Ridiculously overgrown mustaches, uncontrollable diarrhea, kung fu, randomly placed film references, a killer vagina with dentures and fake male appendages a plenty are on display in Director, Ron Bonk’s latest film “She Kills”. It’s an homage to Exploitation and Grindhouse films of the 70’s. I just want to say thanks to Ron for giving me access to an online screener of the film prior to its official release, I really appreciate it. She Kills is a story about Sadie (played by Jennie Russo), a free-spirited young woman whose just gotten married to her sweetheart Edwin (Kirk LaSalle). Shortly after checking into their honeymoon suite at a local motel, Edwin is viciously murdered by a gang called “The Touchers” and Sadie is raped. The group are led by Dirk (Trey Harrison), a self-proclaimed ladies man sporting preposterously long facial hair. After Sadie is assaulted she discovers a dangerous secret about her body, she’s cursed with a condition called “fire crotch”. An exorcism of sorts gone wrong unleashes Satan’s control over her genitalia and all hell breaks loose in this blood soaked, bat shit crazy revenge flick. The film also stars Michael Merchant, Jody Pucello, David Royal, Martha Zempsta, Niecy Cerise, Mateo Prendergast and Matt Mendoza.
Prior to watching the film I saw the trailer so I knew a bit about what I was in for. I’m quite fussy when it comes to the grindhouse cinema especially if the cast/crew don’t have much money or experience, because it can be a hard sell. She Kills was made for an estimated $8,000, so how does it fare against the films it’s mocking?
Even though I’m picky about these types of films, I do like a good throwback or homage to an era gone bye, when it’s done right. The poster looks like something you’d see for a 1970’s film, the retro and hand drawn designs are making their way back and I for one am glad. The introductory credit font and the recognizable static, film reel approach are both well conceived. Music is the big one for me, in most cases there’s some good and some bad. I’ve written and recorded music for over a decade, but it wasn’t until I became more interested in film that I realized how important it is in aiding to express a certain emotion. The soundtrack for She Kills is incredibly eclectic. For example, the opening piano composition as Sadie is innocently frolicking in the meadows, conveys her purity and easiness with which she carries herself. The scenes that ensue in the motel room become heightened in intensity and the music shifts accordingly, we get to hear some propulsive low-fi synth that builds until the scenes culmination. The latter part of the film has a couple more ballads as well as a complex song that drives the action, it’s made up of several different sounds and was the best aspect about that particular scene. Ron’s camera work and shot choices are a little more modern than you might expect in a film spoofing the 70’s but everything looks great regardless. The gentle zooms help highlight the voyeuristic nature of “The Touchers” (possibly the lamest gang name to be conjured up haha).
All of the dialogue audio is loud and clear, the intentional syncing issues surrounding the ADR (additional dialogue recording) were quite humorous. For those of you who don’t watch much of the genre or maybe this film is your gateway in, delayed dubbing was all the rage in the 70’s and 80’s. Some of the flashes of discoloration are another clever nod to films like “I Spit On Your Grave” and “Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia”. I also enjoyed some of the sound effects on display. The harsh jarring sounds in the opening act were straight out of something like “The Warriors” or a 50’s gangster film. Much like the dialogue audio, they had silly timing issues during impact hits in fight sequences (on purpose). The amount of comedy is obviously subjective, it will depend entirely on your sense of humor and what you might be expecting from a film this moronic. In my opinion it’s a mixed bag. The best parts involved Sadie’s Asian father, yes you heard me Asian father and his interactions with her half-brother Chung Lee the third (even reading that back has me going haha). Both dialogues were severely delayed, like something out of a Shaolin Kung Fu, TV show and made for a good amount of chuckling. The other was a simple “I’ve got my eyes on you” gag as Dirk leaves the motel room at the end of the first act, I knew how it was going to play out but it didn’t stop me from laughing my head off.
Jennie Russo playing the protagonist, has the difficult job of carrying this enigmatic mix of puzzle pieces but handles things pretty well. It helps that she looks like a young woman out of the 70’s and can also be likened to actress, Amber Tamblyn. Russo plays things sprightly, never losing sight of what this thing is actually about. There’s a handful of nude scenes that will be to the liking of the male audience, hell maybe even some of the female audience as well because let’s face it Jennie looks great. I’m not sure what to make of Trey Harrison’s portrayal of Dirk, I’m thinking Bonk probably told him to act as absurdly as he possibly could and in that sense he succeeds. I’m sure the Actors/Actress playing The Touchers are probably just giving their best with what’s written, but I’d imagine a lot of audiences aren’t going to like the absurd nature everyone airs here. The characters were just to exaggerated to take even remotely serious (the intention I’m sure), but in a situation where you’re supposed to be acting menacing it doesn’t really identify. Michael Merchant as Reggie, the “greaser” stereotype is the only other member of the gang that makes an impact when he’s on-screen. His “Hey Boss” thick New York accent was played up big time and accentuated how much of a schmuck he was. The characters of Poodle, the hispanic guy who just laughs for no reason, Blue, the childlike, mentally challenged oaf and Beatrice the leather sporting loudmouth don’t get the same stretch to display much of an arc.
