Notorious German director Uwe Boll hasn’t made a movie since 2016 and says he is done, retired, and not turning back to movies. What’s somebody like me, who has spilled thousands upon thousands of words on the man, to do? Why watch a feature documentary on the man and his unorthodox methods. F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story is potentially the “last” Boll film, so it felt right to review it for my ongoing Boll retrospective and as a sendoff for a man I’ve chronicled for fourteen years.
The documentary also confirmed for me several speculative questions I’ve posed over the long course of my reviewing of his catalogue of hits and misses and misses. There is a reason he gets bigger name actors like Ben Kingsley and Jason Statham, or at least did for a while, and that’s because he doesn’t cast his movies until a few weeks before they are set to shoot. Then he asks for actors that are available his shooting dates and offers a check, and it’s sudden but it can work. Even he admits it’s a crazy process because the actors have no rehearsal time, you might not even get people right for the roles, but it’s only a problem if one cares about that sort of thing, and then he laughs knowingly. I’ve also suspected for some time that the screenplays for Boll movies are incomplete or heavily rewritten on the spot, and this is confirmed as well. Guinevere Turner is a fine writer, having worked on several Mary Harron movies including American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page, and the recently released Charlie Says. She is also the sole credited writer to Bloodrayne. To say this movie is below her standards is an understatement. As she details, only twenty percent resembles her original script. But, she notes, Boll paid in full. If you’re going to be relegated to schlock cinema, at least get paid for it. In general, Boll flashes disdain for what he feels are the excesses of filmmaking, wasted time to work on nuance or camera setups for dynamic shooting. The cast say they rarely get more than two takes even if they beg for more. Sometimes Boll won’t even be looking at the monitor as a scene plays out. His producer instincts dominate his writer/director instincts, and it becomes a product to mash out.
Perhaps the most insane example of this was in 2010 when Boll elected to shoot three films simultaneously. He got a budget for the third Bloodrayne movie, which was finally set during the time period of the video game, Nazi Germany. Boll says he secured financing by promising two movies for the price of one, shooting the specific parody Blubberella on the same sets, with the same actors, and following the same plot. Actress Lindsay Hollister was on set and scribbling joke ideas with the Bloodrayne 3 screenplay. When it came time to writing the script for Blubberella, she assumed an actual writer would be utilized. When she sat down for a read through, she was shocked to discover the Blubberrella “shooting script” was merely her copy of the Bloodrayne script with her notes in the margins. The Bloodrayne movie was the priority and had to look the best, so it got the majority of the time, and then according to Hollister they would get a take or two to film the Blubberella version and just go with it. It didn’t matter if the movie didn’t make sense. It only mattered that it was made (“I just have to get it to 77 minutes,” Boll candidly told Hollister). On top of this insane setup, several weeks into production Boll added a third film, live-action recreations for Auschwitz, detailing the horrors of the gas chambers. He had to keep track of three separate film productions simultaneously making use of the same schedules. It’s not a surprise that the films didn’t turn out well, but just imagine juggling tone, going from a cheesy genre movie, to a goofy satire of that cheesy genre movie, to a deadly serious Holocaust recount. That would make my head explode and I only watched all three movies.
As a documentary, F*** You All seems too conflicted with resurrecting Boll’s image. The real ammunition this story has are the crazy, juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes that should spill from baffled actors. There are a few but this currency is too quickly depleted. Instead writer/director Sean Patrick Shaul (who worked on Boll’s 2013 film, Assault on Wall Street) is trying to break open the contradictions of Boll, the man who seems to love being a director but not actually directing, who seems to love making movies but doesn’t want to put that much effort into making them better. That’s fine territory but too often Shaul seems to mitigate the director’s own bad behavior as simply his interpersonal style. He provokes outrage and has no filter and thrives on making people uncomfortable, but he doesn’t know when to quit. There’s one gross moment where Boll is bullying and belittling actress Natassia Malthe (the replacement Rayne for the sequels) for not going naked in his movie. He presses her that she’s done nudity before and should be volunteering to expose herself again. He says the audience comes to his movies for “blood and boobs,” and Malthe concurs with him, recognizing what kind of movie she is starring in, but that doesn’t give him entitlement over her body. We’re repeatedly reminded by cast that they would work again with Boll in a heartbeat or genuinely enjoy him (Malthe is not interviewed) because he’s direct and gets things done, albeit not always the best of things. It feels a bit like trying to convince your skeptical pals that your drunk, obnoxious friend is really a good guy if you just got to know him. Boll is an interesting subject. I just wish the filmmaker had probed further to better examine those contradictions that make him who he is.
Boll lives for publicity stunts and perhaps none was bigger than when he challenged four of his critics to a public boxing match. It’s hard to think of any other situation where a much-derided filmmaker was literally challenging his critics to a physical fight and they miraculously took him up on it. Apparently, the critics thought it was going to be a silly joust and more a stunt. Oh no. Boll had been practicing for months, taking breaks on sets to get in a 5K run, and he’d been an amateur boxer for most of his life. He pummeled the out-of-shape film critics (Sam Peckinpah would be proud). Was he seeking vengeance against his tormentors or was it all a stunt? It’s hard to say. The legend of Uwe Boll and the actual man get blurry, as Boll would lean into his infamy as the “worst filmmaker ever” to gather further worldwide attention and further funding.
Boll has successfully transitioned into the restaurant industry, forming one of the most acclaimed dining establishments in all of Canada. He’s even stated how if a dish needs three days to be properly prepared, then that’s what it takes, which seems like the opposite of his approach to filmmaking. Perhaps that’s a sign that his passion has transferred from film to food and that his would-be retirement will keep. He talks about how the rise in streaming platforms has mitigated the DVD and home video markets, directly siphoning away the funds that he would take advantage of for his slate of movies. He says filmmaking is no longer a good investment and thus he cannot continue. This might be true specifically for Boll’s avenues for cash flow, but it sure hasn’t stopped the influx of genre and exploitation indies. Take a look at Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding site and they’re inundated with low-budget horror productions (I’ve supported a few myself). I do think Boll could find a market if he desired, even if his Kickstarter for Rampage 3 failed to meet its target. I also don’t think Boll will stick with his retirement. Much like Kevin Smith and Steven Soderbergh, other filmmakers who swore retirement, I think this period will be but a breath, a pause until Boll finds something that inspires him.
