The Film (3.5/5)
I first saw Murder Weapon upon its initial video release. Fished in by the cover, which featured Linnea Quigley and Karen Russell looking all ‘80s hot, I think my friends and I were prepared for a bit of action cheese in the Richard Pepin /Joseph Merhi mode, but what we got was a great deal more bizarre.
Little did I know I was wading into what I believed at the time to be a uniquely feminist slasher film. I remember thinking that a film directed by a woman (Ellen Cabot) about two victimized femmes inviting their ex-boyfriends to a party in order to confront them with their misdeeds was pretty bold. In fact, I recall writing some fanzine blather back in the days before the Internet about how interesting it was when horror flicks were directed by women (I was thinking of films like Blood Diner, Pet Semetary, and Blood Games), and that as pioneering as the genre was in regard to offering up iconic heroines (be they your Jamie Lee Curtis, your Sigourney Weaver, or your Ashley Laurence, or your Catherine Mary Stewart to name just a handful), it could really take a cultural lead by giving a female voice to these female characters.
Of course, it turned out that “Ellen Cabot” was nothing more than the long-running pseudonym of B-movie maestro David DeCoteau, and he took on the name when he started his own micro studio – Cinema Home Video – because he didn’t want to tip financiers off to the fact that he was wearing every conceivable hat on his productions.
Still, the film remains oddly pro-woman, despite – or possibly because of – Linnea Quigley’s near-constant nudity. Quiggles was a producer on this film, and as such, was as in control of her sexuality behind the camera as she was in front of it. Or maybe that’s bullshit? It’s hard to say...
So yeah, as I mentioned at the outset, the plot concerns two women – Dawn (Quigley) and Amy (Russell) who bond while incarcerated in a facility for the criminally insane (a teenaged Dawn murdered her sister’s boyfriend after watching him have sex with her – the old Michael Myers Gambit). The duo confide in/confess to their shrinks, and as these passages start to pile up, they play like The Vagina Monologues was dropped on its head as a toddler. The women gripe about how they were sexualized way too early for the benefit of men – then subsequently mistreated in so many relationships… they rant about using their sexuality for power and control – and how that kind of thing can backfire… they ponder the deeper meaning of their predilection for dangerous, fucked-up dudes (and how THAT kind of thing can backfire)… and they also manipulate their doctors into letting them out of the booby hatch.
Once free, the ladies decide to throw a party – and invite all of their soap opera hunk-looking ex-boyfriends (DeCoteau has always had his eye on beefcake – his current endeavor, Rapid Heart Pictures – caters to gay audiences by casting young dudes as shirtless, showering victims in a cute twist on genre expectations) presumably under the auspices of reconciling with one (or more) of them… but then the dudes start dropping like flies, dispatched in Grand Guignol-fashion (courtesy of the talented David Barton of Modus EFX) by a mysterious black-gloved killer. Intentionally or not (and I have to think it’s kind-of intentional, though DeCoteau never mentions it) the film starts to feel like a goofy Giallo – with a fractured narrative, baroque lighting choices, and garish death scenes.
Eventually the partygoers get wise to the carnage. Led by Amy’s former boyfriend Eric – a “bad boy” who looks for all the world like Kramer from Seinfeld joined The Ramones, and who delivers the film’s best lines (“Don’t be a puss – CHUG IT!” still gets play among my friends twenty-six years after we first heard actor Michael Jacobs Jr. utter it) – the group deduces the painfully-obvious-from-the-first-five-minutes identity of the killer, and tries to fight back.
One of the really cool things about the production is discovering that it was shot in six days. I’ve always loved tales of run-and-gun film shoots like this one (the late John Fasano’s cult classic Rock n’ Roll Nightmare is another great story of a film that somehow runs longer than the time it took to shoot it), and I have a special place in my heart for the filmmakers who carved a niche for themselves in this kind of low budget filmmaking in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Built around exploitable elements and shot with a Roger Corman-esque fighting spirit, these sorts of films – whether they were goofy exercises in horror, dimbulb erotic thrillers, or post-apocalyptic tales of cyborgs programmed to kickbox humanity to the brink of extinction – were the proving ground for many talented men and women – and men who took on women’s names, apparently.
