Jade Cochran (Claire Brennen) is a diner waitress with a terrible Southern accent and an even worse boss. When an advance man for a traveling show stops in for lunch, Jade leaves the greasy spoon behind for an exciting job at the carnival…..as a waitress.
Jade’s wonder at her new home allows director Byron Mabe (The Acid Eaters) PLENTY of time to linger over every detail of the shooting location, and there’s actually a pretty decent industrial/time capsule of carny life in all the meandering. Set up, tear down, hand painted banners, the actual mummified corpse of an Old West outlaw and accurate explanations of the snappy slang of showfolk are all present and accounted for with a 60’s lounge pop soundtrack.
After 20 minutes of grab ass at the greasy spoon, and a solid half hour of Jade’s day at the fair, the film suddenly remembers the framing device at its opening and gets into its actual plot. That plot being a half cooked knock off of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, Freaks, give or take the actual sideshow performers and a burlesque style stripper.
Jade is our ersatz scheming acrobat, character actor Bill McKinney is the sweet natured sucker, and the firing of a little person ever so cleverly named Shorty (Felix Silla) is the catalyst for the unseen freaks’ revenge. Gorgeously tense avenging angels advancing in the rain, a few extras lit with color gels holding prop knives in their teeth, what’s the difference? You say potato, David Friedman and crew say po-tat-o.
The final transformation of Jade manages to be campy, crepe-y and cleavage-y all at once. Unless you are a sucker for circuses, carnivals and other old fashioned American amusements, its a bit of a slog to get to the reveal the movie sets up for in the opening sequence. If you have particularly fast fingers you can freeze frame the trailer above and catch the monster. Those with poor twitch reflexes can check out the poster art. Either way, you’ll have seen enough of this She Freak to to get your ten cents worth and make haste for the egress.
In the last of what I’d consider the extended intro pieces for this blog, lets take a second to examine the era of shoulder pads, Aqua Net and cocaine, 1985 to be precise. The grindhouses and the drive ins are on life support, the home video revolution providing one of the last nails in their collective coffin. Rather than travel to the worst part of town and risk your dignity and/or your wallet to catch a screening, you could enjoy self programmed double and triple features in the privacy and comfort of your own home. No sticky seats, prying eyes or having to carefully watch the schedule for a replay of your favorite reels of sex, splatter and sensationalism.
The one big carryover from the grindhouse when home video became the dominant venue for schlock, was the legion of idiosyncratic films, fueled mostly by sheer hubris. This is perhaps the class of cross era trash my black heart has the biggest soft spot for. Be it once faded mainstream stars or a dime store auteur, they never let lack of budget, talent, good taste or logical sense stand in their way. A dream is a wish your heart makes, and this class of cinematic defilers made their putrid zombie babies with love. None of it is competent, but you can tell the makers of this type of shit film (most of whom made only 1 or 2 movies) thought they were genuinely making something, cool, new or remotely important. They were wrong. Horribly wrong. That smooth sugar of effort still makes this stuff go down way easier than purposefully bad cynical cash ins like “Sharknado”
Which brings us to today’s film, a micro budget, Texas made slasher from one and done director Terry Lofton:
The hellishly loud bong of distorted Casio synth presets plays over the cold open. The fade in is a gang of construction workers sexually assaulting a young woman. The scene is pretty brief and isn’t played for titillation as much as some other films of this era….but if you are looking for anything genteel or tasteful in a movie called “Nail Gun Massacre”, you are reading the wrong blog entirely. There is a hasty jump cut to yet another greasy redneck screaming about clean shirts while his wife hangs the laundry. A leaf crunching killer in woodland camo is shown stalking toward the family’s home. Actually, “stalking” is being far too charitable, given the motorcycle helmet, huge yellow air tank, and the fact that the killer is stomping through the woods carrying an industrial nail gun.
Country fried wifebeater meets his demise via nail in the forehead, causing the killer to quip in a distorted voice about the worst headaches being right between the eyes, MUAHAHAHAHA. This movie has a high body count for the budget, and every single kill gets a wisecrack that would make Henny Youngman roll in his grave. The woman and child run away through the woods in what is Foley designed to sound like cornflakes over Jello, roll opening credits. The music accompanying this is just some manic laugher recorded near a desk fan, and we are on our way to the titular massacre. Kind of.
