Review: Nail Gun Massacre (1985)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #768

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: December 1985
Sub-Genre: Exploitation/Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $60,000
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Terry Lofton, Bill Leslie (co-director)
Producer: Terry Lofton
Screenplay: Terry Lofton
Special Effects: Terry Lofton
Cinematography: Bill Leslie
Score: Whitey Thomas
Editing: Lynn Leneau Calmes
Studio: Futuristic Films
Distributors: Magnum Entertainment, 88 Films (Blu-Ray)
Stars: Rocky Patterson, Ron Queen, Beau Leland, Michelle Meyer, Sebrina Lawless, Monica Lawless, Jerry Nelson, Mike Coady, Randy Hayes, John Price, Charles Ladeate, Joann Hazelbarth, John Rudder, Shelly York, Michael Bendall, Connie Speer, Thomas Freylac

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Michael Perilstein “Spawn Lake”

[2] SqueezeAnother Nail in My Heart”

[3] Burning The Masses “Nailgun Massacre”

They say time is the great healer and, when it comes to films attaining cult status years after their release, I make them right. Having come of age during the great eighties horror boom, I could reel off dozens of movies that failed to make an initial impact and have since gone on to amass their own dedicated following. Sometimes all it takes is a dash of fresh perspective, to remove said film from its chronological context and reevaluate on its own terms. There may have been something audiences missed first time around; hidden qualities that don’t come to the fore until many years later. Once sufficient time has passed, the tides of change can then roll in accordingly.

When Terry Lofton’s Nail Gun Massacre shot its blank load way back in 1985, it was unanimously regarded as a steaming vial of congealed ostrich phlegm; although not before enjoying a brief honeymoon period of sorts. The striking cover art and self-explanatory title alone ensured that it found a home on the VHS market and, with the whole 1984 “video nasty” name and shame exercise still fresh in the minds of punters, there seemed no better time to ride on some coat tails and make a name for itself. Alas, even in the years before internet connectivity became commonplace, word had a canny knack of travelling fast and Lofton’s film was avoided like a dose of bubonic once folk caught a whiff of the stinking Stilton it was packing. Consequently, it performed the great disappearing act soon afterwards and the general consensus was something along the lines of “good riddance to bad trash”.

As I prepared to brave Nail Gun Massacre once again for old time’s sake over thirty years down the line, I was astonished to learn that reappraisal had cast fresh light over it. Its utter ineptitude, once a damning factor, was now widely celebrated and rose-tinted recollections were suddenly everywhere I looked. I’m ordinarily the first to endorse such a reversal of fortune and would fight the corner of such unsung genre classics as Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of The Witch and Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro until the skies fall down around my shoulders.

That said, while I may have been young and dumb back at primary introduction to works such as these, I already knew I’d be fighting their corners one day as any redeeming qualities shone through straight from the offset and this simply wasn’t the case with Lofton’s film. I may have been eleven-years-old at the time, but I could appreciate the difference between venison and spam and, all available memories had this wretched little movie down as the latter. I’ll never be above admitting when I’m out of line, indeed I actually find it rather a liberating pastime. If this was going to inexplicably prove me wrong, then I’d be the very first to hold my hands up. Therefore by the time I tentatively slid Nail Gun Massacre into my Blu-Ray player, I already had a slice of humble pie cut and my cutlery poised to devour.

Turns out I really needn’t have bothered. You see, time may well be the healer but it can’t nurse a movie like Nail Gun Massacre back from ill-health. Lofton’s film is every bit as deplorable as I’d led myself to believe and no amount of slack cutting can disguise the fact that it sucks on every conceivable level. However, I’m very much mindful of the whole “so bad it’s good” debate that rages on around it and it would be downright mean-spirited of me to suggest it doesn’t possess a certain low-rent charm. Thus, I shall endeavor to cater to any devout fans amongst us, and recognize any strengths in its numerous weaknesses. Be warned, I’ll likely be all out of love long before we arrive at the Crimson Quill’s closing judgement. I’m kind but I ain’t that fucking kind.