However, if this is his final stamp on the world of filmmaking, I feel like some summation is in order. I’ve been watching and reviewing this man’s movies for over fourteen years, specifically seeking out each new release to add to what amounts to a would-be Master’s thesis of criticism about one of the most reviled directors to ever work in Hollywood. Is Uwe Boll the worst filmmaker of all time? I can answer decisively…. no, he is not. For all the vitriol he provokes, some of his own doing, he has a competency that others cannot even hope to achieve, like Neil Breen or Mark Region (After Last Season might be the most painful movie I’ve seen). Boll definitely has his shortcomings as a writer and director, which his own cast and crew will agree, but I would love to have the man as a producer. He’s a born hustler and his ability to gather necessary resources and money is what kept him in business for decades. He could be a modern-day Roger Corman. If this is the end of Uwe Boll, Director, then it’s been a long, strange journey, and one that has given me reflection on my own relationship to filmmaking and film criticism. To quote, of all people, the band Fall Out Boy, thanks for the memories, Uwe, even if they weren’t so good.
See you again?
Nate’s Grade: C
When I heard that Uwe Boll was writing and directing a movie called Rampage, my thoughts immediately went to the 1980s arcade game of the same name. In the game you played as one of various classic movie monsters, like King Kong or Godzilla, and the mission was to obliterate a city building by building and avoid the military forces trying to take you down (edit: later turned into a 2018 movie starring The Rock). At first I thought there was no way that Boll could raise a budget big enough for a giant monster movie, then I paid closer attention to Boll’s Rampage and discovered it only had one cost-effective monster — man. Boll’s film revolves around a single man massacring a small town. Most surprising of all, Rampage is actually earning Boll a full slate of positive reviews. Critics have mostly taken a shine to this violent shoot-em-up, going so far as to all it Boll’s best film to date. I suppose Boll’s recent upgrade in ability he showcased with Stoic and The Final Storm raised my expectations that the prospect of a “good Uwe Boll movie” is actually a concept not just in the theoretical realms any longer. It could happen. I can honestly say that Rampage is not it.
Bill Williamson (Brendan Fletcher) is just a regular dude living at home with his parents and bouncing from dead-end job to dead-end job. That’s all about to change. Bill seems to have taken a cue from his friend Evan (Shaun Sipos), who has advocated radical measures be taken to make the world a better place. Bill has been building a bundle of arms and body armor for one mission — to kill as many people as possible in a day.
I think the movie’s main weakness is that it’s too insular. We can never free ourselves from Bill Williamson’s head (really, Boll? William Williamson? Are you even trying?). I understand that Boll tries to drop us into the psychosis of a seemingly ordinary 23-year-old burnout that snaps. To that end, Boll effectively fills the background with an mélange of chatter; short news radio bursts are strung together noting the ails of the global ails of the world. It feels like an actual peak into the anxiety-riddled skull of the main character. But this guy just isn’t that interesting. We’re never given any real insight into his thought process because Boll holds back whatever Bill really thinks until the very end, which means for the majority of the movie we’re just watching a nut in body armor. A far majority of the movie is tagging along on Bill’s killing spree, watching person after person gunned down. Is this entertainment and for whom?
Boll assembles a better thesis about what makes people grab guns and lash out than he did in 2003’s school shooter rumpus, Heart of America, which also starred Fletcher as a chief bully. But that doesn’t mean that the pieces fit together any better. Bill’s rationale is that the world is overpopulated and could use a good pruning. So everybody goes. This is a pretty weak justification, especially when you consider that he’s slaughtering the denizens of a SMALL TOWN who has plenty of room for growth. Will purposely goes out of his way to gun down the servers who irritated him the day before, thus he seeks vengeance not ideological purity. Boll at least switches spree motivations late into something a tad more consumerist, but by then it’s too late. We need outside perspectives for this story to become more than a horror highlight reel of death. This movie could have worked from a Falling Down-esque narrative divided between the man on the rampage and the man in hot pursuit. That dynamic would provide for more thrills as well as a natural good guy and bad guy designation. But Boll doesn’t want any such designation. He wants us to be uncomfortable from beginning to end, to empathize with Bill early on and become horrified about what this says about all of us. A radio broadcaster says, without a hint of irony: “I don’t know how this could happen here or anywhere?” You’re uncomfortable but not because of what Bill is doing. You never empathize with the guy because he’s a loser and pretty hotheaded. It’s because the movie is bereft of commentary that makes it uncomfortable because then the violence becomes celebratory.
Rampage is set in a small town for some sort of ham-handed message about the unpredictability of violence, but could something of this magnitude truly go down in today’s technologically saturated world (for extra sledgehammer irony, the town is called Tenderville)? I will even give some leeway that a small town has a limited number of police officers and Bill blows up the police station as his first goal, but then where are all the neighboring cops? When we live in a world where everybody owns a cell phone, and every cell phone owner is an amateur journalist, it’s somewhat preposterous that news of this magnitude would remain so isolated for so long. As soon as a crazy guy walked down the center of town and murdering everybody, you better believe that CNN would have some cell phone video up in a manner of minutes. Surely the barrage of 911 calls would have informed emergency technicians that the police station was bombed and the killer is still on the loose. Where are the neighboring communities’ police officers? Where are the helicopters? In the age of information, nobody seems able to communicate anything. And why do people have trouble locking and barricading their doors? As Bill goes window-shopping for victims all the store doors remain unlocked, allowing him easy access to blow away customers. If Rampage was set in a violence-torn area that had become eerily accustomed to the sound of gunfire then perhaps people’s initial indifference to gunfire could be explained. But remember, this is a small town for maximum intentional dramatic impact. They should be extremely responsive to the sound of continual gunfire. And these people should be packing too.
The scheme of Bill’s coalesces in the last ten minutes of the movie, attempting to offer clarity and advance the material. Beware gentle reader, spoilers will follow, but you’ve already come this far. In the end, Bill has planned his killing spree with the intent of framing his only friend, Evan. Bill has made sure all his mail-order purchases were delivered to Evan’s home, Evan is the one with the long YouTube rants about overpopulation and people standing up to make change, and Evan’s father is a former radical from the 1960s who justified violence in the name of good causes. Of course we only learn that last bit in the film’s closing seconds because why would something like that be relevant to know beforehand, right? Bill meets his buddy in the woods for their scheduled paintball date, tazes the bastard, then stuffs a gun in Evan’s hand and has him pull the trigger to fulfill his role as patsy. The cops will think Evan has killed himself after being pursued into the woods. This is why Bill had to come back and brutally gun down an entire salon of women because he took his mask off and exposed his real face. Bill then disappears with the money.