First we get a pointless distributor mandated T&A break, where a guy named Mike and his girlfriend are rolling around with a stuffed toy Snoopy, talking pillow talk that sounds like a 14 year old’s fantasy of what sexytimes sexy sex talk is like. The girlfriend shakes her breasts and pouts about needing an “organ donation” because her expensive cleavage is lonely.
Mike has to cut this ever so sensual interlude short, as he has a pressing appointment to go “cut wood” with his buddy on the edge of town. This is NOT a paraphrase. That’s the dialog in the final cut. He hops in his pickup and leaves to go have an annoying expository chat with his BFF Brad about bodies being found out there, and that they don’t fear the killer because they are in TEXAS and they have this here CHAINSAW. Right on cue, the killer arrives to off Brad as he’s taking a leak, because now he’s “really pissed off”. Mike falls into his chainsaw after being nailed to death, and cuts his own hand off. Not that it matters. Because he was already dead. Our ever so stealthy killer then drives off in a stylish gold hearse. Because who’s going to notice a neon yellow air tank carrying, helmet wearing killer driving a car straight out of a Dolemite Halloween special?
Not the local yokels, who discover the truck days later without bothering to look for bodies, call for back up, or remove the truck from the road. Instead we cut to the director’s actual grandmother, playing the challenging role of “clerk of the store she owns”. Her game, but utterly stilted, delivery of the single most ridiculous line in the film is a wonder to behold:
Clerk (to customers): Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitos….and the killers?
She ends her brief cameo by looking straight into the camera, handing over the groceries, and revealing a copy of the script in plain view. God bless Meemaw Lofton.
I would like to think that this scene was also the moment when the crew realized they were in way over their heads. When you can’t make someone doing their real life job look or sound remotely natural on camera, the shooting script is the length of a memo and your own grandmother looks nervous at what the hell it is you are up to, you might have miscalculated a tad. The rest of the film abandons what little logic it had managed to establish. It’s non stop blood, boobs, bad puns (and even worse sense) from here on out. It’s also an absolute blast.
Though we never see the nails fly through the air, a host of interchangeable victims meet their fates through inexplicably lethal wounds to the extremities, because the killer (and I quote) “doesn’t want money” (s)he wants “REVENGE, asshole!”
Could this possibly have something to do with the gang rape at the start of the film? It’s difficult to tell for sure, as the Goofus & Gallant team of county sheriff and Canadian tux wearing town doctor leave pretty much every stone unturned. No matter if it’s a gold hearse on the side of the road or a corpse in the street, they can find some way to ignore it. Granted, some of the actors playing corpses are still visibly breathing, but the point stands.
The new residents of the property where everyone keeps turning up dead are missing a nail gun? Interesting. Construction worker hobbies on a local job site include nail gun fights and cheerfully talking about the joys of townie rape? What’s a sheriff to do? Head straight to Burger King.
To kill some time, and allow Sheriff Stress Eater to complete the longest journey from point A to logical conclusion B in human history, we get a borderline slapstick scene involving a dumbass managing to piss off both his current and ex girlfriends at a Dairy Queen. Inexplicably the new girlfriend then has sex with this loser in his car. The radio repeatedly blasts a disco record about foosball, which succeeded in distracting me from trying to figure out what the fuck “Hornier than a rooster in a Chinese henhouse” is supposed to mean.
As Sheriff is still busy (clearly with a line at the Dairy Queen), we kill some more time by cutting to a portly man who has mastered the obvious, as he mentions the killings are likely connected to the construction site. As his daughter changes into a swimsuit, he goes to check on some steaks he has grilling by the pool on this sunny afternoon. As this character is also not given a name, we all know what happens next. Our murderous mystery date pops out from underwater, pumping the unnamed bearded man full of nails until he falls face first into his own barbecue grill. I was thrilled that old helmet head had finally unlocked the “stealth” achievement. However, what would have been the coolest death in the movie is promptly ruined by being able to see the “dead” actor grabbing the fence to avoid hitting his head:
Just as Doctor Dumbass calls in a request for criminal profiler, Sheriff Sugar Doughnuts finally realizes what the rest of us figured out ages ago….the rape victim might have reason to want to see some creatively dead construction workers. Good job, Davey Diabeetus! It will still take him a solid week to do a god damn thing about this marvelous revelation, so cut to the killer dispatching 2 more unnamed women with this immortal line:
Killer (to victims): Time to get your NAILS done!
