Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Dead Hooker in a Trunk

Ok, before I review this movie, which is damn good by the way, I have to rant for a minute first. It’s a tried and true rule in horror cinema, and cinema in general, that if someone stumbles upon a profitable idea, it will be taken, copied endlessly, ridden hard and hung up wet, done to death, and run into the ground. Currently, mainstream, big budget studio horror is riding the tail end (hopefully) of the remake and 3D waves. In indy horror, neo-grindhouse and exploitation flicks are currently all the rage. At least two thirds of the trailers I’ve seen for low budget, independent “genre” films in the last year have featured either fake film aging or an old school “coming attractions” screen. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse may have been a box office disappointment, but it sure was influential. Actually, maybe a better word would be imitated. Fake age drives me nuts. I think it’s ridiculous to buy brand new t-shirts made to look like you’ve been wearing them for 20 years. You have to earn that vintage look. I feel the same way about the fake film aging. It’s just dumb. It was fine in Grindhouse, because it was unique. That hadn’t been done before. Now everyone and their mothers are making crappy slasher or “exploitation” flicks, artificially aging the digital footage, and calling it a “throwback.” It can occasionally work as a nod to the genre's heritage, but a little goes a long way folks! Lines, grain, lost reel gags, and that sort of gimmickry is not what draws us to these films. The best neo-grindhouse movie since, well, Grindhouse was Hobo with a Shotgun, and it had none of that. What makes this subgenre special is its spirit. The ideal that nothing is off limits, anyone with an idea can make a movie, and being as outrageous and potentially offensive as possible is the name of the game. It’s the manic energy, DIY aesthetic, and “up yours” to conventional standards of cinema that made these movies special in the 70’s and 80’s, and it’s what makes the good flicks of this new wave exciting. Which brings me to the flick at hand; Dead Hooker in a Trunk. Dead Hooker in a Trunk doesn’t employ the fake aging, but it is more spiritually akin to the exploitation movies it is inspired by than most I’ve seen.

Badass and Junkie, two friends, wake up after a wild night. Geek, Badasses sister, asks for a ride to pick up her friend Goody Two Shoes from his church youth group. It just so happens that they were on their way to score some drugs anyway, so they agree. When the four meet up, they make a discovery. I’ll give you one guess what it is. That’s right, there’s a dead hooker in the trunk of their car! You sure are smart. Anyway, what the hell are you supposed to do with a dead hooker in your trunk and no idea how she got there? Apparently you spend the rest of the flick careening through a madcap series of misadventures that seem like a “Pulp Fiction-esque” fever dream. All I’ll say is that it involves chainsaw dismemberment, drug dealers, a cowboy pimp, a serial killer, eyeball extraction, necrophilia, bestiality, power drill torture, tied up cops, and God driving a taxi.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk is the brainchild of Jen & Sylvia Soska, identical twins who, in addition to playing Geek and Badass respectively, wrote and directed the flick. The passion they have for films like this and the fun everyone was having making it is evident. It definitely epitomized the DIY school of filmmaking. They have been tight lipped about what the actual budget was, but in an interview on the Altered Realities podcast they said that you couldn’t buy a used car for what they spent on the flick. For a film this low budget, it looks great. The action scenes and gore are amazingly well done, and it has a definite visual flair. Everyone puts in a good performance. The four central performers in particular have a great onscreen chemistry and, in a rarity for movies these days, actual character arcs. The story is very creative and unpredictable. It moves along at a breakneck pace that keeps you constantly anticipating just what kind of outrageousness and weirdness they are going to throw your way next. The final line of the film is both a perfect coda to the ride you’ve just been on and a laugh out loud inside joke for lovers of this type of flick. In other words, this movie is just a whole hell of a lot of fun.

One other thing that deserves particular mention is that title. How could you not want to see a movie called Dead Hooker in a Trunk? That was a brilliant move on the part of the Soska sisters. It’s memorable, intriguing, attention grabbing, and makes it stand out from the glut of direct to DVD indie horror product. Plus, I’m a big fan of the whole “naming your movie after what’s in it” trend. Dead Hooker in a Trunk, Hobo With a Shotgun, Ticked-off Trannies With Knives; you know exactly what you’re in for with those. I wish more mainstream flicks would follow suit. I would love to walk up to the box office window this fall and say “One adult ticket for ‘Fish, Blood, and Tits’ please” instead of Pirhana 3DD. I would also love to see a marquee advertising “Sparkly Pretty Boy Vampires” or “M. Night Shamalan Presents: Obvious Yet Nonsensical Plot Twist.”

Anyone who regularly reads the blog and has seen the movie already knows what my one quibble with it is; the almost non stop jumping, shaking, bobbing camera. In this case, however, I’m going to be a little more forgiving than usual. That’s because in this flick it actually seems more like a stylistic choice than a crutch. The Soskas do actually have a grasp of the concept of shot composition. In a lot of those shaky shots it seemed like the camera was moving within a larger frame that had been carefully constructed. While it’s not a stylistic choice I like, I can dig what they were trying to do to an extent. Despite the wildly unsteady shooting, the violence and action is still fully visible for ample time and allowed to play out naturally, so it doesn’t feel so much like a cheat. The action sequences were also well choreographed, something you rarely see in conjunction with third person shaky cam. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not letting them off the hook for using a filming method that’s become trite and ridiculously overused, but with DHIAT is seems like they wanted to use it because for some odd reason they dig it, rather than used it because they needed it to cover up deficiencies.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk is the kind of flick that deserves and somewhat requires repeated viewings. You almost have to experience it again to catch everything it sends flying at you. I personally had a blast watching it. Sure, the story doesn’t make strictly logical sense, but it isn’t supposed to. That’s part of the fun. The sound is a little rough in spots, but come on, you have to forgive that kind of nitpick when people deliver a movie this good for the pittance they had to work with. It’s far more enjoyable than movies I’ve seen lately with 1000 times the budget. The problem with horror right now is that every movie either takes itself way more seriously than it needs to or is just regurgitating a tired formula. This flick does neither. Not only do I recommend this flick highly, but I welcome the Soska sisters as exciting new artists on the horror scene. I will be greatly looking forward to American Mary, their next project, and everything after. One and a half severed thumbs up just because, despite what I said, I can’t in good conscience give a perfect score to a flick with that much shaky cam. Sorry ladies. Nathan vehemently says check it out!

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