As you expect, there are more holes to this plot than Swiss cheese. First off, there’s a noticeable height difference between Evan and Bill (Fletcher is only 5’4″ tall). Take into account different boot sizes, massive amounts of security camera footage, the registration for the cars that Bill turned into suicide bombs, the fact that the stolen bank money would now be marked, an autopsy report that would discover the stun gun wound and the awkward position for the self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the eye witnesses that must have seen Bill roaming around his neighborhood head-to-toe in his armor, never mind the fact that a massacre of this size practically guarantees the FBI’s involvement, and you’ve got so many areas for this master plan to unravel. That’s probably why Rampage ends with a post-script informing us Bill took off and has yet to be caught because somehow he’s a criminal genius.
This is Fletcher’s (Freddy vs. Jason, HBO’s The Pacific) movie and he pretty much hides behind his character’s literal and figurative mask. It’s not too hard to glower and walk with purpose, which is what Bill does for most of the movie. He doesn’t come across as overtly threatening, which is probably the point, but nor does Fletcher ever show insight into Bill’s dark recesses. He just seems like an irritable child with guns who wants to settle some scores from a bruised ego. Fletcher has acting ability but his assimilation into the Boll Players should worry anybody who wants to see that ability again (four Boll films and counting). Curiously, Katherine Isabelle, the star of the clever teen-girl-werewolf Canadian horror series Ginger Snaps, has a near cameo appearance as one of the salon workers who gets murdered. Having an actress like her play such a small character with brief screen time seems bizarre. Maybe Fletcher, as the film’s co-producer, called in a favor from his Freddy vs. Jason co-star.
Boll’s direction pretty much gets swallowed whole by the void of his main character. Every decision seems made to suit some kind of allegorical message that never seems to materialize. The camerawork is self-consciously shaky; there’s no reason a simple family conversation over the breakfast table should look like a 9.8 earthquake is going on simultaneously. The film also has the annoying habit of jumping forwards and backwards in time for split-second edits. I couldn’t tell if these flash edits were mere foreshadowing peaks at what was to come, trying to sate a bloodthirsty audience getting antsy, or if they were small fantasies playing out inside Bill’s head, showing his violent tendencies and delicate hold on reality. Well, they were just previews for the main attraction, which makes their use hard to fathom. If Boll wanted an audience to be shocked by what was to come, why give them previews? The film would have worked better without the non-linear quirks. Boll makes sure his camera is never far away from Bill, and during stretches the camera is pinned on Bill’s face as he huffs and puffs and kills people off screen. It’s Boll’s one somewhat interesting moment of artistic restraint. Boll is improving as an action director in certain regards. Rampage has some nice stunt work and some pretty well executed explosions.
Don’t believe the steady stream of good press for Rampage. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to write these words … but Rampage does not live up to the hype. It is not Boll’s first successful movie; I’d argue that his Vietnam movie Tunnel Rats came much closer to being a good and entertaining movie. Rampage is a rather empty vehicle to watch innocents get massacred. It lacks subtext and commentary, so the violence becomes gratuitous and meaningless, which is much more uncomfortable than anything Boll intends with his narrative. Obviously, Boll has modeled his story after recent incidents like the Virginia Tech gunman in 2007. Sadly, there is no shortage of crazed gunman stories in the news to pick from. If Boll attempted to squeeze some subtext into the various proceedings, satirizing the sensationalistic media turning people into fragile, potentially-lethal time bombs, or perhaps even the allure of fame through whatever costs, even the most infamous, then maybe watching countless people get shot would at least offer some meaning. I wasn’t expecting a Funny Games dissection level of violence and voyeurism and the participation of the viewer, but I expected more than watching a dude in a suit of armor kill fleeing civilians for an hour. If that’s your idea of entertainment than perhaps you should go play a video game that rewards such behavior. Don’t worry; it’s only a matter of time before Boll transforms that into a movie next.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Uwe Boll does a Vietnam War film? It certainly sounds like a recipe for profound disaster. In 1968, as the intrusive prefix to the title tells us, the U.S. military had a unit of soldiers with the special mission to discover and infiltrate the miles-long underground tunnels by the Viet Cong. These “tunnel rats” were tasked with clearing out these deadly and cavernous mazes, where the Viet Cong ate, slept, and even walled up their dead within. Sergeant Vic Hollowborn (Michael Pare, who else?) heads the unit and has to shape up the new recruits into formidable fighters. Hollowborn lectures his young men on the dangers of “Charlie” and even orders them to execute an enemy prisoner. “Charlie’s gonna kill you just for being here,” he warns. “He doesn’t care if you’re a nice guy.” This nugget of wisdom is proven true over the 90-minutes of the film. The Tunnel Rats unit finds a new tunnel and this discovery eventually leads to the camp being decimated over the course of one hellish night in Vietnam.
When the action goes underground is when the movie gets, remarkably, pretty good. The labyrinthine tunnels dug out by the Viet Cong is an incredibly interesting subject that no Vietnam film has yet to cover with any substantial attention. Did you know that the Viet Cong could smell the smoke or aftershave of a man in those tunnels? They can even tell the brand of cigarette supposedly. Boll’s movie fails to take full advantage of its intriguing wartime setting. I wanted to know more about the particulars of the duties entrusted to the Tunnel Rats, a real unit of the armed forces with a high mortality rate. I wanted to know about the incredible construction of these tunnels and the dangers they posed to the U.S. armed forces. I wanted to know about the day-to-day lives of men who specialize in the tunnels, and I really wanted to learn about the unique minutia of hand-to-hand combat within such confined space. Fighting for your life in such limited space, now that’s interesting stuff.
While Boll’s war movie fails to explore the tunnel setting in detail, Tunnel Rats has its fair share of quality suspense, mostly thanks to the claustrophobic quarters. It’s hard to make such limited space exciting for so long, but Boll manages to crank up the tension by pressing in on his actors. Watching the soldiers crawl on their hands and knees, possibly for miles, never knowing what trap might be in wait, well it makes for some intense feeling of dread. There are two standout scenes involved in the tunnels. The first involves a soldier that discovers a tautly wound tripwire leading to a grenade. Boll carefully follows the soldier steadily try to diffuse the booby trap and it almost reaches a nerve-wracking sense of unease. The second standout scene involves a solider that killed a Viet Cong member in the tunnel. The U.S. soldier has to use a simple knife to pulverize the corpse of the Viet Cong member just so he has enough room to pass by inside the tunnel. The scene is shot in tight close-ups as we watch the sickening repetitive motions of the soldier doing his best and bloodiest work just to move on by. It’s harrowing and empathetic. The above ground stuff has all the requisite chaotic explosions and soldiers being gunned down, but it’s the action underground that is surprisingly steady and consistently well designed.