Traditionally it is around about now where I offer up some kind of vague synopsis although, to be brutally honest, the plot is as thin as a hemophiliac’s wrist tissue and just as liable to fall apart like slow-cooked lamb off the bone under closer scrutiny. In the interest of giving it the old college try – here goes nothing. Things kick off at a construction site in Texas where, in one of the least convincing molestations in cinematic history, half a dozen randy bucks gang rape the defenceless Linda Jenkins (Michelle Meyer). Fast forward to five months later and a mysterious figure in a combat jumpsuit and black motorcycle helmet emerges on the scene with bloody revenge top of the agenda.

Naturally, one cannot embark on a rampage without attracting the attention of the local authorities and, in Sheriff Thomas (Ron Queen) and plain-clothes doctor Rocky Jones (Rocky Patterson), we have ourselves a pair of barely qualified peacekeepers. Their role is simple – to show up at the crime scene hours later, scratch their heads, and pray the deceased can play dead long enough not to make them look any more stupid than they already do by default.

“Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?”

Before long, the bodies are piling up, and so are the reasons to press eject before any more of our lives are wasted. However, Nail Gun Massacre is so categorically abysmal that looking away for a solitary second means passing up on potential belly laughs aplenty. For starters, the old lady at the grocery store (Lofton’s actual grandmother) delivers her lines like the old dear’s just remembered she’s left the oven hob on and hilariously looks towards the camera for approval at the end of her faltering recital. Then at the scene of one crime, when quizzed by the sheriff over why a dead body wasn’t reported earlier, our eyewitness informs him that they called it in the night previous but were told to phone back the next morning as it was simply too dark to send out the cops. Priceless moments such as these, and a cavalcade of others besides, ensure that we watch on out of morbid fascination, if nothing else.

Don’t even get me started on our killer (whose gender is made abundantly clear from very first introduction… or is it?) as my bladder may not be able to withstand the recollection. Admittedly the blacked-out motorcycle helmet is kind of edgy, but the camouflage gear is rendered somewhat moot by the garish yellow air tank and matching chord or the deeply suspicious golden hearse used to travel from one mini massacre to the next.

Amusingly, nobody ever seems to see our avenger coming, even when standing directly in front of them preparing to pounce. That said, they’re under no illusion as to the grave situation they find themselves in once the cringeworthy one-liners begin, complete with vocoder reverb eerily reminiscent of Darth Vader in a wind tunnel.

If Nail Gun Massacre teaches us anything, then it’s that there is no weapon on earth more deadly than a speeding nail on a mission, even when it’s quite clearly made of rubber. Many of the kills entail just a single round being fired into the victim’s hand and I’d love to know what hardware store the killer uses to stock up on ammo as these particular tacks can secure their quarry to a hefty tree trunk or, in one case that has to be seen to be believed, pin them to asphalt. While the body count is actually fairly impressive, each dispatch is utterly devoid of suspense as the characters possess all the depth of a puddle of ferret sweat and are simply lining up to get nailed.

Nail Gun Massacre is a three-legged mutt of a movie and there’s no getting around that cold, hard fact. That said, I’d be lying bare-faced if I suggested I didn’t glean a certain modicum of pleasure (100% guilt-ridden) from watching it fail so spectacularly. Besides, you have to hand it to Lofton, for whom filmmaking was never dyed in the wool, as he did what he could on miniscule resources and made a movie that folk are still talking about over thirty years on, albeit mainly in ridicule. Alas, we have now arrived at the inevitable judgement and, as pre-warned, it ain’t getting off that lightly. Thus to close I reiterate – I’m kind but I ain’t that fucking kind.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 4/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: When you look at the numbers, this very much constitutes as a massacre as barely five minutes passes without another body hitting the turf. Sadly that’s as good as it gets as, aside from one mistakenly sawed off hand, it’s a one trick pony with precious little form in the grue department. One well placed nail to the elbow can apparently stop the heart instantly and there is absolutely no ingenuity to the kills. Lofton ensures that the bare flesh quota is up to snuff and his roving lens takes every opportunity to zero in on perky nipples, to the point where you can almost hear him tugging himself off behind the camera. Best of all has to be a lovemaking scene against an old oak tree that resembles a five-year-old child’s first dance lesson. Hilariously, the male actor responsible for this bump and grind was later divorced by his wife for his “realistic” reenactment.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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