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Sometime back I found myself wandering the local 99p shop. Some of you may prefer a Poundshop, but they’re for indulgent fools. For the simple, Working Class likes of myself it is 99p shops all the way.
As I browsed the store witha golden nugget of shrapnel in my pocket, I was drawn to the the DVD and Blu-Ray shelf. I was actually a bit taken aback that they stocked 99p Blu-Rays, but I realised they were all bad stand up from the previous year so that made some sense after all.Current Jim Davidson DVD’s are hardly a bargain at the best of times, but at 99p the older ones seemed even more over priced.
The DVD shelf was a bit more exciting though. This shelf was a true mix of the famous and the unknown. Cult classics such as Halloween III:Season of The Witch (http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/hollyweird/hollyweird-episode-xxvii-seasons-greetings/) sat alongside Hollywood releases such as Terminator: Salvation, which in turn cosied up to well regarded foreign fare such as John Woo’s Red Cliff, which had it’s proverbial arm around various cheap looking kickboxing films. Add in MMA tournaments, weight loss routines and MTV Reality Shows, and this was a real mish-mash of releases. This DVD shelf seemed akin to a hostel for shiny discs, where various representatives across many nations can be seen hanging around one another, each hoping to escape ASAP.
Suddenly, inspiration struck!
At this moment I decided that for this very blog I was going to make some purchases. Somewhere nestled amongst all the unknowns, the never-seen and the best-ignored must rest at least one good film.Thusly the 99p Challenge was born!
Here on in I will occasionally purchase a 99p movie I have never seen, and ideally never heard of, then write my thoughts after watching it. Fittingly 99p seems to be about the right price for what my thoughts are probably worth.
So here is Exhibit A-. Selected purely for the snazzy use of ‘$’ in its title, I present $la$her$!
$la$her$ has a simple enough premise, and actually a pretty fun one. A Japanese television show has become the Number 1 TV show globally. This show is ‘Slashers’, a game show whereby six contestants enter a strange maze filled with three Slasher-type villains. If they can defeat the Slashers then they get a few Million in prize money. If not , then they end up a pile of blood and viscose on the studio floor.
As this film opens, the Japanese show is branching out into North America. This is the first Cross over episode and features a mix of assorted Yanks after fame, money, glory or thrills.
This opening is very much a mix of Battle Royal and The Running Man– it establishes the rules of the show which in effect sets up the entire conceit of the movie. As if both of the above examples were mixed, here this ‘introduction’ is done in a J-Pop, overly enthusiastic and showbiz way. Filled with energy, gaudy costumes and a hollow centre this fake game show is pretty darn close to real game shows.
The first, absolutely inescapable aspect of $la$her$ that will be evident to any viewer is the low budget. In actuality, ‘low budget’ does not really do the visuals justice. To paraphrase a Gorrillaz song, the budget may have in fact been “lower than Atlantis”.
I am tempted to say ‘hey, forget how cheap it looks!’ Even if $la$her$ cannot afford the costumes, scenery or background extras that the script demands, the film makers still got something on film. I can respect that. Since the movie ended up in a bargain basement situation, any criticism over its visuals seems mean. But in this case it is actually highly relevant. With terrible lighting, sets, make-up and effects, any poorly presented slasher film very quickly becomes a pantomime.
Anyway, back to the film. The contestants enter the ‘arena’ which is a warehouse set designed to shift around both geographically and in styles. So the participants may walk into a castle one moment, then turn a corner and be in a funhouse. Or they may staay in one spot inside a room, and suddenly find new doors appearing to render them vulnerable. In theory this is great. It means that variety is nigh. In reality, the film mainly uses a warehouse with a couple of garden sheds and some sand on the floor. There’s that damn budget again…
Stalking the contestants are the three most successful slashers from the TV show; Chainsaw Charlie, Preacherman and Dr. Ripper. Part of me had hoped the film would feature parodies of infamous slashers. For instance perhaps a ‘Teddy Krueger’ with a sweater and razor fingers would turn up, or maybe a ‘Sugarman’, a an intimidating black man with a hook for a hand, or even ‘Mason Vorhees’, a retarded killer who wears a Cricket helmet. No such luck. Instead, the film makers put their own slashers into the fray. Although admirably creative, I was personally disappointed not to get bargain basement knock-off’s of famous slashers. Oh well.
The slashers actually featured in $la$her$ caused a little guffawing from me. This is not the film makers fault, though. Of the three slashers, two have unfortunate associations. First up is Chainsaw Charlie. ‘Charlie is presented as an inbred, redneck sort of fella with a ‘saw. Not too far off of Leatherface I guess, but he could not be taken seriously.
You see, unfortunately there was also a wrestler in the 1990’s played by legendary grappler, Terry Funk. Terry Funk also went by the moniker Chainsaw Charlie- and he wore pantihose on his head.
Not helping things is that this Chainsaw Charlie’s actual Chainsaw is static. The noise of a whirring blade is heard, but it does not actually move. Yeesh.
Next up is the second slasher, Preacher Man. He is a religious stalker out to punish sinners. Once more, fair enough in principal.
But in one of my favourite real TV shows, Nathan Barley, ‘Preacher Man’ ends up the alias of protagonist Dan Ashcroft. Ashcroft ends up a reluctant spokesperson for Hoxton hipsters and goes a little nuts in his new role.