The cinematography by Boll regular Mathias Neumann is a great strength. It takes a page out of Janusz Kaminski’s playbook, Spielberg’s long-time cinematographer, by layering in streams of milky light. The colors are muted and the camerawork is mostly handheld. Sure the visual aesthetic is a tad derivative (it made me wonder if Boll rented Tigerland before filming) but it’s a fairly good copy. The South African location shoot makes for a pleasing facsimile of Vietnam. Neumann also finds new and interesting ways to film the tunnels so that the setting doesn’t lose any of its unsettling power. Watching soldiers crawl along the inky blackness with but a flimsy flashlight provides for some spooky imagery that doesn’t even have to resort to cheap scare tactics. However, there are far too many spinning low-angle shots that do little more than stare at the tree canopies above. It’s like the cameraman is in the constant process of nearly passing out.
The war as hell metaphor is familiar and potent, but Tunnel Rats lacks a deeper message. The film wallows in war clichés, particularly in its opening 20 minutes. The bland stock soldiers are interchangeable. They wax philosophically about the nature of God and war, talk about their hopes and dreams back home, and recount stories about laying under the stars and enjoying mom’s home cookin’. They bond, they share pictures of their respective sweethearts, and then they naturally meet a grisly end. One newbie even asks, in all seriousness, “You ever get scared out there?” The dialogue is pretty lousy and rife with clichés. The movie isn’t too subtle with some of its metaphors either, like when a Viet Cong woman literally tries washing the blood off her hands after executing a U.S. soldier. While the film is clearly told from the perspective of American soldiers, and the Viet Cong are antagonists, Boll takes time to show fairness to the enemy. One female warrior (Jane Le) fights to protect her young children. Another Viet Cong soldier fights to avenge the honor of a woman who was raped by American troops. The only message that appears to emerge from the movie occurs in the final minutes, when Boll seems to cram in a heavy-handed attempt at moralizing, a “we’re in this together, folks” kind of message that involves nearly four minutes of uninterrupted digging. But then Boll subverts that message and kills it, ending the film with the same sense of hopelessness. Tunnel Rats doesn’t bother to explore human insights and the nature of war and feels decidedly minor, following one all-out skirmish on one day of the Vietnam War. I wish Boll realized the potential his narrative had, which is not something you’ll likely often see me write. Tunnel Rats seems to be too content to be an effective horror movie dressed up as a war flick.
What is it about war movies that seem to excuse exploitation? It seems that a filmmaker can showcase tremendous gore and horrific bloody violence when they can cloak the material under the illusion of being true to life. Somehow filmmakers believe that wallowing in blood and guts is honoring the valor of those who served. This can be true, like the opening onslaught of Saving Private Ryan. But this can also be rubbish. War films can be just as exploitative as any other genre of film. Tunnel Rats has just as gruesome violence as Boll’s other horror movies, but because it has a war setting does not automatically give the violence and gore more integrity or meaning.
Tunnel Rats is a resounding achievement for the talents of Uwe Boll. It cannot even be passive-aggressively complimented as being “competent.” No, this is actually a halfway good movie that has some unsettling moments amid the suspense and chaos. The underground tunnel sequences manage to find an eerie intensity and are the best part about the movie. Thankfully Boll seems to realize this, which is why a majority of the movie alternates between various soldiers finding their way amongst the underground maze. The acting is actually some of the strongest yet in a Boll movie. Tunnel Rats would have greatly benefited from more attention being spent on the details of the life of a tunnel rat (it seems like a suicide mission). The movie never really feels fully realistic but at the same time it eschews being campy. It’s not as nearly as serious and artistically daring as the pinnacle Vietnam War flicks, but then again the movie is also better than plenty of other recent war films that have the tendency to either be jingoistic or fetishize the brutality of war.
In a twist of fate, Boll is actually developing a first-person shooter video game based upon his Tunnel Rats movie. The man who takes video game properties and makes crummy movies out of them has now made a decent-to-somewhat-good movie and developed a video game from it. Now it’s only a matter of time before Boll adapts the game into another crummy movie.
Nate’s Grade: B-
Uwe Boll had some things he wanted to say with his low-rent horror flick, Seed. Like much of Boll’s output it’s based upon a video game. However, Boll opens the flick with a warning that footage of animal abuse and disturbing images will be incorporated into the movie. Seed gets the ball rolling with a two-minute montage of animals being cruelly beaten and mutilated before the title ever finds its place on screen. Boll’s opening text says that he decided to use this disturbing snuff footage because he “wanted to make a statement about humanity.” Yeah, sure Boll. Isn’t it a bit trite and easy to castigate the human condition for evil when you just roll out visceral real-life footage of cruelty? By highlighting the real stuff Boll is calling into question the significance of his whole stupid slasher movie. It opens with real-life cruelty and then plays out 90 minutes of fake cruelty, so what’s the point? I don’t think Seed has any interest in the subtext that can elevate horror movies. I think Boll just wanted to make his own torture-heavy horror film and found some animal abuse footage on the cheap (PETA probably gave it to him free of charge). The opening smacks of exploitation and opportunism and has zero thematic connection to the flaccid and empty-headed horror movie that follows. If I sound angry that’s because I don’t need to see animals having their skulls crushed in to get it.
Seed (William Sanderson) is a killer of astounding proficiency (for further details: see below). Matt Bishop (Boll BFF, Michael Paré) is the detective that’s been tracking Seed all these years. You can tell he’s a haunted cop because he has a drinking problem and hears the cries of dead babies. Eventually, Bishop tracks down Seed’s hideout and he arrests the murderous fiend. Seed is sentenced to die by the electric chair. The problem is that the prison doesn’t have a pristine electric chair, and the law says that if a man survives three jolts of juice then he’s free to go (for further details: see below). The warden (Ralf Moeller) decides to take command. He and a group of prison employees bury Seed alive and tell the world he died on the faulty electric chair. Of course Seed comes back and rekindles that old killing feeling.
If Sanctimony was Boll’s attempt to manufacture the clever Saw-esque serial killer, a higher scale of serial killers, then Seed is at the opposite end of the serial killer equation. This is a dull slasher movie and Seed is about as dull as killers can be. His main attributes are that he’s a huge guy with a sack on his head, which is kind of similar to about 1000 different slasher movies. He looks particularly close to Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I guess the slasher recipe is add one obscure mask plus one set of overalls plus dirt = killer. The guy has zero personality and is merely a silent killing machine that, in typical slasher fashion, always roams around at a deliberately slow pace. Sanderson (star of SEVEN Boll films) is unrecognizable as Seed and this is mostly because he wears a sack on his head and says maybe one thing for the entire 90-minute running time. I don’t recall Sanderson being as bulky either. Boll’s attempt at a horror movie wallows in exploitation and prolonged torture. As always, he’s late to the party.
