From Backwoods Horror

Scarce is Finger Lickin’ Bad

Scarce. 2008. Directed & Written by Jesse Thomas Cook and John Geddes.
Starring Steve Warren, Gary Fischer, Chris Warrilow, Thomas Webb, John Geddes, Jesse Thomas Cook, Stephanie Banting, Gavin Peacock, Matt Griffin, Jaclyn Pampalone, Jackie Eddolls, & Jason Derushie.
Bloodlife Films/Two Door Four Door Pictures.
Rated 18A. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★1/2
POSTER Some movies are so bad they’re good. Others are just downright bad, to the point you’re unable to enjoy anything about them other than fleeting moments. Often times you can find enjoyment in a bad film because it’s fun to laugh, poke fun, point out all the bad effects, performances, and whatever else makes you chuckle a little. In certain situations depending on the film, this can make for a so-bad-it’s-good cinema experience.
Then there are horror flicks like Scarce, which cross over into the so-bad-it’s-embarrassing category. This little Canadian horror is never quite able to find its footing. A few scenes are creepy, a bunch are gory and nasty. Other than that it’s poor acting, uninspired directing, and a general mash of ill conceived attempts at tackling the backwoods cannibal horror it so clearly reveres.
Funny. I had a better time watching the Making Of documentary included on the DVD than I did watching the film. That’s only half a lie. I always try to find the good in each movie I watch, no matter how bad it gets. Problem being that there just is not good in every movie. Not all art is art – some of it’s pop, some of it’s art, some of it’s trash. Those are the odds. And odds are, you’ll also agree with me on this one.
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One of the immediately awful parts about Scarce is the fact it’s a Canadian production, clearly filmed in Canada and with Canadian actors, yet they’ve insisted on making it out as an American setting. First off, the accents of a couple actors give away this whole fact. Secondly, I’m not entirely sure why they would bother doing this when there are plenty of backwoods locations across Canada where you can set an isolated film such as this one. Often it’s to appear more commercial, though I’m still not sold on that being of any use.
Later, it isn’t just the performances that are weak. Even little moments that are meant to be scary or dramatic come off as weakened thuds, rather than landing with any impact. For instance, at one point Ivan (Steve Warren) whacks Dustin (Thomas Webb) as he exits the outhouse, and this not at all any type of large stunt, it’s not expensive or intricate, but it looks like absolute dog shit. Small moments like this come off as poorly conceived and executed, which does nothing for the film overall. Only makes the amateur, low budget feel of the movie more evident – this doesn’t always detract from independent cinema, only when it’s painfully obvious, almost pathetically so like here.
The acting is what really does Scarce no justice. While certain elements of the plot and a couple nasty bits of blood are intriguing enough, there’s no good acting to be found. And I don’t care how interesting of a story, or how creepy any of the scenes can get, without solid acting there’s no way any movie can rise above its flaws and feel enjoyable. Although, I have to give it to Steve Warren. Sometimes he can be the worst of them, in terms of performance. All the same, in comparison with his murderous counterpart played by Gary Fischer, his work is decent. In a couple scenes he’s terribly cheesy and forced, but every now and then he’s eerie beyond belief. So even if his acting isn’t close to great, he’s certainly one of the better parts about the performances even if he shits the bed in his role from time to time.
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The backwoods cannibal sub-genre in horror has been done time and time again. Many of us horror fans love a good dose of cannibalism, especially if it’s going down in the isolation of secluded, wooded areas. Right back to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a personal favourite of mine (and so many others), and all the way up to the mostly yawn inducing Wrong Turn franchise. Most of Scarce just feels lazy. As if the writer-director pair opted to take many of the cliched elements in the sub-genre and jam them into the single plot. A lot of the writing itself is lame. There are absolutely unsettling qualities. However, dialogue such as when Ivan talks about how they’ll soon be “nothing but [his] shit” and other of his/Wade’s ramblings make the story and the its characters more laughable.
Visually, there are some moments I enjoy quite a bit. The biggest is when Ivan and Wade take the guys out in the morning to let them free in the woods, before hunting them with a rifle, and there’s this excellently eerie piece of music from the score along with a stylized, brief sequence of Wade hauling the two victims by their chains, them bloody and worn down. This was a solid, if not too short scene. A little while later once the guys are running through the forest, there are some nice shots. It’s too bad this couldn’t have extended to the rest of the sequences where everything felt overwhelmingly bland. These couple minutes actually look great and then we quickly return to the film’s laziness.
Finally, it’s the hole blown in Ivan that takes the cake for best effect. They probably blew a large portion of budget on this one gag alone, as it’s a combination of CGI and practical work. Nevertheless, it definitely works, and the hole in his torso looks genuine. A nice dose of gore in the the final ten minutes to really try and impress us. Too little too late, but a noble effort indeed.
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I can’t give this any more than 1&1/2 stars. Even then I’m not totally sure it deserves that much. Still, there are little elements in Scarce that give you enough to hold onto, if only for a little while. You certainly won’t be blown away, by anything. Not once.
At the same time, give it a chance and at least see the effects. There’s a bit of sloppy gore, some wild blood. I own it simply because  I bought it on a whim for $10 somewhere. Definitely not something I’d seek out to buy otherwise. At least there’s partly some spirit of horror alive in this flick. Underneath so much less than mediocre fare.

