Directors Ray Schwetz/Joseph Zaso, Joseph F. Parda
Starring: Tina Krause, Joseph Zaso, Darian Caine/Sasha Graham, Joe Zaso, Alexandra Paulhiac, Ruby Honeycat, Joseph Marzano
Screenplay: Ray Schwetz/Joseph Zaso, Joseph F. Parda
Country: USA
And Then They Were Dead

Home video cameras are a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they have completely democratised the film industry; now anybody with a few hundred bucks and an enthusiastic cast and crew can make the jump from wannabe-director to budding filmmaker, producing short or feature-length films in their backyard for a fraction – no, more like a microcosm – of Hollywood film budgets.On the other hand, all this democracy – this freedom to film – also means that any talentless hack armed with a video camera, a couple of hundred bucks and a cast of inept drama school dropouts can churn out 82 minutes of badly scripted, poorly produced, horribly edited, shoddily directed, turgidly acted RUBBISH for their amusement and your utter dismay. The lesson we should learn from And Then They Were Dead is that just because it is possible for anybody to make a low-budget horror film, doesn't mean that it is always a good idea.

Several people are lured to a mysterious house to discuss a lucrative business proposition with an anonymous entrepreneur. Coincidentally, the mysterious house is located near the woods where a student went missing recently. Things are clearly not all that they seem: the reclusive businessman is yet to show himself and his staff are reluctant to answer any questions regarding his absence. Things take a turn for the bizarre when the maid is carved up in the shower and one of the dinner guests kills his wife in the bathroom, mid-coitus. As the guests act out a scene from Cluedo, trying to guess the culprit, the doctor happens upon the decapitated head of the missing student in the fridge! In a hardly surprising turn of events, party guests begin turning up dead but, with no apparent means of escape (aside from the front door!) the unintelligent survivors – too stupid to leave the house – must outwit a rampaging murderer and a mysterious Big Brother like figure who delights in watching their torture in a secret viewing chamber. What follows is the sorriest excuse for a film I have ever had the misfortune of watching, for which I can only blame Ray Schwetz, the writer, director, editor and co-producer of And Then They Were Dead. Thanks to this appalling effort at horror, Mr. Schwetz has made my Top 10 Most Hated People in the Film Industry, surpassing even Tom Cruise.

Obviously shot on a hand-held camcorder, the picture quality is so grainy I actually felt my eyesight deteriorate as I struggled to focus on major details. The cinematography is the filmic equivalent of wallpaper and the camera repeatedly shakes and jolts around to maximise nausea – it's almost as if someone were poking the cameraman in the side in the middle of shooting! Scenes in this movie stretch on forever, degrading into painful tedium, whilst the accompanying synthesiser soundtrack relentlessly pounds the cerebral cortex to gelatine. The acting in this movie is so poor it actually causes nosebleeds and what little of the script is audible above the grating synthesiser sounds as if it were cobbled together from the in-between segments of a dodgy home-made porn film; I've read scribbles on bathroom walls that had more plot nuance.

Speaking of porn, And Then They Were Dead attempts to raise its sub-sub-mediocre status – if only just by a fraction – by including some gratuitous female nudity. The unfortunate actress who had the dubious honour of appearing naked in this beyond-salvation project was Darian Caine; star of such prestigious films as Orgasm Torture in Satan's Rape Clinic, Lust In Space: The Erotic Witch Project 4, The Lord of the G-Strings: The Femaleship of the String and Darian's Naughty Webcam – all of which indicate that Darian must've fallen on hard times when she agreed to star in ATTWD. The perverted Doctor (Joe Zaso), one of the many dysfunctional guests at the party, accidentally spills some wine on poor Gabrielle's (Caine) French maid outfit. When the Doctor retires to the bathroom to clean himself up, he stumbles on a very convenient peephole through which he can see Gabrielle showering in all her silicone-enhanced erect-nippled glory. The inference in this scene is that the Doctor masturbates in the next room, but the inept nature of the actor to even simulate this act combined with the antics of a drunken cameraman results in a sequence in which the doc appears to be humping the sink. Busted by his wife, the doctor then suffocates her during painfully simulated angry sex and then stuffs her in the shower, hoping nobody else will notice.

