Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #145
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: 1 April 2008 (US)
Country of Origin: United States
Sub-Genre: Extreme Exploitation
Running Time: 105 minutes (Theatrical Cut), 83 minutes (R-Rated Cut)
Director: Nick Palumbo
Producer: Nick Palumbo
Screenplay: Nick Palumbo
Special Effects: Jerami Cruise, Ricky Lee Leonard, Fred Vogel
Cinematography: Brendan Flynt
Score: The Bronx Casket Company, The Giallos Flame, Necrophagia, Zombi
Editing: Todd C. Ramsay
Studio: Fright Flix Productions
Distributor: Blackwatch Releasing
Stars: Sven Garrett, Jade Risser, Valerie Baber, Tony Todd, Gunnar Hansen, Cerina Vincent, Edwin Neal, Destiny St. Claire, Maria Keough, Renee Sloane, Lauren Palac, Andrea Mitchell, Jessie DeRoock, LeAnn Clinton and Fred Vogel as Masked Psycho
Suggested Audio Candy
The Bronx Casket Company “Sewing The Dead”
There’s normally one particular film every generation which courts more controversy than each of its contemporaries and is reviled that little bit more than any other. This particular flick is beyond reprehensible and pushes the envelope as far as it possibly can, with no regard for anyone but itself. In the case of Driller Killer it really was a whole mass of nothing in particular. Far from the meanest nasty, it only featured flashes of grue, most of which were exhibited on its video sleeve. Nevertheless it got British Parliament all hett up and, before you could say the words “I don’t think the cord will stretch that far”, it was public enemy number one.
Ironically, Murder Set Pieces is not actually that far departed from Abel Ferrera’s study of accelerating madness. Audio repetition plays a large part as it did in Ferrera’s movie, but thankfully not the same sorry tune on perpetual loop. It shares many similarities, none more than the actual subject matter although it is a far less coherent narrative, not that Driller Killer was entirely conventional. When I finally decided that I would allow my long-running curiosity get the better of me and actually sat down to explore Nick Palumbo’s upmarket version of his 2000 prototype Nutbag, I came a cropper in spectacular fashion. A few years previous, on a Californian trip, I had managed to track down this little obscurity. Shrink-wrapped and shiny, it was love at first sight. Our eyes met across a crowded room and I was powerless to resist fumbling around in my pocket for whatever currency would make this baby mine.
For years now it has been sandwiched into my collection, showing no real desire to stand out from the crowd. Reason being, you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to suss that it’s gonna tilt rather vigorously towards Exploitation and, outside of Hostel, precious few films of its ilk have appealed over the relentless hordes of more appealing slashers and the like. There had just been too much said about this film to not warrant a viewing after all this time so I sat down for my initiation with expectations set realistically. I’d heard various negative remarks and, bizarrely for a film never able to gain classification in the UK, a few comments about it being almost bereft of grue. This couldn’t be could it? They say there’s no smoke without fire; well Murder Set Pieces had created quite the fog of infamy so there had to be some meat on these bones.
You can imagine my bemusement then when 84 minutes later I was spewed back out with blood lust entirely unabated. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada and fuck all. Not a refried bean in sight for the entire duration. I say that, there may have been a bloody crime scene or two but a smattering of crimson up the walls doesn’t constitute for grue in my book. I lost any concept of time as I lurched from one poorly edited set piece to the next, scratching my dome the entire way. By the time the credits began to roll I felt more than a little short-changed. This couldn’t possibly be, what feasible explanation could there be for banning this on UK shores? I rapidly ingested Miss Marple and began to piece together all the evidence. Shockingly abrupt editing, virtually no tangible story arc to speak of and a complete omission of gore.
Then it all began to make sense. I hadn’t thought to check running time or certification before purchasing this and, if I had, I would’ve been aware that I left the store with the R-Rated cut which is shy of around 22 minutes of footage originally present in its theatrical version. It may as well have been PG-13 for all the monstrous dispatches on view.