Seed is credited as bring solely written by Boll, and the man screws it all up within minutes. When it comes to horror movies there will always need to be a somewhat healthy suspension of disbelief but only up to a point. Every movie no matter the genre or internal logic will have a breaking point. Seed cruises through that breaking point alarmingly early. Through the use of newspaper clippings, Boll introduces us to the backstory of Mr. Seed (he uses newspaper clippings for 90 percent of all exposition, meaning someone at the police department has a big thing for scrapbooking). We are told that from 1973-1979, Seed killed an astounding, and numerologically convenient, 666 people in those six years. Just take a second and think that figure over. One person in a ratty cloth mask and overalls killed 666 people. Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacey weren’t even anywhere near that figure and they are highly prolific serial killers. Boll wanted to make his serial killer scary but he totally overcompensates and destroys any credibility the film could possibly attain. Why 666? There’s no way it’s a coincidence considering the pull of that number in our pop culture. Was that a target quota for Seed? Did he make a chart to know when he was falling behind?
The sheer magnitude of that number obliterates the facade of “reality” Boll wants to create in his movie. These cops have to be the worst investigative unit in history. Seriously, could they not tabulate any clues or patterns or habits of Seed after 665 murders? I think the FBI would have stepped in hundreds of unsolved murders ago. And yet Boll then shows again how staggeringly inept these local cops are. They find out Seed’s home, which is of course a dilapidated shack in the middle of nowhere. This naturally begs the question that Seed would have to venture out long distances to find so many victims, and yet no witnesses of any sort? But Boll ignores this and steamrolls ahead. What showcases the utter stupidity of these boys in blue is that they ride out in the middle of the night, into the middle of the woods, and decide to raid Seed’s house with only six officers. I’m sorry, but if any man killed 666 people with his own hands then you don’t plan on taking him down with a small unit of cops who have already proven to be inept. You bring in tanks.
The premise itself is deeply flawed and begging for mockery. Seed proposes that there is a law on the books that somehow mandates prisoners must be set free if you can’t kill them after three jolts from the electric chair. We’re talking 45 second long jolts of 15,000 volts of electricity frying your brain. Your heart will eventually explode with all that electricity. So how does this law truly work? Surely no one would actually abide by it or fear that the government would punish them for breaking this law? Seed never specifies where it takes place, though the vibe I get is more southern, and they love to kill people in the South, especially Texas. Did the electric company propose this three-strikes-and-you’re-alive policy as an incentive to inmates? Do low-income prisons have a higher turnaround rate? Does this law cover firing squads and hangings as well? A judge and jury have found Seed guilty and sentenced him to be executed. That judicial ruling is not absolved because an inmate could withstand a high degree of voltage. The premise turns an execution into a contest.
Most slasher movies involve a near superhuman antagonist, and Seed follows suit. He can attack and kill four prison guards who try to gang rape him in his cell (what part of 666 kills says, “please expose your penis near me”?). He can step on a prison guard’s forearm and crush it so that it looks like a swaying doll part. He can bust out of a coffin and dig himself out of a grave. Now I did some quick math and a 6 feet by 6 feet by 3 feet grave is 108 total cubic feet. The lightest dirt will weigh is 42 pounds per cubic foot. That means that Seed had 4536 pounds of force weighing down on him in that grave. Yet he was able to free himself and go on his rampage. If Seed is this indestructible force then it’s ridiculous that Pare could kick him a few times and the man went down during the police capture. Which is the worse screenwriting sin? Having Seed wiggle out of 4500 pounds of force or the fact that the prison guards did a lousy job of BURYING ALIVE a man who killed 666 people! Why would you ever bury this maniac alive?! That seems hardly definitive. Common sense begs cutting off the man’s head just to be certain.
When it comes to horror movies, building an atmosphere is essential but there’s a notable difference between building dread and simply killing time. Boll does not know this difference. Seed doesn’t even get placed on the electric chair until 46 minutes in. The first 33 minutes of the movie is pointless because it retells Seed’s capture via a flashback while he sits on death row. Watching Seed finally get captured isn’t really important to the story, and a good half of that misspent time is simply gross and grainy home videos. Seed sends videotapes to the police to taunt them. The tapes are shot in a dungeon-like location and involve living creatures rotting thanks to the miracles of time-lapse photography. Naturally this raises two quibbles: 1) No one had personal video recording devices in the mid 1970s, let alone a maniac living in the middle of nowhere, and 2) watching dogs and babies die of dehydration and then decompose to ash means that these video projects took many weeks to accomplish. That’s a lot of time. Boll spends five plus minutes of screen time just showing these grainy snuff videos with the police recoiling. Perhaps the extent of their investigation was watching these gross videos and making faces. How many videos do the police have from Seed? It seems like Seed’s version of the fruit of the month club.
But getting back to misspent time, Boll thinks just holding onto a shot and not cutting makes it scary or tense. It doesn’t. I don’t need nearly two minutes uninterrupted of watching guards fiddle with Seed’s chains as they try and latch him into the electric chair. I don’t need almost a minute of one shot panning around a boat departing the prison isle. I don’t need nearly two uninterrupted minutes of watching the prison doctor’s bedtime rituals before he eventually gets murdered. I especially don’t need over five uninterrupted minutes of watching Seed hit a woman in the head with a mallet. I’m not being facetious when I tell you that he literally hits her 40 times until her head is purified into a bloody stump of a neck. Seed literally paints the walls with this old woman’s blood (how did this genius not get caught?). The soundtrack soars to laughable heights and the scene just goes on and on, figuratively bludgeoning the audience as well. Boll believes that just holding onto a moment of depravity makes it sinister. It doesn’t when there’s no audience connection whatsoever to the tired material. Boll does craft one nicely tense sequence where Pare and the cops capture Seed. There’s a moment when one officer is tiptoeing through the basement of Seed’s home and the only source of light is the flicker of the police siren. It’s visually appealing and works to create tension as well. But this moment is short-lived. I’ll never know how a burly guy can see through a cloth mask in the dark and sneak around in a dilapidated home filled with crap covered in tetanus.
It may be hard to notice for some, but Uwe Boll is actually improving as a filmmaker, at least from a technical standard. Seed looks like an actual movie. Seed is grisly and nihilistic and futile. The killer is a bore and the story is poorly structured, taking far too long to get Seed in the ground and wrecking havoc. Boll’s screenwriting shortcomings are fully evident as he strings together genre clichés and ridiculous plot points that obliterate credibility. He grasps at making statements about the human capacity for cruelty. Well I didn’t need a Uwe Boll movie to educate me on man’s inhumanity to man, especially one this shoddy and empty. This movie isn’t even entertaining; it’s a chore to sit through. This is the first Boll movie that I sat just waiting for it to be over. There is no reason to watch this thing. During the extended scenes of video watching by the police, one of the cops watches a baby decompose and replies, “Sick bastard.” I think Boll was projecting here. And I didn’t need footage of animals being slaughtered to reach that conclusion either.