Things only travel downhill from this point: the picture quality gets worse, the soundtrack gets louder, and the plot drifts into inanity. The drama-school drop-outs flail about like the morons they are, spouting poorly scripted filth and dying unimaginative deaths. The sole survivor, pregnant prostitute Sara (played with incompetent malice by Tina Krause) eventually confronts her tormentor, exclaiming "This is for the father of my child, you bastard!" before shooting him in the face. This horrific display of ham-fisted tomfoolery actually reminded me of the film-within-a-film misadventures of Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger, when he screams the immortal line "Die, you suckers!!!" That's right: Ray Schwetz' film is so bad that it actually prompted a recollection of a Nineties comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin…a pox on his house!

Guilty Pleasures

The sight of Joe Zaso's name in the writer/director credits certainly sent chills up my spine: the image of him humping a sink was freshly branded onto my brain from And Then They Were Dead, so needless to say, I wasn't looking forward to seeing what he came up with in the director's chair. Thankfully, Guilty Pleasures is not nearly as tedious as its companion feature; this is partly due to the fact that it is not a single feature-length film, but two loosely connected short films, Nocturnal Emissions and Method to the Madness, spliced together. Although Guilty Pleasures is certainly a product of the home-video no-budget school of filmmaking, the acting, scripting and directing could only improve on And Then They Were Dead.

Nocturnal Emissions - With its opening shots of murdered women and pulsing strobe lights, Nocturnal Emissions announces itself in spectacular fashion. There's an emphasis on style here that was completely absent from ATTWD, and directors Parda and Zaso have a keen eye for over-the-top visuals, and a flair for the ridiculous. The plot revolves around Silvia (Paulhiac), who has been getting some seriously perverted phone calls lately. Who's to blame: the abusive ex-boyfriend, Jerome, or the infamous "sex killer"? Fantasy becomes reality when Silvia's best friend Kim (Honeycat) is killed with a meat cleaver whilst posing for a porn magazine. Enter Phillip Dargent (Zaso), an equally perverted cop who takes a 'special interest' in Silvia's case; whilst interviewing her he masturbates to her testimony, egging her on with questions like "Did he ever talk about your ass?" When Jerome is killed during the investigation, Silvia believes her nightmare is over…but is it?

For an exercise in rank amateurism, this was a pleasing and amusing effort: there are plenty of boobs to gawk at, some soft-core S&M, and the cheap gore effects are intentionally comical. Some of the visual and lighting effects are downright ludicrous, but given that the tone of the piece isn't too serious, they never undercut the mood. To call this an erotic thriller is going to depend on what your version of 'erotic' is; the lead actress has a very saggy bum that's quite off-putting and the quality of the visuals give the impression you're watching a poorly produced home-made porno, rather than a low-budget exploitation thriller. That said, the filmmakers clearly have their tongues firmly grafted to their cheeks, so it's best to view this as a mild comical diversion.

Method to the Madness - Rosemarie (Graham) is an aspiring actor with big ambitions, but zero talent. Feeling her dream slipping away with each failed audition, Rosemarie decides to take a method acting course with renowned coach, Claude DeCarlo (Marzano). However, Rosemarie is troubled by the return of an old friend, Monica, into her life: the two share a dark past with long-buried secrets, and Monica's pleas for reconciliation are becoming more desperate and threatening. Suffering from the pressure of her acting course and increasing paranoia over her stalker, Rosemarie begins to see hallucinations and ghostly apparitions from her troubled childhood. As her mind degrades under the torment, we begin to wonder if Monica is real, or just a figment of Rosemarie's imagination.

