Welcome to the 3rd edition of Horror Down Under, a column series in which I review horror films from my home country of Australia. The purpose of this column will be that it will act as a showcase for various horror related film projects that have been made Australia in hopes that it will get you interested in checking them out for yourself. I’ll be reviewing a wide range of Aussie horror films of various quality from the excellent to the terrible, the all time classics to the latest releases to the completely forgotten, etc. For this 3rd edition I dive into an Aussie horror film that released during the height of the post SCREAM slasher craze in the late ’90s/eary ’00s: the 2000 slasher horror/comedy CUT…
SCRIPT: Dave Warner
CAST: Molly Ringwald, Jessica Napier, Simon Bossell, Sarah Kants, Frank Roberts, Geoff Revell, Stephen Curry, Sam Lewis, Cathy Adamek, Tiriel Mora, Kylie Minogue.
PLOT: A group of film students attempt to finish a horror movie that stopped production years earlier when the director was killed. Unaware that every attempt to complete the pic coincided with the murders of those involved, the students return to the original location in an isolated part of the country. When filming begins, so do the killings.
I think that it’s pretty safe to say that if you asked any horror fan to write down a list of horror films that they believed had the biggest impact on the genre over the pass 25 years, one of that would definitely be on there would be Wes Craven’s classic 1996 slasher film SCREAM. When you think about it, it’s not hard to understand why. While the early to mid-’90s produced many great quality horror films, sadly most of them didn’t really do that well at the box office. Sure there were quite a few horror films that were commercial hits, they were just few and far between. However once SCREAM was released in 1996 and became a huge box office smash it, it completely rejuvenated the horror genre for moviegoers overnight. Especially the slasher genre, which practically became dead not long after its Golden Age in the ’80s. Seeing the box office potential that they could bring, film studios from both Hollywood and abroad instantly green-lit many slasher films so that they could capitalise on the popularity of SCREAM. For the next couple of years they became a big trend again and countless varieties of slasher films were produced during that time: some came from major Hollywood studios, others were independently produced, some were sequels to classic ’80s slasher franchises and even a few came from other countries around the world. Not too to be outdone, Australia also jumped on the band wagon as well and produced its very own slasher film at the height of the sub-genre’s resurgence: the 2000 horror/comedy CUT. Despite its solid marketing campaign and mainstream appeal, the film was a massive critical and commercial flop when it was released in Australian cinemas back in 2000. Plus it probably didn’t help that it was released the same year as two other similarly themed slasher films about filmmaking: SCREAM 3 and URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT (although funnily enough, it did do surprisingly well in both France and Hong Kong). Luckily like many Australian horror films, CUT has gained a bit of a cult following in the years since its release.
When I first heard about CUT back before its release in 2000, I was legitimately very, and I mean VERY, excited to see it. Probably even more so than anyone else was at the time. Why’s that you ask? You see when I was a 16 year old kid in high school, I was slowly coming into my own as a horror fan and I would pretty much check out any horror film that I could get my hands on. Out of all the earlier ones that I did watch, it was slasher films that I responded to the most. There’s many reasons why that is, the main one being that the first horror film that made me fall in love with the genre was in fact a slasher film (in case you were wondering, it was bizarrely… FRIDAY THE 13TH – PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD. Seriously, I’m not joking). So when I heard that Australia was making their own SCREAM-like slasher film, I knew that I had to see it. Once the film became available on video later on in 2000, I rented it out right away on the first day. After I first watch it, I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much that I bought the VHS as soon as could (which I still own to this day). So how do I feel about the film now 17 years it’s release? I must admit that even though I don’t love it much as I did back then, I still get a kick out of the film nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong its definitely not a quote unquote *good* film by any means and it does suffer from a lot of problems but that being said, I always still have a really fun time watching it. I suppose it could be a mixture of nostalgia and it being an Aussie made slasher film as to being both the main factors as to why I’m a lot more kinder to it than most other horror fans but honestly out of all the slasher films that were released in the post-SCREAM era, I felt that this film was one of the more entertaining entries. While CUT does have a lot of the same elements that were common in most late ’90s/early ’00s slasher films (self-aware meta humour, references to other horror films etc. Although it makes sense here since the story set around horror films and filmmaking) but unlike those ones, it manages to also replicate the vibe of classic ’80 slasher films as well. It’s a tricky tone to get right but director Kimble Rendall was able to combined both these styles together nicely.