Nate’s Grade: D-
It’s been some time since infamously derided director Uwe Boll reared his head and much has changed. 2006’s Bloodrayne was his last theatrically released movie but that movie was originally shot in 2004 and pushed back. In the meantime Germany revised its tax code closing the loophole that helped finance many of Boll’s cinematic duds thanks to German financiers being able to write off their debts. Boll has finished an additional three movies that are all scheduled for release in 2008, including the star-studded (for Boll) Lord of the Rings rip-off, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale opening this month. Boll may never get a chance to direct a theatrically released film again, which may explain his decision to helm a direct-to-DVD sequel to Bloodrayne.
The dusty town of Deliverance, Montana is under assault from the monstrous Billy the Kid (Zack Ward). Except Billy is no ordinary bandit but a powerful vampire intent on keeping his dastardly deeds nice and quiet until the railroad moves in with a nonstop supply of fresh meat and future members of the undead. Newspaper reporter Newton Pyles (Christopher Coppola, no relation to the famous family) has ventured to Deliverance in hopes of witnessing and writing exciting tales of the Wild West, and instead he’s become the man forced to write the cover-up of Billy’s actions. The vampires have kidnapped the town’s children with the idea of feasting off them while they wait. The town’s only hope is half-human, half-vampire Rayne (Natassia Malthe). Under the guidance of rustler Pat Garret (Michael Paré), the pair gather a team to combat Billy the Kid and free Deliverance from evil.
Stylistically, Bloodrayne II: Deliverance is Boll’s desperate attempt to ape the look and feel of HBO’s popular Western series, Deadwood. It really is rather obvious to anyone that has ever seen the show. The costumes in Deliverance look similar, the sets are dressed similarly (though they still come across as too tourist attraction stagy), the gas-lamp lighting and use of darkness seems pretty similar, and the screenplay even manages to sprinkle in a few “cocksuckers,” which any Deadwood fan would know was the term of choice for historic cowpokes. Boll has the directing habit of borrowing liberally from his sources, so I expected nothing less for his attempt at a Western. The mundane cinematography goes to great lengths to declare how handheld the camerawork is. There is a noticeable difference between following the action as it develops for a docu-drama feel and simply shaking and bobbing the camera for a misguided attempt at artistic effect. After a while you feel like the cameraman must be balancing on a unicycle. There’s an over reliance on particular camera shots and close-ups are strictly reserved for the eyes and fingers during buildups to gunfights. The lavish mountain scenery of Canada (er, I mean Montana, yeah, Montana) is probably the visual highlight of a film that includes a sexy redhead kicking ass in a midriff barring leather bustier.
The action is surprisingly decent. The climactic shootout between the forces of good and evil isn’t going to rival anything I saw in the updated 3:10 to Yuma, however, to Boll’s credit, the action is not ineptly constructed. He develops parallel lines of action and separates Rayne’s posse to deal with separate heroic last stands. Gunfights are naturally easier to stage than sword battles (shot 1: bad guy fires, shot 2: good guy ducks then fires, shot 3: bad guy gets hit) and that might explain why Rayne doesn’t break out her signature arm-blades until the very end of the climax. Rhetorical question time: who brings an arm-blade to a gunfight, anyway?
But it is structure that weighs down Bloodrayne II. Boll finally has a handle on crafting some workable action sequences and he just blows it. Bloodrayne II has exactly three action sequences and the first two are rather puny. There is a long drought in between action and in its place are a lot of dull conversations amidst increasingly dull characters. Vampires and the Wild West is a concept that can work; fun can be had with vampire cowboys and high noon (make that midnight) duels, and yet Boll seems uneasy about embracing its supernaturally campy potential. Bloodrayne II has little blood, zero gore, no nudity, no sex, and a pitifully scant amount of action. In other words, it’s missing all of the exploitation elements that make a movie like Bloodrayne II worth watching.
Screenwriters Christopher Donaldson and Neil Every throw in a lot of side characters into the stew but then quickly dispatch them as well, which at least keeps the audience on their guard and wary that anyone that assists Rayne is destined for a sudden end. Most egregiously, they speed through one of the best segments in all of movies: the getting-the-team-together sequence. Rayne and Garret are collecting a posse that includes a con man preacher (Michael Eklund) and a drunk affectionately known as Slime Bag Franson (Michael Teigen). Part of the enjoyment of the Western is following the unifying of a team and watching relationships form, and Bloodrayne II rushes through this process. It collects its gunfighters in brief introductions and then heads right for the finish.
There seems to be little continuity between the two films even ignoring the change at lead vampire slaying hottie. The vampires in this entry behave drastically different from the older European ones in the first film. Rayne seems to have lost her healing abilities, which were what the circus folk put on display when she was their money-earning star of their own little freak show (apparently during the 100-plus year gap between films Rayne got a little hammered during Spring Break and got a lower back tattoo). I bring up the healing issue because at one point Rayne is shot several times while escaping via swimming through a river. She’s struggling to regain her strength and confesses to Garret about her true nature and her need for blood. In one of the most curious moments for a movie that pairs vampires and cowboys, Garret slices open his arm and holds it over Rayne, dripping blood all over her face. The characters even seem to catch the weirdness as they both remark how much more useful a simple cup might have been.
It wouldn’t be a Boll movie without an abundance of the bizarre, the ludicrous, and the unintentionally funny. Rayne travels great distances on horseback to Deliverance with the intention of slaying some vampires she knows are responsible for murdering her friends. She finds the reflection-free accomplice (House of the Dead‘s Tyron Leitso) and holds a stool to his windpipe, choking the bastard. Instead of finishing him off Rayne relents and lets him live because, wait for it, he let her participate in his card game. Talk about a strange shift in motivation. During the climax, the townsfolk are stirred to rise up against Billy and his vampire clan thanks to the mayor and Pyles finally growing some spines. They set out to shoot them some vampires, but really what will they accomplish? Bloodrayne II established earlier that the vampires could take being plugged with bullets unless the ammunition is combined with garlic. I doubt the townspeople know they need that key ingredient to their firearms. How do the people in 1880s Montana manage to get a copy of the Chicago newspaper Pyles writes for? The railroad hasn’t made its way to Deliverance so I’m at a loss for the speedy spread of print journalism 1,000 miles away.