Although this is the more 'serious' offering, Method to the Madness is still amusing in some places, mostly due to the make-up. The acting in this feature is of a surprisingly impressive standard, and Graham in particular delivers a well-rounded performance as Rosemarie. The soundtrack is, as ever, mind-numbingly monotonous but is made bearable by the shortness of the film.
Video
In all seriousness, when I first began watching And Then They Were Dead, I wondered if maybe it was part of some elaborate joke on the audience; Ray Schwetz and the team responsible (culpable, more like) for And Then They Were Dead… seem to have gone to exhaustive lengths to make sure everything looks like shit: only the most epileptic camera man was chosen; only the grainiest of grainy picture quality would do; only the darkest of poorly lit settings would suffice. Sadly, this is no joke: all expenses have been spared to bring you the most god-awful looking film in living memory.

Guilty Pleasures looks better. The picture quality is recognisably home-video quality but, thankfully, there's not too much grain on this one. The lighting is more experimental and the cheap equipment has a difficult task keeping everything clear and in-focus, so some fuzziness and blurring is present but, for a dirt-cheap independent production, this is forgivable.
Audio
Judging by the atrocious quality, I'll hazard a guess that the sound for And Then They Were Dead was recorded live using the camera's microphone and the soundtrack was added afterwards. The dialogue is so badly muffled it sounds like the actors are being asphyxiated with carpet, and when the music kicks in every other sound becomes inaudible. SPEAK UP! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!! As a final affront to taste and quality, the soundtrack – provided by Function Zero - is the sort of neo-Goth synth-heavy drivel practiced by Evanescence and paraphrased here into a collection of plodding monotonous tracks that have the potential to liquefy your brain and send it dribbling out of your ears. Perhaps I should be thankful, as it managed to drown out whatever poor excuse for a script the actors were garbling their way through.

Again, Guilty Pleasures is a cut above ATTWD. The soundtrack is still god-awful and repetitive, but slightly less so. What's more, the dialogue is audible and competently mixed. The technical aspects of these films are far from any standard of quality – they fall way below average – but Guilty Pleasures is certainly the better of the two.
Extra Features
Extras included with And Then They Were Dead are a behind-the-scenes doco which features pointless minutes of cast members rehearsing lines in the same stilted wooden delivery that made their actual performances unwatchable. The highlight is BTS footage of the shower scene, where a make-up artist douses Darian Caine's boobs in fake blood, much to her amusement. Lowlights include a storyboard-to-film comparison of the opening murder scene. Additionally, there's a trailer (not a real extra, certainly not entertaining), gallery of stills from the movie, and commentary provided by Ray Schwetz and producer/actor Joe Zaso; as it turns out, Joe actually was humping the sink in the bathroom scene.

Guilty Pleasures
comes with a commentary track by Zaso is a cute touch, especially on a production as cheap as this. The question is: will you be bothered listening to it once you've suffered through the feature? Do you really want insight into how this film was made? The slideshow and trailer included are basic and pointless filler.
The Verdict
Aside from being a colossal waste of time, both Guilty Pleasures and And Then They Were Dead serve to remind us that independent productions are a mixed bag: occasionally providing vehicles for a unique and innovative talent, but mostly serving up a three-course meal of indigestible crap. One cannot despise these productions for their lack of originality, however; better directors have been given more money to work on projects just as hackneyed. The difference here is that And Then They Were Dead lacked the visual and technical competency to fully support its ideas and, as such, it felt drawn out and tedious at only 82 minutes! By contrast, Guilty Pleasures worked far better by channelling its creativity into dual projects with multiple ideas; the reduced running time left little opportunity for the script to meander, and worked with the no-budget restraints by not testing its audience's patience. That said, it's is impossible to recommend these films with any conscience: I tried feeding them to the dingoes, but they wouldn't have a bar of it.

ATTWD
is beneath contempt and receives absolutely no rating whatsoever. Guilty Pleasures deserves 2 for effort and presentation. Overall, this package gets 1.
Movie Score
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