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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.18%
Worth A Look54.55%
Average: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 18.18%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Back Lot Murders, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Pretty Neat Horror-Flick Parody"
4 stars

It's good, trashy fun, with the proper proportion of blood, nudity and humor.

In light of being extremely disappointed by the dull and inept Jason X, I was really craving an effective slasher flick that needn't be Shakespearean in context yet merely competent at delivering the rudimentary goods of this particular sub-genre: gore, scares, nudity, and sex (and not necessarily in that order). Of course, expectations weren't exactly running high for the direct-to-video The Back Lot Murders, what with its ho-hum story and third-rate actors like Corey Haim "gracing" the proceedings. Surprisingly, though, it makes for a harmless good time. It's the kind of production that relies on every cliche in the book -- which turns out to be perfectly fine in that the cliches are of the most welcome variety, and they're dexterously incorporated into an enjoyable cinematic concoction. I can't rightfully aver that The Back Lot Murders is a horror classic or anything worthy of awards, but it deserves credit for delivering the goods and doing so with a genuine sense of fun.

Basically, what we have here is a serial killer terrorizing the cast and crew of a music video that's likely to be godawful. You see, the band can't play to save their lives (no pun intended), yet the hunky lead singer has latched onto a gorgeous young lady whose daddy just happens to be a big-time record producer. Because of Mr. Big, the band (which has yet to even cut a record) is given this opportunity for widespread exposure. Still, their manager knows something novel is needed to make a knockout impression to help cover and gloss over the unmistakable fact that the music really does suck. And I guess I should also include the following: The set is on the same backlot where Hitchcock's Psycho was shot; the filming is at night; and there's an uninvited guest -- a vicious killer clad in a black trenchcoat, a mask, and a frightwig that looks like a mutation of Elvis Presley's and Don King's hair follicles.

What's brought the killer onboard? Well, in the prologue we're privy to witnessing the band get drunk and act like total assholes in a bar. They're a crass and crude element who think they've got such great potential that people might as well start kissing their asses and not charging them for their drinks, even. After their behavior spurs the owner into eight-sixing them, the vilest of them smashes a beer bottle over the poor woman's head; outside, the rest of the band proceeds to kick the hell out of him and fires him. We're then transported to the present day six months later, where we learn that Mr. Vile was committed to an insane institution, and upon his discharge swore to kill every member of the band. (Uh, do ya think just maybe he's the one who's going to start wrecking merciless havoc?) What ensues is a series of murders, bare breasts, uproarious dialogue, and a lot of (mostly) catastrophic acting. In other words: it's a horror lover's dream.

What separates The Back Lot Murders from the true bottom-feeders of this sub-genre is in its knowingness, of discerning what will effectively play out and how to effectively present it. If anything, the film plays out more like a comedy than a frightfest, and this feels about right. The setting serves as a springboard for numerous "in" jokes ragging on 'ol Hollywood; many A-list films are cited and skewered; and at one point a character launches a verbal assault at low-budget slasher flicks, like deriding Halloween's Michael Myers mask as a cop-out. Yet the filmmakers aren't glib or pompous in their attempts at parody. Unlike the inept Scream series, which exuded a smug air of superiority while relying upon the same cliches the characters themselves made fun of, The Back Lot Murders differs in that it's devoid of pretentious aspirations -- in the end, it acknowledges that absurdities are a given, and absolutely essential in making a flick like this go over well with its fanbase.

Humor is front and foremost the film's main asset; instead of a plodding horror film with doses of humor, it plays out like a comedy with brief interludes of violence, as if the gory mayhem was thrown in only to meet a quota, which, again, is a nice ribbing of this particular sub-genre. It's no accident, I think, that the set-ups to the murders are rather ho-hum; we can pretty much guess which camera shot is going to come next -- a telling point as to how run-of-the-mill and unimaginative many slasher entries have become. The director, David DeFalco (making his debut), doesn't show any great promise, but he manages to succeed at something even a fair amount of A-list directors consistently fail at: putting the camera in what seems to be the best place. Kudos are definitely in order, though, for the cinematographer, whose gorgeous lighting is simply stunning to behold (no small compliment, mind you, being that I viewed this on the heels of the nifty comedy Bandits, which the world-class Dante Spinotti lighted -- when your work doesn't pale too much in comparison to Spinotti's, it's reason enough to take a bow).

And the dialogue is a scream! Some choice samples:

-- "You have assets -- use your ass and your sets."

-- "We have time to get something to eat, so you'll have time to purge before we shoot."

-- "You don't see any water around here, do you? So we'll just have to wash it down with some spit."

While most of the actors are terrible, two manage to shine. Three's Company alum Priscilla Barnes is still easy on the eye and utterly fearless in throwing herself into a role. What she lacks in talent she makes up for in brazenness: when she gets to cut loose near the end, it's with the kind of uninhibited bravado Betsy Palmer displayed as young Jason's avenging mother in the original Friday the 13th. (Only difference: Barnes incites many carnal thoughts. Remember her horny three-nippled fortune teller in Kevin Smith's Mallrats?) And the great Charles Fleischer is amusingly droll as the production's fey director, who's exasperated yet tolerant, a man of such astonishing self-control that whatever comes out of his mouth is laced with a lethal dose of irony; knowing that he's really no more talented than the morons he's directing, he's given to spiking his quips with an attitude that says, "I may be mediocre in talent, but look how wryly I can toss off an insult.". Fleischer's work is a textbook example of how to expertly milk a line for all it's worth. (Thankfully, Corey Haim's screen time is minimal.)

Those who need to be sated by a lot of gore will likely be disappointed by what The Back Lot Murders has to offer up. And while the lead-ups to the murders lack suspense, there's a nice homage to the second Friday the 13th with the impalement of a lovemaking couple. I've got to hand it to the filmmakers: they create a lot more suspense by keeping us guessing when or if the array of beautiful and busty actresses are going to take it off. For a while, I thought this was going to be the most disappointing non-nudity horror outing since Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, teasing us with saliva-inducing cleavage just to shortchange us in the end. But rest assured, for when the bras come off, they do so in spades, and there isn't a pair on display which ranks below an A-.

Big complaint, though: for the upteenth time, we have a heroine in a horror flick who doesn't shed her duds or have sex. Being that the one in this particular case is just as tantalizing as the other babes (with arguably the best cleavage of the lot), perhaps this would have been the time to prove once and for all that a gutsy heroine is capable of both kicking butt and disrobing or fornicating while managing to retain our respect. While this was likely part of the parody, it still didn't lessen this horny viewer's profound sense of disappointment. Like waving a cold drink of water to a person in a desert and then snatching it away when it's grabbed for, prominently displaying top-grade cleavage and refusing to, uh, "shed" light on the matter has become a cliche that needs dumping and burying for good.

It offers up a far more enjoyable time than the overrated "Scream."

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originally posted: 12/20/02 02:28:33
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User Comments

3/04/08 jim killer evlis awesome! 5 stars
8/01/05 Melissa This movie SUCKED! 1 stars
4/06/05 tatum Some fun, Fleischer is funny (for once) 3 stars
7/09/04 Dann B In the scene where the girl in the orange gets stabbed there is no knife in her back!! 1 stars
1/14/04 James C. Williams I love It 5 stars
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  02-Apr-2001 (R)



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