The doctor FINALLY goes to talk to our victim, who vehemently insists she knows nothing. Our slow as molasses sawbones also wants to talk to her brother, Bubba. He’s apparently out for a drive in his old hearse. The chase (and the light bulb) is on, and both the doctor and the girl rush off to the building site on Old Town road. It’s a mid speed chase, at best.
The hearse does a “Dukes Of Hazzard” death splat over a hill, and our killer runs straight up onto a construction catwalk some 30 feet up:
Catwalks. They end. So our mystery murderer conveniently falls to their death:
This gives Deputy Double Cheeseburger time to arrive for the final unmasking, which reveals…….
……. a character who is clearly a completely different height and build than the person who wore the camo suit for the rest of the movie. A character who would have absolutely no reason at all to mention the rapes in the first person. A character who was in the movie for all of maybe 90 seconds before this moment.
I guess everything (including nonsensical twist endings and masterpieces of unintentional comedy) really IS bigger in Texas.
Let’s take a journey deep into the heart of the public domain, to talk about “Scream Bloody Murder” a negative bank balance budget 70’s slasher that can be found everywhere from the Internet Archive to $5 DVD sets at big box retailers. The leading man is a one film wonder, and every print I can get my hands on is damaged and so yellowed it looks jaundiced. Even so, “Scream Bloody Murder” in slightly better shape than “Death Drug” by virtue of having actually made it onto the lowest rungs of DVD.
However, it is also a fantastic example of a basic class of filmic dumpster fire. These sorts of films wander out of obscurity by virtue of sheer manic gusto. Plot elements and set pieces are piled on top of each other in pedal to the metal crescendos of sex, violence, and sheer weirdness. Plotting or tension building is irrelevant, plot threads, characters, or entire chunks of the film are blithely made non entities in service of the next passing thought. Given budgetary constraints and often concise run times, if you go several steps too far as standard procedure, one of the 8769476834678937 ideas you’ve thrown against the wall will stick before the end credits roll. It’s filmmaking as Mad Libs. The result might be comic. Its also likely nonsensical.The zippy pacing and low investment of effort threshold will also probably go a long way toward making the end result entertaining overall. Now let’s get to “Scream Bloody Murder”:
The pre credit open is a farmer working next to a tractor, while his bowl cut sporting moppet plays nearby. As soon as Daddy’s back is turned, the kid hops into the driver’s seat, and mangles dear old Dad to death under the wheels. Why? Because someone remembered “The Bad Seed” was a huge hit in 1956.
In a lightning fast bit of instant karma, the kid then loses control of the tractor, falls down, and MANAGES TO RIP OFF HIS OWN HAND under those same wheels. We are at the 3 minute mark, and we’ve already had two bloody “industrial accidents” and as much straightforward exposition as we are going to get regarding anything that happens in this entire movie.
Post credits we get a quick scene of the dime store bad seed getting hauled off to a mental ward, then a flash forward to the adult version reading (via voiceover) a letter from his mother. We learn our protagonist’s name is Matthew (Fred Holbert in his only film role), asylums look like mid tier day spas with kicky little striped robes, Matthew’s mom has been too busy to visit because of her new boyfriend, and that Matty boy now has a hook for a hand, likely because it was the cheapest way to explain away the missing one. It still gets a stinger music cue straight out of “Dark Shadows”.
We get the director’s credit (Marc B. Ray, who only helmed that particular chair for 3 films) and a pouring blood graphic to cut to Matt’s homecoming after being released. Too bad it’s the same day as Mom’s wedding to that pesky boyfriend, and no one even knew the he was arriving back. Once the newly minted husband & wife do sort out who the one handed man is in their driveway, they attempt to seem remotely interested. Matt tosses a snitty shit fit worthy of any teenage edgelord that ever moped across a shopping mall to the Orange Julius.