It had been neutered of absolutely anything which could be perceived as shocking, leaving 84 minutes of well-shot music videos crudely spliced together to form a whole which defied logic and offered very little enlightenment. Made more work for myself is what it did dagnabbit. I can’t appraise this in its current form and thankfully I have the 103 minute cut backed up on disk so I now have the exclusive pleasure of sitting through the entire experience again, albeit with considerably more meat on its stumps and blood on its gums.
I can tell you now, in its current format it barely scrapes a five as it simply appears unfinished. But Keeper is nothing if not equitable and I shall persevere once more to endeavor at decoding this gargantuan hotchpotch of garish goulash. It’s far from curtains for Palumbo’s sleaze-fest, Whilst half the additional footage is glorious splatter plated up by none other than the team at Toe Tag Pictures, including Fred Vogel himself, it is another factor which is more likely to make it palatable and that is a little more fleshing out in the plot department.
I get that it’s ambiguous but it’s so faceless that you barely have an inkling as to where then hell it’s actually leading. maybe there’s a touch more tony Todd, a slither more Gunnar Hansen or a few more stolen seconds with the delectable Cerina Vincent (who was hired 24 hours before shooting commenced). The three combined barely make up ten minutes screen time as it stands, although the scene with Todd is actually one of the few decent moments on offer.
I haven’t so much as mentioned synopsis so I guess I should shed a little light. I can sum it up in a nutshell using only a light smattering of words. A fashion photographer who comes from Nazi blood murders, mutilates and occasionally munches on a whole host of expendable street-walkers and strippers who all end up bleeding together. That’s your lot, it’s all I’ve got I’m afraid. Oh, there’s a pointlessly shoe-horned shot of 9/11 randomly spliced in, presumably to piss off anyone not already appalled by the degrading treatment of women.
So as we head perilously towards final reckoning, it has some task if it wishes to swing this cat’s opinion. It may be slickly shot and occasionally rather atmospheric but i keep thinking back to the old saying – You can polish a turd but, at the end of the day, it’s still a turd. While turd isn’t the word I would use to encapsulate Murder Set Pieces, bitter disappointment really isn’t much better. It’s just all surface with very little underneath the gloss. I guess I can’t put it off any longer so wish me luck Grueheads and I’ll see y’all on the other side.
The Other Side
Suggested Audio Candy
The Bronx Casket Company “Sewing The Dead (Remix)”
Okay, now it makes sense. After exposure to the true director’s cut of this movie I can say two things with great clarity. The first is that I feel the overpowering necessity to have my brain sudded up, and the second, that the R-Rated cut should not even be in circulation. It’s all or nothing with a film such as Murder Set Pieces, to cut profanity is to sever its lifeline.
It is beyond pointless minus bloodshed as it sidesteps its purpose effortlessly. It becomes a poorly edited mish-mash of unpleasant suggestion whereas, in its intended format, it pushes the envelope more than far enough to justify its widespread recognition. Is it exploitative? Yes. Degrading to women? Completely. But is there a purpose to its savagery? I answer with a poser of my own.Did Apocalypse Now shirk away from the horror?
It walks a delicate line between horror and snuff so it becomes hard to defend Palumbo’s decisions. However, flip it one time and you will see that it simply chooses not to shy away and by doing so, creeps under your epidermis and tucks itself in. Watching the ill-advised R-Rated Cut is as pointless as sex with a stiff but I guess Palumbo needed to compromise his vision in order to salvage a return so he can’t really be held culpable.
Murder Set Pieces should be applauded for its bold transgressive approach to story-telling but, in the same breath, avoided like a traffic warden should your inclination be to the more mainstream experience. It will shock habitually, appall on numerous occasions and stay lodged in your throat afterwards like a virulent gob-stopper. If this appeals then you’re in for an uncomfortable treat but, be warned, once watched it can never be unwatched.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10 (Unrated), 5/10 (R-Rated)
Grue Factor: 5/5 (Unrated), 3/5 (R-Rated)
For the Grue Guzzlers: In its R-Rated incantation Palumbo’s film is much like a defective tab of ecstasy. You sit patiently, waiting for any sort of sign and then it’s over, leaving you light in the pocket and feeling robbed. It is my belief that many of the legions of Murder Set Pieces haters out there haven’t even had the full banquet. It is some banquet, let me tell you.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™