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by Jack Sommersby

"An Excellent Scottish Thriller"
4 stars

Worthy of rediscovery.

For a great deal of the time the Glasgow-set serial-killer thriller Postmortem is first-rate stuff with a sophisticated visual design that's right up there with Rowdy Herrington's Jack's Back, Bruce Robinson's Jennifer Eight, and David Fincher's Se7en, three classics of this particular subgenre, which is actually pretty amazing in that the movie was reportedly shot in a mere ten days. Remarkable. There's a dastardly fiend plaguing Scotland's capitol city, leaving behind perfectly preserved nude female bodies in public that have absolutely no physical trauma inflicted upon them; they've had the blood drained out of them after death and embalmed, with only a single needle mark from a syringe containing potassium, triggering a pulmonary aneurysm. As it so happens the latest body has been dumped on the oceanfront property of one James McGregor (played by Charlie Sheen), an ex-profiler of the San Francisco police department who tendered his resignation after a near-mental breakdown stemming from his uncanny ability at being able to identify with the mind-sets of the sicko killers he pursued - with undiluted empathy, he had to walk the thin line between understanding his quarry and becoming them. Flush with cash off his international best-selling non-fiction book detailing his horrific exploits (it's garnered some controversy pertaining to the sympathetic details of these murderers's traumatic childhoods) McGregor has abandoned his wife and young daughter and relocated himself to what he thinks will be a tranquil existence, but he's even more of a mess - a borderline alcoholic prone to ugly rages and amnesiac blackouts. One wouldn't think a just-average actor like Sheen could convince as this complex, troubled hero, and in honest dramatic terms he just doesn't have the stuff, but he has determination and guts and does what in the end is an honorable nice-try. The killer taunts both McGregor and the authorities with faxes with the family first names of the victims; with an advance in computer technology they're able to cross-check these with recent missing-persons reports, but it's always too late after a body is found.

At first reluctant to help the police he accepts a consultant role and lends his expertise on the subject ("It's not a choice, it's a need" he advises them on the culprit's habitual behavior), and we're then shown the fiend isn't some run-of-the-mill monster, but a baby-faced thirty-year-old upper-middle-class sociopath who seems reluctant to do what he does (the bodies are in no way sexually abused and treated with a good degree of respect). Postmortem isn't your typical movie, and the director Albert Pyun isn't your typical craftsman. Working with his usual team consisting of the cinematographer George Mooradian and composer Tony Riparetti, Pyun, who gave us the excellent medieval adventure The Sword and the Sorcerer and knockout action thriller Adrenalin: Fear the Rush, lends the picture plenty of enveloping atmosphere and suspense that clings - he has an ironclad hold on the material and makes it his own; he's "seen" the visual possibilities in his head and voluptuously translates it in every one of the luscious 2.35:1 compositions (the widescreen framing is consistently arresting). And he's gotten an array of notable contributions from his cast, especially from the solid Michael Hausley as the officer in charge of the case who tellingly reminds McGregor over his depressive state that men who are as good as what they do aren't guaranteed the luxury of feeling good all the time, that internal suffering simply comes with the territory. I wish the dialogue had been recorded better, for I lost about fifteen percent of the lines (the Scottish accents don't figure into this, for some of Sheen's lines escaped me, too), but by and large Postmortem is intelligent and requires you pay attention throughout; it's demanding on the viewer, but in a good way in that distraction is not an option if you want to lucidly keep up with the proceedings. The movie is disturbingly unsettling and engineered with the utmost confidence in the moviemakers' vision that makes it quite the experience for those willing to surrender to what is a genuine artistic accomplishment.

While there's a letterboxed YouTube video available, the DVD offers just a full-screen transfer.

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originally posted: 10/26/20 07:30:09
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  20-Jun-1998 (R)



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