Released by SGL Entertainment, The Killer 4 Pack presents us with a quartet of micro-budget American horror films produced between 2000 – 2011. There’s no thematic similarities tying the films together, other than their ultra lo-fi production values. While many genre film buffs dismiss these kind of do it yourself (DIY) productions as nothing more than glorified home movies, the current nostalgia amongst some horror fans for the days of grainy VHS releases of the 1980’s, along with the recent series of V/H/S anthology films, and the publication of terrific genre study books like Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik’s Bleeding Skull: A 1980’s Trash-Horror Odyssey (Headpress, 2013), shows that there is still a degree of support out there for these kind of backyard and media school productions.
The lead-off film, Richard Islas’ The Day of the Dead (2007), is the highlight of the bunch here. Taking a scenario that has been reflected both in recent fiction and fact, the film focuses on a gang of affluent suburban youngsters who indulge in the thrill of killing homeless people purely for entertainment and kicks. When they decide to torture and kill a young Mexican girl working in the country illegally, things start to get a little spooky and strange for our arrogant thrill-killers, as the girl’s body mysteriously disappears from the morgue, and her father arrives in town on a 15 day humanitarian visa, eager to take the investigation and justice into his own hands.
Considering its budget, The Day of the Dead is fairly well put together. It has its expected rough patches, but the performances (by a group of young and mostly unknowns) lift the material, and the Mexican Day of the Dead angle to its plot helps give it an atmosphere of pervading creepiness and black magic.
Directed by Damien Dante and filmed in and around Chicago, Jezebeth (2011) plays like an overlong 1990’s hard rock/metal music video (a soundtrack CD featuring various local metal and goth bands was released by Dark Star Records). Starring Bree Michaels in the title role, a disassociated and God-hating young woman who discovers a 19th century diary which unlocks the satanic codes for summoning a demon, Jezebeth has some moments of nice style and the odd atmospheric sequence, as well as some female nudity, but overall it’s too muddled and long to be engaging or hold the interest throughout. A sequel, Jezebeth 2: Hour of the Gun has recently been completed and is expected to be released in the US in mid-2015.
Carnage: The Legend of Quiltface (aka Carnage Road), directed by Massimiliano Cerchi in 2000, is the most amateurish of the films on The Killer 4 Pack, and looks not much better than a bunch of kids fooling around with an old video camera on a weekend road trip. A riff on 70s films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), as well as the later slasher films of the early-80s, Carnage: The Legend of Quiltface has a group of photography students heading into the desert and being picked off by a machete-wielding killer known as Quiltface. With terrible effects and shaky camerawork, there’s not much of interest or entertainment here, although the mask which Quiltface wears, combining several faces of his victims which have been stitched together, looks kinda cool and is clearly Leatherface inspired.
The final film on this set is 2010’s Hellweek – Grindhouse Edition, directed by Eddie Lengyel. Seeming to play homage to the sorority horror movies of the early-80s (Hell Night, Splatter University, the Sorority House Massacre series, etc.), Hellweek has a typically obnoxious fraternity head (played by Rob Jaeger) who wants to organise a particularly memorable hell week induction for his incoming new freshmen. This he accomplishes by stupidly locking them in an old warehouse in which several people have mysteriously died. He sends some of his henchmen ahead to prepare some funhouse-style surprises for the newbies, only to see them run into a group of strange, masked homicidal maniacs who call the warehouse their home. Though it’s better, and a little better acted, than Jezebeth and Carnage: The Legend of Quiltface, there’s still not much in terms of tension, style or effects to distinguish Hellweek on any level. It uses artificial enhancement to give the video-shot production a fake grindhouse look (scratches, lines, jumping frames, fading and overexposure, etc.), but it’s not convincing or beneficial to the film in any way. When it comes to that classic 1970s grindhouse look, there is simply no substitute for the real thing.
The Killer 4 Pack is not recommended for anyone looking for production values or polish. It’s aimed squarely at that small but fairly devoted subgroup of horror movie fans who love and support the DIY genre filmmaking scene, in much the same way as many of us supported the roughly laid-out and badly-photocopied fanzines of days gone by.
Available on DVD from MVD Visual.