Wednesday 14 November 2018

Nail Gun Massacre (Terry Lofton & Bill Leslie, 1985) Blu-Ray Review

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“Now, now. You shouldn't really fall to pieces over me.” Cheaper than a chainsaw, pointier than a pointy thing, this low budget revenge-fuelled slasher brings bargain basement gore to the woods of rural Texas where a maniac with an aversion to amorous couples and construction workers is on the rampage. Cobbled together by determined first-time film makers and exploited by unscrupulous distributors for decades, the journey towards wider recognition has been an arduous one for Nail Gun Massacre, a gritty DIY horror from the heyday of the video cassette that is adored just as much for its unintentional goofs as it is for its scripted sarcasm...

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“But you said we could play Doctor all day today.” After a horrific crime occurs on a construction site, a mysterious someone – dressed in camouflage overalls and a bike helmet – dons a compressed air canister and tools up with an everyday nail gun to right some wrongs. First, a belligerent carpenter finds himself permanently late for work, then a dude takes a few projectile nails to the family jewels. The killer is off to a swift start (travelling about in a golden hearse, no less!) and victim number three soon joins the body bag party. But let's be honest, if you're going to pick chopping wood over fulfilling your beautiful girlfriend's saucy desires then you're gonna get what's coming to ya.

“Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitoes or the killers?” So, who is bumping off the local builders, and why? In-steps Sheriff Tom (Ron Queen), with his wandering tin badge, and double-denim-loving Doc (Rocky Patterson), with his muscle shirts and amateur sleuth dreams. But their investigation lacks any kind of drive, as the Sheriff seems rather lackadaisical in his methods, preferring to ponder rumours of spooky doings at the Old Bailey house (seeing as the bodies have a habit of turning up on that particular property). CSI this most certainly ain't – hell, it's not even Police Squad! – and so the bodies keep piling up as the killer seemingly nails anyone and everyone who dares to wander into the script. From couples canoodling on car hoods to dimwitted dudes play fighting with nail guns (a true story!), this psycho has a penetrating lust for blood.

“You guys played with me, now it's my turn to play with you, and the game's called nevermore!” The mystery as to who the killer is seems all-but wrapped-up within minutes of the soon-to-be mass murderer's appearance on-screen, although it's maybe not quite so simple. Is there one killer, or two? Even writer/director/producer Lofton seems unsure … but let's go with two, that seems to make the most sense and proves more satisfying, even if such a plot point is about as clear as mud when all is said and done. However, considering the meagre $60,000 budget and the inexperience of those involved, it's impressive that they not only managed to finish the film, but gain a cult following that has lasted for three decades and counting. Extensive pick-ups were shot to paper over yawning chasms in the plot, which still remains threadbare and ignores as many tools and traditions of narrative structure and storytelling as possible. However, despite the multitude of flaws on display, this is a clear case of 'learning by doing', and said flaws end up being one of the film's strongest assets with viewers.

“You want a wiener with your buns?” There's a special something, an extra little bit of enjoyment for genre fans, when you see the clumsiness of earnest film makers either learning on the job or trying but majestically failing to soar as they had intended. Ed Wood is often regarded as 'the worst director of all time', but his films are not only still being talked about, but are more popular now than ever – so he obviously did something right! Conversely, all these deliberately 'bad' movies – those 'trick you into buying them' name-a-likes and their ilk – can jog on, because the true 'so bad they're good' movies have been made with love and a truly endearing let's go make a movie! sensibility. Nail Gun Massacre is one of these flicks. Where else are you going to see the Director's own mother literally reading the script during a scene? But there it is, right there on the grocery store counter. Where else will you find the ever-present sound of gunshots written into a scene because the local gun range refuses to quiet down so the crew can get clean audio? Every 'convincing until someone nudges it' rubber nail effect, every half-flubbed line of dialogue, every time someone looks directly at the camera as if they're politely gesturing 'was that okay?' to the director – they all provide the movie with that very specific vibe that fans of classic direct-to-video horror adores.