With two slashers instantly causing eye rolling, this left the third man, Dr. Ripper to be a credible bad guy. Dr. Ripper is a Surgeon with a perchance for unnecessary surgery and boobs. Seriously. Every time that Dr. Ripper corners a girl he takes their tops off- admirably, they almost always cover up and run off, even when their lives are in danger.
Actually, this ‘need for boobs’ is actually done in a reasonably smart way. Seriously! The entirety of $la$her$ runtime features a self-awareness of the genre that actually impacts on the plot.
So for instance, the Contestants do not initially want to talk to one another. They want to focus on their own survival. But they are informed by the camera man that anything that lets the audience ‘know their back story’ could help them last longer. So those who say nothing are boring and dispatched with, whilst those with sob stories are not picked off so quickly.A bit like a Simon Cowell show but with blades. Similarly, the girls are expected to show boobs- hence Dr. Ripper’s actions. Boobs= popularity= survival.
Surprisingly I expected $la$her$ to mine this as an excuse for lots of exploitation shots of semi-naked women. Refreshingly, the female characters refuse as this notion as disgusting. Admittedly there is one topless moment, but it is designed to be pretty un-sexy as it features a girl screaming and upset. Though any moral stance would be far stronger with no breasts on display, cleavage is a big part of the horror genre. So just to play devil’s advocate, there is arguably some justification for both featuring boobs and and covering them in the same film.
This self-realisation of the horror-genre-within-a-TV-show actually branches into some clever areas within all of $la$her$.
The Contestants note that there is only one cameraman filming them as a part of the game show. So clearly no murder will happen off-screen as it is unfair to TV viewers. So they can split up, but whoever gets the Camera man following them is going to be picked off. To quote one character whilst he looks down the lens, “If this motherfucker’s nearby you’re in trouble!”.
Likewise, the music in $la$her$ is not just initially a background score. The film is silent unless a slasher is nearby. The Contestants use this to know when something is up- so if the music cues they decide to start running! The music is awful Euro-Techno though, which really hurts the brain rather than raises the pulse rate. Handily it stops being used quite so much though as one character eventually points out that “Music stopping doesn’t mean anything. It could be to scare us- or they just missed their cues”.
Small considerations such as the camera man’s presence or the use of music do give $la$her$ a sense of intelligence to the script. Obviously the film is still fantastical, but it does ground the piece in a way that helps poke fun at both horror and Found Footage films in a way reminiscent of Scream. This self-analysis is something that allows the film makers to have their cake and eat it. Unlike Scream though, $la$her$ does not mix comedy, genre commentary and scares quite so well.
For one thing, the aforementioned terrible aesthetics ruin any chance of scares. Seeing someone in a bad rubber mask, against a barely disguised warehouse backdrop and well lit is not terrifying. It is like walking into a poor cosplay photo shoot. A bigger issue is the acting though.
Everyone is awful. Everyone. Utterly, utterly awful. Lead Sarah Joslyn Crowder mistakes gritting her teeth and sounding upset for being scared. The director should probably have pointed this out to her early on as unfortunately she does it for the entire movie. All of it. All. Of. It.
Dr. Ripper is somehow even more grating. Playing the role like the Joker is one thing, but if you have to enunciate every part of every pun and looks as scary as a substitute-Geography teacher, then the role screams ‘Am Dram’ actor.
One vague exception is the actor playing Chainsaw Charlie. His redneck accent is so far over the top it initially seems just another component of poor acting. However during one interesting exchange this is somewhat explained away.
As with other self-acknowledging parts of $la$her$, Commercial breaks play a big part in the film. Each contestant wears a paralyzing- neck collar. Whenever a Slasher is about to strike, the ‘show’ cuts to commercial. The collar forces the contestants to stay in position whilst the Slasher waits for the all clear to slay them. This makes sense within the plot and is a nice dramatic touch. Although unable to run away, the contestants can still speak. As Chainsaw Charlie prepares to dice up a few people over an unsafe bridge, Charlie realises that he himself is in danger. Suddenly his accent drops and he says in a Californian voice that he is just doing his job and does not want to die. So at least his terrible redneck can be seen as a role-within-a-role.
Still, when the best acting is down to not being quite as bad as everyone else, it is faint praise.
A few nice script touches aside though, $la$her$ actually plays out over its run time as follows. 1) Run. 2) Talk. 3) Someone is slain. 4) A slasher gets taken out. 5) Repeat. Put simply; it’s dull.
The idea is fairly strong, but the execution is weak. Put in its own terms, $la$her$ was designed to be as innovative as low budget New Nightmare, but instead is reduced to being as difficult to enjoy as a Freddy’s Dead.
What has pleasantly surprised me from this first 99p Challenge is that the cheap, unknown movie of mystery actually did have its merits- at least for a blogger assessing a cheap DVD. I would not go so far as to recommend the movie to anyone due to any viewer having to sit through the cast’s performances, the music and the piss poor visuals.
Still, as a first time test the film did not make me wish I had never started this new scheme. I’m taking that as a (minor) win. Excelsior!
Next time it’s a Canadian reality show of a different ilk, one still filled with murder but where love will tear them apart…
Thanks for reading.