Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Orphan Killer

The Orphan Killer 

There is apparently an important difference between visiting fancy cocktails bars during happy hour and putting a green Fruit Pastille and an old piece of chewing gum in to a can of special brew and calling it a Hobo's Mojito... a Hobojito? The point is that there is a distinction between 'low budget' and 'cheap'. This is no less true with film. Many of the greatest horror films ever made have been incredibly low budget because working within the restrictions of what is affordable can force film makers to create new and innovative shock tactics. When coupled with the resulting rough aesthetic, low budget indie horror can create more atmosphere and tension than any blockbuster ever could. It takes a lot of skill and ingenuity to make this work and the ratio of failures to successes is extremely heavily swayed towards failure.
The Orphan Killer is most definitely low budget and is the story of a blood thirsty masked psychopath who, surprise surprise, kills orphans (along with every other person he comes across). He makes his way through hapless orphanage workers, priests and nuns alike in mysterious pursuit of the female lead, finding innovative new ways to dispose of people along the way. So here we are, sat slap bang in the middle of good old fashioned slasher flick territory.
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Opening titles
So the question is, with such an obviously low-budget does The Orphan Killer feel cheap? This question is answered by the opening credits which consist of shitty animation and a horrible typeface that look like they have been created on Windows Movie Maker. Which is fine in itself, let's not get snobby here, but as much as you shouldn’t judge a film by its opening credits, they look fucking terrible and things don’t get any better from here on in. The horrible title screen is followed by a helicopter shot of a moving car, which is a blatant indicator of lazy writing and cinematography having being lifted directly from ‘Film Making For Dummies: Chapter 1 – The Establishing Shot’.
From here we meet our main protagonist Audrey (Diane Foster) as she leaves her boyfriend’s car, insisting on telling us (with a line so heavy handed I’m surprised her knuckles aren’t scraping the fucking floor) how difficult it is going out with a cop. One can only wonder if any of those cop skills might come in handy later on… She walks into the chapel of an orphanage dressed pretty conservatively apart from fishnet tights that look so out of place you expect her to start a strip tease on the alter. She is the dance teacher/tutor/helper (or some crap like that) to a bunch of rebellious teenage girls who tell the story of “Marcus Miller the Orphan Killer” (such a lucky coincidence his name rhymes) but of course they are just silly stories, there’s no truth to them (nudge nudge wink wink). She watches the girls perform a dance recital and then, in spite of the fact she hasn't done anything more physically active than a fist pump, gets undressed to have a shower. This is a slasher film after all. In another bizarre wardrobe desision she reveals she has no pants on under those fishnet tights. Just what the fuck she was planning to do in a catholic orphanage with fishnet tights and no pants I don’t know, but hey, we get to see her tits so you know... fuck plot... nipples.
For the next half an hour or so, the film takes the story arch of the final act of any by-the-numbers slasher film slowly chasing, stabbing and dismembering its way through the cast. If it had ended there it would have been an over the top cheap horror short but alas there was still nearly an hour left to go. So to fill time the plot throws us into Marcus Miller's (David Blackhaus) back story of sadistic punishments at the hands of the sisters and priests in the orphanage he was left in as a child after witnessing the murder of his parents. Once all that is out if the way we are treated to a very brief and half-arsed foray into the world of torture porn before lazily meandering towards a predictable and clich├ęd ending.
The closest comparison to The Orphan Killer thematically and in desired tone is with Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, which I personally quite enjoyed. The focus on the formation of the mask laden killer’s blood thirst was a nice addition to the Mike Myers canon but only because there was such a strong character to build up to. Mike Myers’ presence throughout his thirty-five year reign of terror has always been instantly haunting and his silent unshakeable stoicism adds weight to his screen presence no matter what his physical stature. Marcus however just seems like a bloke in a shirt with a shitty Slipknot mask on. I first decided to watch this film after seeing a still in which the mask and long hair look pretty cool, but unfortunately that seems to be the only frame in the film which has any depth or atmosphere whatsoever. 
Marcus Miller doesn't seem to know if he is the strong silent type or the preachy harbinger of doom and switches between to two at random. One scene of Leatherface-esque grunting frustration builds a picture tortured and damaged soul more than any of the expositional "I am the apocalypse" bullshit he spouts later on. He spends all the time telling people how horrible he is, rather than actually dealing out the pain he keeps promising. I don’t mind seeing a grown man garrotte a teenage girl with barbed wire, I’ve got no problem with seeing a child beat another child to death with a baseball bat and I don’t care that an elderly nun is sucking off one of the cleaners, and that ultimately points of the film’s complete failure. It tries to tick off taboos and create shocks but doesn’t have the faintest idea of how to present these elements in a coherent structure that actually makes people raise any more than shrug. Also Audrey is seemingly meant to be a strong female lead, yet the film makers still crowbar in an opportunity to let us ogle at her tits, and she is ultimately saved by male intervention.
There's Been a Murder!
Narrative aside, the deal with most cheap, gore-laden horror films comes from an appreciation of the technical and artistic ingenuity. August Underground for instance is as cheap and nasty as they come but its saving grace comes from the skilled FX make-up and camera trickery of Fred Vogel. The Orphan Killer decides to show off exactly the same talent but is lacking it in bucketloads. Most obvious is the over use of dummies and models. From the very first stab to a man’s face the bouncy rubbery contortions of the actor’s replica head are laughable. The worst thing about it is director Matt Farnsworth’s complete obliviousness to this. He lingers the shots for such a long time on jelly moulded craniums that after the initial blow has been and gone you can see the fake blood flicking off the loosely flapping rubber skin. One shot in which a victim has his head slowly trodden into mush was obviously meant to seem brutal in its slow pace but instead looks like someone is stamping on a flesh coloured Boglin. In one instance of torture it is hard to tell whether someone is meant to be having their flesh cut with a knife or just have some blood painted on their skin with the blade.
The overall problem comes from the complete lack of creative objectivity. This is obviously Matt Farnsworth’s baby and he seems deadly serious about the whole thing. He uses every chance he can find to insert his favourite middle-of-the-road metal songs as a soundtrack, every one of which is placed so poorly that they manage to kill what little atmosphere he may have created. It is a personal project made to show off how hardcore he thinks he is. The script is shit, the acting is dire and the technical production is awful. 
Horror can do cheap and horror can do ridiculous but in both cases it has to be done well. When all you do is re-hash tired old storylines and team them up with effects that look like a disgruntled wax works employee getting revenge on the dummies who have been tauntingly staring at him his whole career, you end up with a film that is as dull as it is predictable.


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