But the most unintentionally funny moment comes at the end when Billy has staged an elaborate system of pulleys so that when Rayne opens a door it drops a weight that will raise a series of noose around the captured children’s necks. The kid on the furthest right is hung to death and the children seem to be arranged according to height, which seems a little OCD even for a vampire. The tallest kid on the far left of this makeshift gallows reacts very differently. While the rest of the child actors are crying, fretting, and acting like the ropes are cutting their breathing, this kid on the far left is just standing stone-faced and still. He’s not even bothering to act and it shows.
The dialogue is expectantly awful, including clunkers like Pyles saying, “I have a question. I came looking for stories of the Wild West,” and then never actually asking a question (what kind of reporter doesn’t know what a question is?). The best/worst example of dialogue is literally the final line spoken and it blindsides the audience like a car crash. Garret says with a glint of wisdom, “Life is like a penis. When it’s hard you get screwed and when it’s soft it can’t be beat.” Wow. Someone alert the motivational poster industry because I have a gut feeling this will rival the perilous “Hang in there” kitty.
The first Rayne, Kristanna Loken, decided she’d rather stick with her crummy Sci-Fi TV show, which has since been cancelled, than don the arm-blades once more for Boll. Malthe (Elektra, Skinwalkers) has the acting prowess you would expect from a former Maxim magazine model. It’s not like the role of Rayne involves much emotional complexity; mostly an actress has to be able to deliver some clunky dialogue and look attractive while swinging a sword. Malthe is certainly a fine looking woman but she is a non-starter when it comes to the world of acting. Yeah she looks good in leather chaps but whenever she speaks it’s in the same emotionless, dry tone even when she’s supposed to be angry. She comes across like an ineffectual dominatrix who’s studied acting by watching tapes of Shannon Doherty. Malthe seems to have a few faces in her acting repertoire and one of them is stink-eye, which you will be very familiar with by the end of the movie.
Ward is hilariously miscast and completely unconvincing as an evil bloodsucker cowboy. Ward got his start in the classic A Christmas Story and I remember him best playing the goofy, dumb younger brother on comedian Christopher Titus’ hysterical TV show, Titus. Ward tacks on a lousy Eastern European accent that comes in sharp conflict with the setting and material of the film. Are vampires immune from having accents rub off on them, because Rayne seems to have assimilated well into frontier speech patterns? I challenge others not to crack up when he yells, “Now the slaughter begins.” In his defense, Ward isn’t given many scenes to play and the screenwriters have to fall back on the cheap “kids in danger” device to establish his villainy.
The other actors don’t fare much better. Coppola annoys within minutes of appearing onscreen. A helpful bartender (Chris Spencer) is astoundingly bad even for an Uwe Boll movie. He plays the part like Ted Lange in the Wild West. Boll go-to actor Paré actually seems at home with the Western material and his curt, monotone delivery fits well with the material. He’s a good fit for this genre but that doesn’t excuse his poor performances in four previous Boll flicks. The best actor in the movie is the original sheriff-turned-vampire (John Novak) who works an impressive snarl and a natural physically intimidating presence. He would have made for a serviceable lead villain over Ward.
Bloodrayne II: Deliverance is far less fun than the original while being better in some regards and worse in others. There isn’t much artistic growth shown. Boll was naturally meant to transition to the relegated realm of direct-to-DVD movies. It’s more his terrain what with the queasy production values, bad acting, and shoddy, repackaged scripts. In the world of direct-to-DVD a movie can live on into infinity thanks to assembly line sequels. Did anyone realize there are now, thanks to direct-to-DVD releases, seven Children of the Corns, four Bring it Ons, and a whopping 13 Land Before Times. It’s here where Boll’s quick production turnarounds will yield the most gain and where he may even thrive. He’s already planning to direct a Bloodrayne 3 and producing an Alone in the Dark 2 (regrettably there was a 2005 direct-to-DVD sequel to House of the Dead though it had no Boll involvement whatsoever). I think Uwe Boll is finally where he belongs.
Nate’s Grade: D
The film spans one morning of a “normal” high school in Oregon (it looks like the school is a three-story motel). It’s the last day of school and everyone is ready to jump into the real world. The storylines are rife with every high school cliché that can be found. Drum roll please, and they are:
1) Good Virgin (Stefanie MacGillivray) is dumped by Jerky Jock (Will Sanderson) because she refuses to put out. The majority of this storyline takes place in the guy’s car where he sadistically tells her all the details of the many other girls he was “forced” to sleep with (“The whole school f***s. Everybody except you.”). One of these girls is the transient High Girl (Elisabeth Rosen), who has fallen in love with Jerky Jock over the course of him using her for sex.
2) High Girl has no parental involvement and lots of free time. She thusly gets high a lot and trips out for most of the movie. Dealer Dude spends all day implausibly hanging around the high school with sacks of drugs to sell. He’s stopped by Idealist Guidance Counselor (Maria Conchita Alonso) who wants to make a difference.
3) Good Student apparently wasn’t good at contraceptive planning because she’s pregnant. She wants an abortion and her life back. She’s also really snotty to her Boyfriend who wants to keep the baby and support her but is also willing to support whatever decision she makes. Man, he’s such a jerk. Way jerkier than Jerky Jock.
4) Mean Creative Writing Teacher (Michael Paré) gets a good talking-to by the school principal (Jurgen Prochnow). The teacher is struggling with his own writing and taking out his frustrations by being overly critical of his students’ works. His grades appear to be unfair and unprofessional. One of his students is High Girl.
5) A team of bullies regularly beat up and humiliates Barry (Michael Belyea) and Daniel, who masterminds a plot for revenge. Daniel (Kett Turton) is tormented by his abusive father (Clint Howard) who just laughs when he sees bruises and black eyes on his son. The bullies are lead by King Bully (Brendan Fletcher) who is visited by his older brother, Former King Bully (Steve Byers), who reminisces about the good ole days of beating people up because they were different. These storylines mix and match until our inevitable shoot-em-up conclusion.
Heart of America is based on a story by Boll and written by Robert Dean Klein (Blackwoods). The plot structure is competent and the film is mildly entertaining, which was a great surprise for me. The cinematography is above average for its budget and the score is quiet and reflective. Heart of America, with all its shortcomings, is still a better movie than Gus van Sant’s school shooter opus, Elephant (I dread to see this statement on the front of a re-released DVD).
Despite all of its simplicity, Heart of America makes some boneheaded decisions. It closes with lengthy text detailing other school shooters in the previous years. The text takes away from the drama and has no significant purpose other than to say, “You’ve just watched kids shoot up their school. Here’s how some other kids did it. If you’d like to learn more, visit your local library.” Heart of America also lacks subtlety; every item that is meant to carry a message of significance is hit so hard you’ll wonder if a gong is rattling. Then again, Boll isn’t well known for subtlety. This should explain Heart of America’s aches and pains with revealing its twists and revelations.
