Monday, 3 April 2017

The Nail Gun Massacre (1985)


Director: Terry Lofton (and Bill Leslie)
Screenplay: Terry Lofton
Cast: Rocky Patterson (as Doctor Rocky Jones); Ron Queen (as Sheriff Thomas); Beau Leland (as Bubba Jenkins); Michelle Meyer (as Linda Jenkins); Sebrina Lawless (as Mary Sue Johnson); Monica Lawless (as Bobbi Jo Johnson); Jerry Nelson (as Leroy Johnson); Mike Coady (as Mark)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #94

Synopsis: A camouflage wearing, bike helmeted figure driving a gold hearse is picking people off in a small Texas town with a nail gun. Amongst those killed, whilst almost random as a killing spree at first, are builders involved in a gang rape of a young woman some time before. Could the events be connected?

Watching The Nail Gun Massacre, it's a slasher film which invaded a small Texas town and cross pollinated to create a bizarre mutant. It's a notorious film which you can't just call "so bad it's good"; those type of films, outside of film fandom, would be strange as a concept for a casual horror fan to digest, likely to put many off, but something like The Nail Gun Massacre is a more imposing film to try to appreciate, the drastic tonal shift from a serious opening involving rape to the farce it becomes enough to put many off it before you get to the moment after moment of utter ridiculous scenes, dialogue and production issues on display. With the exception of that opening, which is jarring to the rest of the film, that sense of being more strange than most films of its ilk is why I appreciate it more. It's what I'd call "catastrophically weird", a rare breed that stand out for how strange they are because of their numerous technical and logic issues as they are for the odd good virtues they have. Works with so many bad ideas alongside good ones, aspects sometimes like here that cannot be defended in the slightest, and yet such a compelling bombardment of things outside of conventional human behaviour let alone film character logic that they're surreal by accident. Noticeably, why they're rarer, is that unlike a film like Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010), which have one or two memorable traits but are mostly sluggish experiences that need a group viewing or alcohol to work, nearly every minute of these movies are constantly wrong footing you and far more interesting (and entertaining) as a result.

For me a "bad" film isn't enough in being funny in its flaws as it eventually loses any interest. Instead there should be such a density in illogical aspects that you'll find new ones over multiple viewings, which The Nail Gun Massacre has in spades from the film crew being visible onscreen from their reflections in a car door to the hodgepodge of Whitey Thomas' frenzied synth score against the diegetic sounds onscreen, like the inexplicable rifle firing sounds in an open woodland scene that had to be weaved into the film's world when the individuals firing the guns near their shooting area couldn't be shut up by the production crew. The fans of this film legitimately love it and a lot of this is that, like another catastrophically weird film Things (1989) from Canada, it's so out there in its ramshackle tone that The Nail Gun Massacre, which is mainly a series of random killings by nail gun - not even in fatal areas but even death by nail in elbow or stomach - strung together by a slasher film revenge plot, does have a manic lunacy to it. In terms of slashers films, a horror subgenre I can be unpredictable in my opinions on per film, The Nail Gun Massacre is one of the more entertaining examples because it never gets slogged into the predictability of many others due to this tone, and is such a weird beast to experience only over eighty minutes.

It helps as well that the late director and creator Terry Lofton, realising mid-production the problems he was facing (that he needed to shot drastic amounts of new footage to splice in, that people as mentioned were firing guns nearby mid-filming, that cast members became unavailable or had to be replaced by his own mother in one of the more infamous scenes), and went with the punches, adding intentional humour and absurdity to the tone. Thankfully, he didn't start deliberately making a bad movie, a scourge of modern cinema, but continued to make what he wanted to be the next Texas horror film after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), "cheaper than a chainsaw" as one memorable tagline stated, whilst accepting any flaws that came up as part of the film's flavour. Baring the serious first sequence, which is uncomfortable to sit through as it's done as a serious and (actually carefully done) scene of sexual violence, you can easily view the rest of The Nail Gun Massacre, a completely separate film, as having its tongue firmly in its cheek whilst never giving up on trying to be credible as a horror movie, even if it still failed, something which is absolutely applaudable.

