With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.
Woodchipper Massacre, along with Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit on Your Grave, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, should be included in the annals of horror history grouped under the heading, “Great Titles for a Horror Movie”. Sure, to call the events that take place in the movie a “woodchipper massacre” might be a bit of a stretch — but what a title! You can’t beat it.
Woodchipper Massacre is directed by and stars Jon McBride, a name which even first time shot-on-video consumers should immediately recognize; McBride was instrumental during the late-’80s and mid-’90s shot-on-video wave. (In fact, I already reviewed one of his movies for 13 Days of S.O.V.!) It also stars Tom Casiello — the redhead, bemulleted, brace-face with glasses — who would go on to win several Emmys writing for soap operas as an adult.
The movie sees a trio of youngsters (McBride, Casiello, and Denice Edeal) left alone for the weekend when their father goes out of town on a business trip. For whatever reason, the dad decides these kids need adult supervision (despite the fact that Jon McBride is clearly in his late-20s), so their Aunt Tess comes to watch them while he leaves on business. It’s clear from the get-go that Aunt Tess comes from an old-fashioned, more regimented upbringing — one she intends to enforce on the indifferent kids.
Later on in the movie, Aunt Tess’s son, Kim, shows up to the house, fresh from prison and in search of some money. The group, feeling threatened and unsure of when the dad will return, decide to put the woodchipper in the front yard to good use.
Now, Woodchipper Massacre is a hard to categorize film. It’s nowhere near what I would consider a “horror” film. And while there is a lot of humor, most of it falls flat or sometimes goes completely unnoticed because of how low-budget the presentation is; I found myself thinking many times, “Was what I just saw supposed to be intentionally funny, or was that just bad acting and poor production?” The one thing I can assert is that it definitely gave off a sitcom-style vibe: the kids left alone for the weekend, the single father, the older brother, the annoying aunt, her creepy son who pops up in the third act. They even have sitcom-style credits at the end, which just further solidified my feelings about it. I’d go as far as to say Woodchipper Massacre has invented its own genre: Sitcore. (Bleh, forget it. I’m not tryin’ to coin that.)
While I’m sure there’s no definite correlation, Woodchipper Massacre seems like it inspired a few films (or at least, a few film scenes) that came after it: Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Fargo, and The Mangler — all share plot points very reminiscent of what goes on in Woodchipper Massacre.
My complaints about the movie are typical of any shot-on-video horror flick I’ve seen: mainly shoddy writing combined with terrible, terrible acting. Everyone in the movie is basically just yelling their dialogue, rushing through their lines. Cousin Kim looks like some deranged combination of Gene Wilder and Jeff Daniels’ character ‘Harry’ from Dumb and Dumber. He’s so incredibly over-the-top, it makes me wonder: surely he had to know, right? Wasn’t he ever compelled to scale it back just a notch? And Aunt Tess — who looks like she could be their great grandmother (dear lord, that awful wig) — speaks mostly in antiquated aphorisms, idioms and proverbs. Half of them sound made up. “Sleep is good for the soul”, she says at one point. Who has ever said that? No one, because it’s not a phrase.
However, Woodchipper Massacre does have one strong suit: incredible, incredible music! I mean, really, truly. The opening theme recalls influences from Harold Faltermeyer’s Fletch score. From there, the soundtrack bounces between weird video game sounding music to toe-tapping new wave style instrumentals. The closing credits sound like an Oingo Boingo demo — it’s amazing. All of it is surprisingly listenable.
Before I wrap this up, I wanted to point out two things:
- On multiple occasions we see the day and time onscreen. This is never relevant or vital to the plot in any way. Superfluous, amateur inclusion …or hilarious, multi-layered in-joke? You be the judge.
- The movie opens with a fake statistic crawl, ala The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This is the third shot-on-video movie I’ve reviewed (Cannibal Campout and Redneck Zombies being the other two) that has referenced TCM. Just surprising that even amid the glut of ’80s slashers, these no-budget home movie auteurs were paying respects to the original no-budget exploitation classic.
If’n you ain’t seen Woodchipper Massacre, I suggest it for the music alone. But I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of the hammy acting, too. Just don’t expect any gore: the movie may have a brutal title, but much like its equally-brutally-titled inspiration, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre — it’s fairly bloodless.