DeCoteau graduated to bigger films with bigger crews, but he cut his teeth in the deep end of shallow pocket cinema – making himself something of a micro mogul along the way.
Speaking of “dimbulb erotic thrillers” – you’ll note that I’ve not said a single thing about Deadly Embrace – that’s because I like DeCoteau and Quigley, and I don’t wish to disparage them. The worn tale of a bored housewife who begins a torrid affair that leads to jealousy, murder, and two days of work for Jan-Michael Vincent (who probably demanded to be paid in cash before the camera began rolling), the film is, to my mind, the crummy flipside of guerilla filmmaking. Devoid of the quirky energy of Murder Weapon, Deadly Embrace – while well-shot – is tired, dull, and severely padded – though in its favor, the padding consists of trippy slow-motion sequences featuring Michelle Bauer (who doesn’t feature into the plot whatsoever, and is billed as “The Female Spirit of Sex” – what?) and Linnea Quigley naked and pawing at themselves, so perhaps that works as an added bonus for buying Murder Weapon? Frankly, I expected more from the magic pen of the heroic Richard Gabai. We don’t even get a Checks song.
I guess I should mention that, in a newly-shot intro to the film, DeCoteau tells us that Deadly Embrace was his most fiscally successful film, so what the hell do I know?
Having only ever seen the film on VHS, I can tell you that the Blu-ray presentation of Murder Weapon is fairly astounding. Colors veer from So-Cal sunny and natural to Giallo-garish depending on what’s going on in the film, and while the 16mm grain structure might be more prevalent than what some viewers are used to, it’s resolved in a very even-handed way. The two-channel mono mix is barely serviceable by today’s standards, but again – remembering that the film used to sound like it was shot M.O.S. and the subsequent ADR was conducted under some throw pillows in the wind tunnel from the finale of Jackie Chan’s Operation Condor, what’s presented here is a stunning improvement.
VinSyn offers commentaries for both films, and while there is some interesting info to be gleaned from these conversations, I felt that the commentary on Murder Weapon in particular was mixed very low. Still, there’s some great info about film production during the video boom era (both of these films are padded to satisfy distributors who would buy pretty much anything so long as it was shot on film and ran ninety minutes – it was a stipulation often written into production contracts), and DeCoteau waxes nostalgic about some of his male leads (and getting a nuanced performance out of Silent Night Deadly Night 2’s Eric “Garbage Day!” Freeman).
He also takes a phone call during the film, but whatever.
There are brief video introductions to both films – along with a trailer for Murder Weapon (that knowingly plays up the film’s campiness) and a brief collection of outtakes from Deadly Embrace. These are presented without original audio, but are mostly a close-up of Michelle Bauer’s cratch as she has a paw through her lacy white undies (did I just sell this Blu to a few fetishists out there? Probably), so how much dialogue do you need, really?
Both films in the set are subtitled, and we get them on DVD, as well. I’d rather the films not shared a disc, but the bitrate does reach the high 20s during both features, so I don’t know that we’re sacrificing a great deal in terms of quality.
I’m in a weird place with Murder Weapon. It’s odd and gory and funny in almost equal measure – but it’s also often slowly-paced (no doubt because of the contractually-mandated running time). There really is a lot to like about it, though – and it features an insightful commentary that illuminates a very peculiar time in cinema history. If you have the kind of fondness for that period that I do (Are you the kind of person who uses PM Entertainment’s production slate as a checklist? Okay then – you’re in), this double feature comes recommended.
Oh – and if you like seeing Linnea Quigley all nake an’ stuff, then this also works.