“I tell you what, if this ain't one hell of a horror movie it's one hell of a biker revenge or something from a motorcycle gang.” Many of the on-screen performers were acting students or locals roped in at the last minute, so quality acting is thin on the ground – and yet the film still manages to pull off some unexpected acts. For example: Trish (Connie Speer), one of the quartet who get redirected to the Old Bailey house, breaks down with a sudden, perishing fear of being left alone when her friends fail to come back from the woods (perhaps the thought of a picnic where the only thing on the menu is Ritz crackers wasn't luring them back?). The scene blasts off all of a sudden, doesn't quite match the tone, and could use a set-up in an earlier scene to justify it. The viewer is tipped off-balance by such a shift – but it's one of those genuine surprises that the film achieves from time-to-time. However, the big splash comes with Linda (Michelle Meyer), whose howls of anguish in the climax – and disturbing assault in the opening scene – throw a shocking bucket of cold reality onto proceedings, but in an effective way.

“The moon is right. This man's ready to howl!” Considering the minuscule budget and patchwork nature of the film's production, it's no surprise that much of the movie feels like a jigsaw puzzle assembled from vaguely mismatched pieces. Some scenes have clearly been inserted after the main shoot, something which writer/producer/co-director Lofton readily admitted, in order to try and make sense of the jumbled plot. As a result there are few characters who last longer than a couple of scenes, so a distinct narrative through-line is almost non-existent, but again, Nail Gun Massacre is a prime example of learning on-the-job. The fact that more than three decades later the movie is still being talked about and still being watched all over the world is, similar to Ed Wood, is testament that despite all the flaws the film makers genuinely achieved something. And for a film made for peanuts you might think that it would be lacking in genre 'juicy bits', but the flick boasts a double digit kill count and numerous T&A scenes. The gore might be modest and the effects lean towards 'hidden in the edit' magic tricks, but the piercing possibilities of the titular murder weapon are fully exploited.

“Well, you just pissed me off.” The sardonic streak spoken by the killer (in their spooky, distorted vocals) presents a generally humorous tone that the movie leans into with gusto, as it opts to entertain rather than shock. Microwave Massacre, another similarly low budget shlock horror affair, leaned into the yucks as well, but Nail Gun Massacre's stab at humour is more successful and more subtle: one character's idea of wining and dining a lady amounts to a grilled cheese special at a noisy roadside diner (a $1.19 bargain!). It should also be noted that, despite the lurid cover art, the majority of the film's victims are male. Lofton spoke of wanting to shift the focus in his horror opus and, had he not passed away too soon, planned on making a sequel in which men would be the sole victims of multiple female killers. Considering all that Lofton learned during the production, it's a shame that he never got a chance to make a second movie and put all those lessons into practise.

“Okay, turd face, cut the small talk – gimme your order.” Entry number 7 in the Slasher Classics Collection from 88 Films brings this niche market genre favourite from the VHS era to the high definition Blu-Ray age. The film is presented in your choice of two aspect ratios – 16:9 (formatted to fill your widescreen telly from side-to-side, but decidedly cropping the image at the top and bottom of the frame) or 4:3 (you'll have black bars to the left and right of the image, but you'll get the full frame with no aggressive image cropping). Being that this film was originally made with the ancillary VHS market in-mind, I would strongly recommend viewing it in 4:3.

Restored from the original 16mm elements, Nail Gun Massacre retains the grit and grain of the source materials, but manages to remove most of any damage that had set in over the years. The mono audio track has also been restored, but there's only so much that can be done considering the original on-location recordings (traffic noise is particularly loud in a few scenes, while the mix means that the atmospheric synth score can sometimes drown out the dialogue).

There's a respectable dose of extras, as well: two audio commentaries, two interviews (one with Terry Lofton, the other with composer Whitey Thomas), a visit to an Alamo Drafthouse screening event, a quick trip to some of the filming locations, and a Texas Frightmare Q&A hosted by Joe Bob Briggs (plus trailer gallery and reversible sleeve). The extras aren't extensive, but go for quality over quantity, imparting plenty of behind-the-scenes tidbits while clarifying why the fanbase love this movie so much. Even newcomers sitting on the fence will warm to Nail Gun Massacre's cheerfully cheap aesthetic after hearing die hard fans sing its praises or share their favourite goofy moments – such as the supposedly dead BBQ victim who stops himself from falling over mid-shot!

N.B. Screenshots are taken from a YouTube sourced video, so the quality is not representative of the Blu-Ray itself (I do not have a BD drive from which to make direct image captures).

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