The Hills Run Red with the Sounds of Slasher Horror

The Hills Run Red. 2009. Directed by Dave Parker. Screenplay by John Dombrow & David J. Schow.
Starring Sophie Monk, Tad Hilgenbrink, William Sadler, Janet Montgomery, Alex Wyndham, Ewan Bailey, & Danko Jordanov. Fever Dreams/Warner Premiere/Dark Castle Entertainment.
Rated R. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER I’m a lover of the slasher sub-genre. When I was young, renting a slasher flick was like the ultimate rebellion in terms of what I could rent at the video store. I’d seek out any little film if it had an interesting mask, a creepy villain, anything that felt ready made to chill. Sometimes that led me to terrible efforts that didn’t simply show their budget, but also contained nothing in the way of good acting or decent writing. Other times I stumbled across hidden gold, movies to this day I still watch on occasion. Back in the day this wound up introducing me to classics like The Burning and the wonderfully unique Candyman.
In 2010, I got the chance to see The Hills Run Red. There are times the acting isn’t completely amazing, though never is it pitiful like some slashers at the bottom of the barrel. But what this sub-genre picture does right is it brings an interesting and unique story, also offering up a nasty slasher villain with an eerie mask.
So for all its fault, this film tries hard. Boasting a premise centred around a fabled slasher movie made by reclusive auteur horror director named Wilson Wyler Concannon, The Hills Run Red takes on the DNA of a backwoods thriller that takes city folk into the deep, dark woods. What lies beneath is a twisted and vicious slasher that has such bloody sights to show us.
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The mask is creepy enough on its own. Sadly this one won’t turn into a franchise, though it would make for one hell of a series in my mind. But that mask, the baby face, it has the potential to be iconic. Babyface himself is a terrifying figure. The way we slowly find out more about him throughout the screenplay is excellent. And the writing also serves him well. Instead of seeing some of the more gruesome moments, such as him assaulting Serina (Janet Montgomery) which clearly happens as evidenced by the post-credits scene, the writers opt to let the lead-up speak for itself. The blood and gore is there for Babyface, however, as opposed to some other movies with similar events this one decides not to go too hard for the jugular on unnecessary sexual violence. And that makes the villain scarier to me. Sure, he still does awful things. Not seeing some of them increases the fear, as what we don’t see then becomes heavier than what we do. There’s one moment where Babyface becomes infinitely more unnerving: when he captures Serina she tries pleading with him as if he’s this absolute maniac, then he speaks to her in plain words, so matter-of-fact and – dare I say it – sane. His brief line or two here sends chills down my spine.
We got solid doses of blood here. Even the movie within a movie shot where the blood literally runs down the hills actually used a massive amount of fake blood, which in turn looks awesome. The cult slasher they track down is fun, as we get to see actual clips ourselves. Between the kills there and those in the actual movie itself, there is plenty to indulge.
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A few particularly solid slasher kills. One is the two trees scene from the lost movie by Concannon where Babyface essentially tears a woman apart with barbed wire. This one is outrageous, but so much horrific fun. Its implausibility be damned; I love a weird, wild murder like that amongst some of the others. This is a trope of the sub-genre, and director Dave Parker uses it well, among others. Then there’s some of the more realistic stuff like later when Lalo (Alex Wyndham) is being tortured and killed. Finally, we return to the excellently ridiculous stuff such as when Babyface has his mask ripped off, then is forced to wrap it back on with barbed wire. Gnarly stuff, which I dig. The entire final 15 minutes has got some proper horror work, from the kills and the blood to the face underneath Babyface’s mask. All of it is the epitome of macabre and wonderfully grim.
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The performances are decent. However, it’s William Sadler and Sophie Monk that are worth watching. Sadler is always enjoyable – I’ll always remember him most as the stuttering, hard ass convict in The Shawshank Redemption. Here, he gets very dark. Concannon is a mystery, an enigma, and he seems pretentious like an arthouse horror director full of himself to the point of nausea. Later on we discover there are highly hideous layers to the skin he wears for the outside world, and Sadler brings out the mania of the character so well in the last half hour (or less) once we see him more. Then there’s Monk, someone I’ve personally never watched in anything. She doesn’t do anything overly amazing, but she does in fact fool me. Part of that’s the writing. Yet she is able to subtly play a part that could easily telegraph its development miles ahead. Rather, Monk gives us a view of this complex woman, and then when her character is fully fleshed out near the end it’s genuinely surprising. Nothing awards calibre, though this film doesn’t need anything like that. Monk plays it coy and sexy early on as the junkie stripper, then becomes much more sinister as the time goes on.
Also, I cannot do a review without mentioning the man playing our unnerving slasher villain, Danko Jordanov. He is silent the entire time except for grunts mostly, then the one or two lines which absolutely crush my soul, so to keep a certain presence onscreen with only a costume and a mask and his physical intimidation is an impressive feat. Yes, the mask is a scary piece in itself. Aside from that just how Babyface moves inspires fear. To me, this killer is iconic. I don’t care if this movie is way under watched and unloved. Babyface belongs up there with a lot of the big baddies in the slasher sub-genre.
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No, The Hills Run Red is nowhere near a great slasher picture. Although I’ve got to say, it’s a sort of favourite of mine ever since first seeing it. It suffers from some less than stellar acting from a few of those involved. Monk and Sadler save the film on that front just by giving it their all with an enticing energy. What this movie lacks in certain areas it makes up for greatly in its fun. There are wild kills, raw and honest ones. The central aspects, its killer and the lost film, are interesting. On the whole, the elements which need to work are well executed. Every time I throw on the DVD now I still have a ton of horror fun, no matter if a few bits and pieces don’t match up with its best parts.
And no, this isn’t going on to become a series, spawning an entire franchise.
But let me tell you this, none of that means Babyface isn’t a great slasher killer. He is a villain commanding attention, fear, respect. Okay, maybe not the last one.
Just don’t expect to live if you hear his rattle. Respect that.