What little back story there is shines through pretty clearly but I still would’ve liked some clarity regarding the mysterious, mask wearing Reaper who pops up from time to time. I’m assuming his evil ways or sorcery powers and what not are what set’s Sadie on her path of destruction. I can only say that because otherwise it’s just a random guy in a cheap, dollar store mask. The inclusion of a very short scene involving miniatures was completely out of left field but hilariously entertaining all the same. A re-enactment of a scene from “Batman Begins” is even thrown in for good measure, just encase you were thinking “Oh, that’s not so odd”. Don’t ask me the point of any of these little Easter eggs, because it should be clear by now that I don’t know. Lastly I want to commend Colby Flinchum who did a really solid job of the special effects. As previously mentioned, it’s less than a $10,000 film yet the practical effects are nicely executed. It’s all very cheap looking but ambitious none the less, you have to applaud the effort when so many other films don’t even try. I don’t want to spoil all the good stuff but my favorite kills involved a castration (of sorts) and a full head/face being smashed and ripped open and it looks marvelous! If that’s not enough for you, the last gag is particularly impressive because it switches from some shoddy CG, to an Actor physically inside latex material with his head hanging out of the top. It’s brilliant to see a crew even attempt something like that practically. The final swallow, bravo (haha) that’s all I’m going to say, bravo.
I’m over 1,300 words into this review and I haven’t even started on this section yet, so I can say this much about She Kills there’s a lot to cover. A lot of the dialogue in places is quite poor. Sadie’s dumb blonde shtick didn’t really gel with the character, given her strong nature and what she’s able to overcome as the film progresses. The relentless euphemisms for vagina become a bit much after a while, I get that these kind of films are linguistically crude but it feels a little played out. There are a few continuity issues here and there, but not anywhere near the amount one would think in a film with this type of budget. Edwin get’s a knee to the face while being attacked by Reggie but there’s no cuts or gashes during either the impact shots, or the frames that follow. There’s a moment involving some irregular stock footage of police and emergency services driving down a road (probably played for laughs, just incredibly odd). Considering most of the effects were done practically and looked great, you can imagine my surprise when I saw a lot of poor CG, blood splatter scattered throughout the final act. Knowing what indie films can be like, it was probably due to time constraints or budget but I just thought it took something away.
I found the biggest problem with She Kills is not that it’s so damn crazy, it’s that it’s not controlled craziness. It lacks direction and at times loses its momentum all together. It begins with a clear setup and opening sequence, only to then linger in no man’s land for an extended period. The Touchers start acting like cavemen and monkey’s for reasons completely unknown, and aren’t ever really made clear to the audience. What follows is an incredibly inaccurate rape sequence that lasts far too long, with actors and actresses giving the most farcical facial expressions one could make while performing that action. If it was played for shock value I could understand but it ends up looking and feeling incredibly awkward because everyone except for Russo is fully clothed. Don’t get me wrong, these people are all horrible human beings but it’s hard to justify what’s ultimately a revenge film if you can’t sympathize with that supposed anguish, and I just didn’t feel it, it wasn’t authentic. Then again, the film shifts this time to Sadie’s half-brother and their father in what has to be the dumbest fight sequence ever written (clearly for laughs), although this viewer didn’t get much out of it. There was the odd laugh but it felt like it lasted about twenty minutes and lost whatever the desired effect was.
The next time we see Sadie she’s got a painted face, reminiscent of Brandon Lee in “The Crow” as she enters a bar that The Touchers regularly frequent. After already having endured an earlier bar sequence, where a painfully long musical number played on the jukebox as the group danced to it in real-time, I’d had enough. This slow motion sequence had a mellow acoustic guitar accompanying it, while everything else in the film was muted. It’s not something that would normally be done in a film like this and didn’t fit the tone of the scene either. It’s a bunch of these types of scenes where the film loses its way. The visual effects during the “exorcism”, for lack of a better word are about what you’d expect to see in a film made for under $10,000. They’re pretty hokey but with a driving soundtrack complimenting the scene, it saves face somewhat. The points I have made here are mostly in regards to what I like to see, as I already mentioned these aren’t really my specialty and hardcore fans of the genre are probably going to be okay with the films shortcomings.
I’m not sure what to make of She Kills but it was by far in a way the most outlandish and resourceful entry into the Grindhouse/Exploitation genre that I’ve ever seen, and for that alone it should be lauded. The visual approach mirrors some of the classic films. The self-aware audio issues are a hoot and a mix of wonderful music top off what is a technically polished product. Some of the humor was spot on and all the little random gimmicks that were built-in, made it all the more entertaining. The cheap and cheesy, blood and gore effects couldn’t have been better they eclipsed some of the average visual effects and shoddy CG blood, so that was nice. Some of the rehashed writing, sloppy direction and loss of momentum end up hurting the film’s re-watch ability factor (at least for this viewer). I’m not sure the chipper and jubilant style of acting worked either but each to their own. In addition, there’s some problems with continuity and the assault sequence wasn’t at all what I expected. However, keep in mind this is an $8,000 film and I think true hardcore fans of the genre will find even more to like about it than I did. I look forward to seeing future films from Ron Bonk and his crew, be sure to keep an eye out for this one because it’s coming soon!
My rating for “She Kills” is 5/10