Technical Detail:
Another factor is that, like a lot of these American independent horror movies, they still manage to be apt documents of real lo-fi Americana even when they're following the scripts of horror plotlines or this incompetent. The verisimilitude found from having to use local actors or, as mentioned, even the director's own mother (who was the actual store owner of one of the locations) has an immense effect in giving the film more to admire even if the original intentions are found wanting. The actresses cast to do nude scenes yet look like women you'd actually cross on the street at that time in Texas with mid eighties perms and Bridget Jones knickers, the same applying to the men including one now immortalised onscreen in one of the most gratuitously long scenes of the film of his bared buttocks thrusting back and forth dead centre on camera.

Even if the plot's a shambolic mess, devolving very quickly into a series of random kills and characters who appear and then disappear, what I found myself interested in more was the grungy reality of a film that had to rely on non-actors and locations you normally don't seen in higher budgeted horror movies from the time instead. The Nail Gun Massacre is far more rewarding in its humorous asides intentional or not, of the girlfriend unimpressed by her new boyfriend taking her to a cafe for $1.19 grilled cheese, the actor who has to push himself back even when supposed to be playing dead on top of a barbecue he's just landed on in his death scene, the playfully sarcastic relationship between the denim wearing doctor (Rocky Patterson) and the Sheriff (Ron Queen), our central characters following the killer's trail of caresses, or the general sense of a local American town of the time that you rarely got in the glossier Hollywood films. For every gaffe technically or in content, the homebrewed tone helps support The Nail Gun Massacre for all its mishaps by unexpectedly turning it into a document of the place the production was shooting at that time, just one that happens to be wrapped up into a slasher film.

The only gaffe I have issue with, and it could be with how the film is preserved on physical media, is how the audio and music together on headphones is a nightmare at points. Whitey Thomas' music for every head scratching decision, (infamously the piano cords undercutting one piece of the Sheriff's dialogue of example), is also amazingly creepy in its literal screaming tones and drones. The campiness of it doesn't detract from how openly ghoulish it is even in this absurd content. Even the ridiculous robot voice for the killer, whilst making bad puns that can't be heard properly most of the time, still have an appropriate madness to it. The full audio mix however actually gave me a headache, which in some ways added to the current viewing but isn't necessarily needed to appreciate the film.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
The Nail Gun Massacre definitely sits in a place that feels like Texas but is completely alien to planet Earth in general, the sort of place where police go to a crime scene but leave the body, telling the bystanders an ambulance will come to pick it up later in one of many moments of terrible crime scene management. Where one can ask about the wild butterflies and killers being on the loose. Rarely do I find "bad" films to have a sense of anything fun to them because I can't laugh at incompetence and boredom creeps in; in rare cases like this film, what happens is the equivalent of finding yourself in a strange world with its own bizarre logic instead, where even the editing or music is distorted and effecting you. It's amazing actually how such an erratic film, especially as someone with mixed thoughts on the subgenre, manages to still work altogether in spite of the glaringly obvious problem of its mangled production history with extensive reshoots. But a lot of it, intentional and not, is to do with the fact it's a constant barrage of weird dialogue, strange plotting decisions and visible production mistakes. Baring one prolonged scene of the doctor on the phone talking, the film always has something new to stumble over, placing it above many "so bad they're good" movies which coast along with only a few wooden lines of dialogue and mostly blandness. It's probably as much due to Terry Lofton's right decision in being in on the joke that helps with this, wanting to still make a well made film, helped by its use of film celluloid even on 16mm, but taking the blows on his chin without issue.

Personal Opinion:
One with precaution unless a viewing can appreciate this type of cinema on its own terms, but I can't help but like The Night Gun Massacre. Rarely do I like this type of cinema but when it's this consistently odd, it becomes something above being a "bad" film I should laugh at. Instead it has an appropriate deranged energy that intoxicates me, left dizzy afterwards but rewarded by that queer feeling alongside the ridiculous memorable mishaps.


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