While I know that a lot of people will criticise Kimble Rendall’s work here as a director but for me personally, I thought that he did a solid job with his debut feature film. Sure there are some aspects of his filmmaking skills that were a bit flawed but if anything, he took that was admittedly a rather average story on paper and elevated it into something that was really enjoyable to watch on screen. Since Rendall’s background is that of music video director (prior to that he was also a member of legendary Aussie rock band Hoodoo Gurus), he gives CUT a fun and fast paced energy to it with his direction. Plus he has a good grasp of balancing both the comedic and horror aspects so that it never makes the film feel tonally uneven. I also liked how when it came to the scenes for the film-within-the-film HOT BLOODED (which sounds more like a title for a teen sex comedy than a slasher film), they are done in a rather deliberately cheesy way. Whether that’s intentional or not, I’ll leave it up to you. Now when it comes to the performances of the cast, they’re all over the place in terms of quality. However despite that, there were quite a few cast members who I thought did well. Two of which were the film’s lead stars Molly Ringwald and Jessica Napier. While this film was clearly a pay check gig for Ringwald, you can also tell that she’s still having an absolute ball playing the role of diva-ish Hollywood star “Vanessa Turnbill”. The character could have easily have been very unsympathetic but Ringwald brings some qualities to “Vanessa” that make her quite likeable. Plus it helps that she has some of the film best lines too (“Oh, if I die, I get paid extra”). Even though Ringwald may have the showiest role of the cast, it’s actually Jessica Napier who’s the film’s real lead star. I thought that Napier did a really good job in the role of “Raffy”, who I found to be an both strong and engaing character in her own right. Especially when you find out more of her backstory in the film. Among the supporting cast, there were a few stand outs: Sarah Kants did really well as producer “Hester”, Stephen Curry was quite funny as the film’s comic relief “Rick”, Simon Bossell was fun in the role of serious method actor “Bobby” (fun fact: Bossell was one of my teachers in a short film-making course that I did back in 2007) and singer/actress Kylie Minogue was solid in her short Drew Barrymore-style cameo/first victim role of original HOT BLOODED director “Hillary Jacobs”.
However if you were to ask me who I thought gave the best performance in the film, it’s definitely Frank Roberts who plays the role of the film’s slasher killer “Scarman” (he also plays “Brad”, the first actor to portray “Scarman” in the film-within-the-film HOT BLOODED too). While I’m not going to say that “Scarman” is a character that belongs to up there with the great slasher killers of all time, he’s still a rather effective and menacing villain who feels like a combination of Michael, Jason and Freddy rolled into one (it’s pretty clear that all three were big inspirations for the character). Roberts does a really great job in the role, especially in the third act where he gets to go all out with his performance. Not only that, there were moments during in the film where he was actually genuinely creepy as well. Plus the special modified version of gardening shears that he uses as his main weapon are pretty damn cool and unique. Now when it comes to the actual negatives aspects of the film, there some that I did have issues with. While Dave Warner’s script does have some positive elements in it (I like how he subverts our expectations with both the slasher tropes and storytelling choices), it’s pretty averagely written and it isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. You can tell that he’s trying really hard to write a film that’s like SCREAM in a lot of ways but sadly, it lacks the smart ideas and satirical wit that made the film a classic. Plus it doesn’t help that his script also suffers from some awful dialogue, bland character development, cliches, plot holes, some unfunny humour and a who-did-it mystery doesn’t really quite work. A lot of these are even more apparent in the film’s third act. You know like how in a lot of late ’90s/early ’00s slasher films when the killer is finally revealed, that character immediately loses the plot despite having been in absolutely control of everything beforehand? Well, the entire third act of CUT is basically like that. Even though I do enjoy the last half but honestly once we find out who “Scarman” is, the film does go down hill from there. “Scarman” himself goes through a massive change as a character and while his backstory as to why he’s there is interesting, it really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever when you think about it (although I still found that aspect a lot of fun nonetheless). Characters make decisions that are either incredibly stupid or even in some cases make no decisions at all, which is very frustrating. Plus the amount of plots holes and logic gaps that happened in the third act are so big that a truck could drive through them.
Overall while CUT isn’t a great slasher film by any means and I can completely understand why lot of a horror fans might not like it but for me personally, I think that it’s still a really entertaining one nonetheless. Its clear to me that director Kimble Rendall (who after working as a 2nd unit director on major Hollywood productions like THE MATRIX sequels, GHOST RIDER, I, ROBOT and others, wouldn’t return to the director’s chair until 12 years later when he helmed the sharks-in-a-supermarket film BAIT) and his cast/crew weren’t taking this film too seriously at all. They just wanted to make a slasher film that fans of the sub-genre would enjoy from beginning to end and in my honest opinion, I think they mostly succeeded at doing that. I definitely say that it’s worth checking out for sure if you haven’t seen it. If you watch it in the right frame of mind for what it is, I think you’ll might enjoy it as well. Now where’s my Blu-Ray release of this film already?
Is there any Australian horror films you would like me to cover for Horror Down Under? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below or tweet them to me at Twitter.com/BedeJermyn and I’ll put them under consideration for future editions of the column.