When Matt takes a break from sulking and farmwork to peep on his mom & stepfather kissing in the garden, he promptly murders them. The unmitigated gall of getting married and seeming happy about it was bad enough, but when stepdaddy kisses Mommy/Madonna (and makes her a filthy whore) he dispatches them both….with an axe and a rock. Even though he has a sharp object attached to his arm.
Matthew then hits the road and runs…… from the mother of all Oedipus complexes. He hallucinates his mommy being mauled by filthy men in everyone he meets, and none of the women he “saves” appreciate his sacrifice, so they get bloodily dispatched too. The newlyweds who pick him up hitchhiking? He bludgeons the man with a rock and then drowns the woman in a stream. The imagined taunts of his dead mother and step father ring loudly enough in his ears that they drown out the smooth jazz on the soundtrack, as he once again makes haste to avoid the rising body count.
Meeting painter/hooker with a heart of gold Vera(Leigh Matthews, a two film wonder), things brighten a touch for our little Matt. He compliments her art, renames her Daisy, brings her flowers, and kills a john for treating her poorly. If that isn’t love, he doesn’t know what is. Also, the dead john? Killed with Vera’s stolen palette knife. What do the death sequences of this film and the song “Triumph” by the Wu Tang Clan have in common?
No hooks to be found in either of them.
Desperate to impress and to make good on his claims of wealth and success to fulfill his inane white knight fantasy of “saving” Vera/Daisy from sex work, he murders the entire household of the closest fancy house he can find. For those keeping score at home: Time elapsed: 50 minutes Body Count: 9 Implements used: 7 Kills via Hook Hand: 0
Matthew kidnaps his lady love and steals from locals to provide her with all the creature comforts you could possibly need while tied to the stolen bed of a psychopath. I would also be remiss if I didn’t pull out this notable quotable, both for the actual content, and the perfectly petulant delivery:
Matt (to Vera/Daisy): See what I do for you? I get groceries, and clothes, and art stuff, and kill people, and do you appreciate it? No.
“Scream Bloody Murder” has always been a favorite of mine, and the sequence post kidnapping has always been a big part of the reason why. In a film who’s very existence indicates a gaggle of questionable choices, Vera/Daisy never falls into the Bermuda triangle of slasher victim bad decisions. She defies Matthew’s insane directions as best as she is able, be that spitting food back into his face or insisting on being called her real name. The second Matt leaves the house, she hobbles to the phone, even if her bondage means she has to dial a rotary phone with her tongue (a rather impressive skill). She hops downstairs and makes noise when she hears the doorbell. She’s always plotting escape, and eventually she finds Matt’s Achilles heel. Like every other character based on Norman Bates’ basic template, he’s terrified of women, terrified of sexuality, and female sexual agency makes him just as limp as his knives and threats are sharp. In the context of needing a bath, Vera/Daisy forces him to attempt to play pool with a rope, and upends the power dynamic just long enough for another chance to flee.
Unfortunately, just as Vera/Daisy’s plan starts to work out, the unfamiliar sensations of wanting to be filthy cause Matthew’s hallucinations of Mommie Dearest to come back back in full force. He snaps, and finally slashes Vera/Daisy’s throat with the hook. The one character we have reason to care about is just a few STEPS from freedom, and Matthew FINALLY learns to keep it simple, stupid.
Matt’s mind completely snaps, and hallucinations of all of his victims stalk him, cackling ungodly loud on the soundtrack. He runs away, then steals a car, abandoning it to try to hide in a church. Unsure if what he is seeing are real ghosts or tricks of his own mind, we see him finally get his fondest wish, giving the apparition of his mother a tongue kiss, then collapsing and spitting blood.
The ghosts/hallucinations/whatever raise hooks, Matthew raises his…….
…….and eviscerates himself with his own hook. Instant karma strikes again, and this dumbass goes to his grave never having learned.
This is actually the poster/tagline for a much better film. Rightfully, the term gore-nography probably belongs to either “Blood Feast” (the originator of gore horror) or ” I Drink Your Blood” (first film rated x for violence/gore)