BUTCHERED is a shot-on-video slasher film that predictably contains plenty of blood, and especially meat. Heads are severed, faces bisected, and stomachs ’stolen’ at the slightest of provocations. The ease of bodily transgression, however, would hint that most of the characters - or at least their stand-in paper mache dummies - don’t have any bones. This is an issue that relates not only to the victims, but the film as a whole. As with most other low budget productions, it is easy to surmise that behind the messily staged set pieces, there’s very little backbone relating to story, originality, and - Heaven forbid - cinematic invention.
The film revolves around bitchy college girls Jenny and Daphne, and the sorority initiation they stage for freshman students Lynnette and Barbara. Desperate to be accepted by the snobby prom queen-types, the "two nerds" cede to all of the inane demands handed to them, including spanking, push-up and shoe-licking sessions, and - more importantly - a 24-hour stay inside a near derelict, supposedly haunted funhouse.
The house in question - actually the ’Spooky House Theme Park’ - is run by Andrew Braxus, a middle-aged man on the verge of opening the place. Braxus doesn’t like the building. He spends many hours there, working in his office, and tells friendly pizza-deliverer Trent that he regularly hears child-like sobbing from behind the walls. Shortly after Trent’s departure, a tall, masked woman who was hiding in the building murders Braxus.
Lynnette and Barbara are driven to the huge building and, once inside, wander around as if they’ve strayed from the set of a Jean Rollin movie. After settling down, Barbara leaves her friend alone, in order to look for the bathroom. She is confronted by the masked, mumbling figure, and bludgeoned with a metal pipe until her head pops.
Some time afterward Jenny and Daphne - accompanied by their beefcake boyfriends Darren and Anthony - resolve to frighten the maligned girls. Ever the jokers, and in a fit of forced irony, they bring along monster Halloween masks, sprinkle fake blood all over the place, and play a number of cassettes with ’scary noises’ on them.
Lynnette subsequently bumps into the jokers. A sense of panic sets in when Jenny reveals she has misplaced her map. Seemingly lost within the huge building, they decide to find Barbara, initially to "fuck with her", but ultimately so they can all leave. When Darren wanders off alone he has his stomach ripped out, and after being locked in the building, the group are picked off one by one...
BUTCHERED, despite being made in 2003, follows an unfortunate tendency of 1980’s horror, in that it combines dodgy campus humour with its bloody set pieces. The sorority initiation scenes are not only grating, but overlong, too. The childish digressions hold up the narrative, and the constant practical joking and one-upmanship unfortunately lend the film an immature, adolescent atmosphere.
For a film that graphically depicts lingering murders, the camerawork, editing, and special effects are a huge let down. Instead of using rapid cutting to lend a physical edge to the hacking and slashing - as made famous by the classic PSYCHO, and developed to furious extremes by the likes of Fulci and Argento - the camera is curiously cold and static. Even worse, the characters have to stand still when they should be thrashing about, for the cut-price homemade effects to work.
Like many other shot-on-video gore films, BUTCHERED is clearly made by post-modern slasher movie enthusiasts. Blame it on Quentin Tarantino if you like, for ingraining excessive quotation into mainstream popular culture. It’s still fashionable for filmmakers to let viewers know just how many films they have seen, in a video store-nerd type of way. Empty quotation is prominent, then, and the opening sequence alone makes references to both PSYCHO (1960), with its shower scene, and HALLOWEEN (1978), by means of the mask-wearing, stalking ‘I’ camera.
In a self-reflected move, Barbara’s favourite film is revealed to be MANIACAL, directed in fact by BUTCHERED helmer Joe Castro. Although she watches it at the start of this movie, she demonstrates very little knowledge herself of the clichés inherent in the slasher genre. When she leaves Lynnette alone, both girls are doubly vulnerable, inside a supposedly haunted building. The film is keen to immerse itself in familiarity, but never attempts to use it as a launching pad toward any kind of twist or imagination. BUTCHERED, then, suffers from worn-out pastiche that makes even the originals wear thin.
The film’s only strength lies in its unpredictability. The tricksters play their ’scary cassettes’ often at the same time as a murder scene. When Lynnette wanders around, unwittingly searching for her dead friend, the camera stays with her and the noise is left outside the frame. We don’t know if she’s going to be killed or suffer further initiation pranks, and so the film is suspenseful in its use of offscreen sound. This soon wears thin, however. As the film moves along it becomes increasingly easy to decipher which noise belongs to which source, so any success that the film has is short-lived.
After being knocked unconscious by Brent, the killer is finally unmasked as a disfigured mute with a bone disorder and when her jumper is raised we see a pair of giant rubber breasts hanging from its stomach. Here the film displays a reactionary attitude to deformity with Daphne crying, "Oh my God, she’s deformed”. Inner evil reflected on the outside. The film’s denouement is in further bad taste for when the final survivor confronts the killer; the good-looking youth pulls a gun out and cries, "Die, you big ugly bitch".
Directed by Joe Castro
English Language / USA / 2003 / 76 mins / Colour
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A Screen Entertainment DVD release
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