Smash Cut (2009)
Reviewed by Evil Andy
Starring David Hess, Sasha Grey, Jesse Buck, Michael Berryman
Directed by Lee Demarbre
“I see filmmaking as a business and pity anyone who sees it as an art form.” – Herschell Gordon Lewis.
So starts Lee Demarbre’s (Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter) splatstick comedy Smash Cut, a lovingly crafted homage to the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, starring David Hess (Last House on the Left), and porn starlet Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience). According to Demarbre, he’s spent years trying to convince HGL that his films are art, whether he intended them to be or not. While Smash Cut is certainly reverential, and far more self-aware than other recent HGL remakes, it strangely ignores its own thesis by making a parody, eschewing even the unintentional artistry of the films that inspired it. Ironic that Demarbre, so concerned with artistic merit, may actually have made his most commercial picture yet due to some smart and timely casting choices, a great retro score, and upscale visuals belying the film’s low budget.
If there’s one factor that will help Smash Cut be seen more widely than Demarbre’s earlier work, it is undoubtedly the casting of porn starlet Sasha Grey. It was Demarbre who had the idea to cast her, even before Steven Soderbergh conspired to make her a mainstream star by putting her in The Girlfriend Experience. It’s a little hard to tell how much is poor direction and how much is just poor acting, but her performance in Smash Cut is very porn-caliber. The fact that she plays against type and remains completely clothed the entire film seems apologetic and somewhat counter-exploitative, a curious choice given the films Smash Cut is trying to emulate. Here’s hoping she’s more compelling in The Girlfriend Experience; otherwise the rise of the first unrepentant crossover star may end before it really gets started.
Luckily David Hess is around to liven things up. His acting is so manic, and he appears to be having so much fun, that he practically carries the picture by himself. Sharing a striking resemblance to director Abel Ferrara, Hess plays the role of (surely no coincidence) Able Whitman, a down on his luck director of Charles Band-esque shlock like Terror Toy 2. Being unsatisfied with the realism of his special effects, he begins murdering critics, producers, writers, actors, and pretty much anyone else that gets in his way (video artist government funding competition being the most hilarious). He then cuts them up with a specially constructed clapperboard saw and uses them as props in his films. Again, hard to tell if it’s budgetary restrictions or direction, but the “real” body parts look nearly as bad as the “fake” body parts and aren’t much of a progression from what HGL himself used over 40 years ago!
Despite some limitations, there are two aspects to Smash Cut that are overwhelmingly good for a low budget film: the score and the visuals. The score alternates between Seventies era synth-heavy numbers evocative of Goblin and squeaky horned orchestral cacophonies reminiscent of Color Me Blood Red and Gore Gore Girls, the two films that seem to most have inspired Smash Cut. The visuals also have an Italian feel to them in that they seem more inspired by Argento in terms of color palette and composition than by HGL. It’s not uncommon for HD-lensed films to come away with that shot on video look, so cinematographers Jean-Denis Menard and Karl Roeder should be commended for the saturated Suspiria-like look they wrangled out of their cameras.
The story is dull, the writing and acting leaden, the gore fake, and the porn star keeps her clothes on. Yet, I find myself wanting to recommend Smash Cut because it has an undeniably genuine feeling to it. The guys making it clearly had a good time, and their love for HGL is evident in every frame. It may not be art, but maybe that’s why Smash Cut ends up feeling so much like a Herschell Gordon Lewis film after all.
3 out of 5
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