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Murder Set Pieces

October 27, 2011

A few weeks ago the slight furore surrounding the BBFC refusing a certificate for The Human Centipede II prompted me to look at similar recent decisions by the British censor board. I discovered two other films that had received the same treatment, Grotesque and Murder Set Pieces. In a somewhat ill-advised, defiant attempt to demonstrate that trying to ban these films only ensured that the BBFC indirectly promoted them with undeserved notoriety, I opted to watch both (having never heard of them before) despite suspecting that they were generally poor and devoid of merit. I was proven far more correct in this suspicion than I could ever have hoped, particularly with the former film, but the latter delivered at least a few chuckles before the true rot set in. Accomplishing the unique trick of sounding like a low-budget early 80s film, whilst looking like a low-budget early 90s film, and actually being a low-budget film made in 2004, Murder Set Pieces was written and directed by a man named Nick Palumbo, who previously made a little-known slasher flick called Nutbag in 2000. The film understandably embraced both the prohibitive NC-17 rating it received for its domestic American theatre release (later changed to R for home markets with substantial cuts made) and the outright rejection of classification by the BBFC, with the website and posters boasting taglines such as “banned in the UK” and “the first American NC-17 horror film”. This proud exultation of minor notoriety was probably the best marketing strategy such a film could hope for given that any attention it received was quite undeserved.

In this serial-killer, exploitation, rape-slasher flick we meet The Photographer (Sven Garrett), an unnamed German guy living in Las Vegas who works as a glamour/soft-porn photographer and who gets his kicks sexually torturing and murdering strippers and prostitutes. In his “normal” facade life he has a new girlfriend who in turn has a young daughter suspicious of the ridiculous man in her mother’s life. These characters conveniently disappear for about 45 minutes so the film can busy itself showing naked, whimpering women being violently raped, slashed and dismembered by the silly grunting goon before returning briefly at the end for a formulaic climactic ending (young girl chased around psycho’s house) that appeared to be tacked on as an afterthought of structural necessity. When not rape-choking, stabbing, or chainsawing chicks, The Photographer tends to rant in German (sans subtitles) whilst watching videos of Hitler and inspecting his collection of Nazi memorabilia. He also has an altercation with Tony Todd in a video store and a short scene with an evil mechanic played by Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface).

This film serves as a brilliant example of what happens when a filmmaker pursues controversy over coherence and attempts to deliver gruesome, transgressive thrills at the expense of fundamental storytelling skills. Murder Set Pieces looks curiously dated, features frightfully clunky writing and terrible performances throughout, and swiftly runs out of camp laughs only to aimlessly meander on with its pointless schlock and crapsploitation. The German lead is comical, but not in the satirical and clever fashion of the Patrick Bateman character that was perhaps aimed for here. He’s just silly, and has too much of a bland, Eurotrash look to be menacing or creepy, whether he’s violently humping a bloodied screaming stripper or grunting his way through some bench-presses with Nazi imagery in the background. The two sympathetic characters, the mother and daughter, appear to serve only a customary function to provide a semblance of plot to the shambolic proceedings. They’re entirely absent for a huge portion of the film, making it overwhelmingly obvious how insincere a role they play in the film. What they do is provide filler, as do pointless shots of the killer’s muscle car cruising the Vegas strip at night, between the dozens of unconnected scenes of random women being brutally fucked and tortured. Oddly enough, these scenes appear to be the most technically accomplished and stylized, suggesting Palumbo really just wanted to make nothing more than dark snuff-themed porn and every other element of the film was an inconvenient distraction, hastily thrown together so that he could busy himself with the true dream gig.

Nailing chicks

In short, fucked-up porn already exists, as do competent and entertaining slasher films, and Murder Set Pieces quite simply isn’t a film that successfully combines the two. This is a hideously amateur effort that, at best, you can scoff at for about 30 minutes and then try to endure the next 70 minutes thereafter. I blame the BBFC for bringing this crap into my life as flicks like this ought to be outright ignored, not granted undue attention and the boost of the forbidden fruit label. The website for this laughable bollocks features a review that tries to offset anticipated hostility to the film by claiming it will offend both “the pious right and the spineless left”, a spin on the Emperor’s New Clothes defence that’s easily dismissed. There is no flimsy tedious political spectrum applicable here, for Murder Set Pieces will offend anyone who expects even low-budget, exploitation flicks to have some semblance of competence behind them, or at least the ability to be slightly entertaining.

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