For two acts we’re led to believe that Daniel and Barry are the ones who are going to shoot up their school. Daniel IM’s his co-conspirator and reminds them not to “punk out on him.” Then minutes before the bloodbath it’s revealed that his co-conspirator is . . . another person! It’s High Girl, who takes a gun and gladly goes about killing classmates. Heart of America intentionally teases the viewer whether Barry will not follow through and this twist is intended to be something of a surprise. Trouble is someone should have told that to the DVD manufacturing folks. On the Heart of America DVD cover (as you can see for yourselves above) are the faces of Daniel and High Girl side-by-side. Superimposed over them is a list of school shooting locations that have been crossed out (it’s little wonder that Boll held back from the final one saying, “Anytown, U.S.A.”). Below all of these images is another picture of High Girl, this time standing in class and pointing an accusatory finger at some unforeseen figure. Any person intending to watch Heart of America will instantly associate High Girl with Daniel and already be thinking they’re Bonnie and Clyde. You can’t have a twist when you’re advertising it on the front cover of your DVD. Would The Sixth Sense have been as effective if the poster had Bruce Willis walking through walls like Ghost Dad (no respect to Ghost Dad intended)?
The most disturbing moment in Heart of America doesn’t even take place around the school. It involves a story Big Brother tells his bully clan about his greatest accomplishments. One of these is inviting a mentally challenged girl into his basement, getting her drunk, and then gang-banging her. At first I thought it was rather unwarranted and unethical to have flashbacks of Big Bro’s story so that we can actually see the rape. Then it hit a slightly interesting juxtaposition, as Big Bro’s positive recount of his victim’s experience doesn’t exactly match what we see happening. So I was willing to let it slide until the film hit a deplorable low – a gratuitous nude scene of the mentally challenged girl (dubbed “Slow White”). You can tell it’s gratuitous too because most of the scene isn’t even shot at angles that expose the breasts. It’s disturbing on the level that Boll was knowingly trying to shoehorn in some nudity and elicit titillation. The decision actually detracts from the power of the scene because it feels so tackily gratuitous. Is it too much to ask that if we have a mentally challenged girl being raped that we don’t also have a needless nude scene? This whole moment is egregiously disgusting because it’s done for titillation.
Once the end credits start to roll, the casual viewer will think two things: 1) What is that awful, tonally inappropriate pop song playing that actually has the lyrics, “The roads you made are the ones you pave,” and 2) what the hell was the message of Heart of America? In the first ten minutes or so we see teens on drugs, teens on medication, teens with no parental involvement, teens with parental abuse, and teens bullying to feel better about themselves. Do any of these things cause school violence, or is it some kind of magic combination? I never expected Heart of America to fashion a thesis on why kids grab guns and shoot up their schools but the ending feels ridiculously, artlessly devoid of meaning.
To further get into this point of discussion I will be spoiling all of the major plot lines of the movie, so in the rare instance anyone is remotely interested in watching Heart of America and/or its sick mentally challenged nude scene, scroll down. You won’t be missing much, trust me.
As expected, Daniel and High Girl get revenge primarily upon their tormentors. What I don’t get is that before High Girl sweeps into her classroom for her vengeance, she tells Dealer Dude, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Huh? Does she mean she wouldn’t have gone to these lengths had she not be high? Or is this statement farther reaching, like blaming Dealer Dude for being apart of a system that has turned her into a degenerate drug user? I have no idea, but High Girl struts into class and kills Creative Writing Teacher, who had made fun of her and forced her to read her poetry aloud. Got it. But then she aims her pistol at Jerky Jock, whispers “I love you,” and then shoots Good Virgin to death. Apparently High Girl did not catch the news that Jerky Jock had dumped her minutes earlier. So what is the point of Good Virgin’s storyline? The only thing I can surmise is that if you don’t have sex you will be killed. If Good Virgin had given up her goodly virginity then Jerky Jock wouldn’t have been on the prowl, and he wouldn’t have used High Girl for throwaway sex, and then she wouldn’t have shot Good Virgin in jealousy. You see how this works? It’s the exact opposite of a horror movie. Daniel also shoots and kills Good Student’s boyfriend/father of her baby. What is that saying? Is it some kind of ironic statement on abortion? Why couldn’t any of the shooters have clipped Patrick Muldoon’s nails-on-the-chalkboard horndog sex ed teacher? It seems Boll has a soapbox but he has nothing understandable to say.
Heart of America makes the audience not only side with the school shooters but also practically roots for them. Daniel and Barry undergo constant bullying from the get go. The film, in its simplistic approach, plays the bullies as irredeemable assholes and Daniel and Barry are the hapless victims. Heart of America practically justifies its characters resorting to violence. Sure some innocent people get caught in the fray, but then aren’t they all to blame somehow? Again, I have no idea what Boll is trying to say.
Despite Boll having no command with actors (Muldoon is a constant reminder of this), the younger actors in Heart of America give pretty good performances. Turton (Saved!, Walking Tall) really festers with anger and discontent but also gives insights into a fragile kid just wanting to live. Belyea really works his nervous indecision to a nub, going so far as to hide his mother’s car keys so she won’t chance going to his school. Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason) is a grinning monster as a bully but, in the film’s lone turn at character depth, also shows how uncomfortable he is being a bully. It seems that he too is just doing it to fit in. Fletcher’s pained and awkward reactions are a welcome sign of humanity, though it seems to be too little too late when we the climax hits. Rosen seems decidedly disconnected and dead-eyed scary.
It’s puzzling that the top listed actors in Heart of America’s credits are as follows; Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Paré, Patrick Muldoon, and Maria Conchita Alonso. All four of those actors amount to about ten minutes of total screen time; Muldoon essentially has a grating cameo. Why are the kids not credited as the rightful stars of the show? The adults give terrible performances (seriously, I cannot overstate how creepy Muldoon is) but the kids are all right. The most shocking fact about the cast is that somewhere in this mix is Emmy-nominated Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss. Look for her in here somewhere as “Robin Walters.”
Heart of America works with paint-by-numbers characters and Boll only doles out one color. The jock is a jerk. The virgin is good. The bullies are mean. The stoners are high. Very seldom does the film delve any deeper than these cursory characterizations. Because of this simplicity Heart of America strains credibility during its more unrealistic moments. At one point, King Bully and his posse force Daniel and Barry to eat dog poop and the moment is played as a defining point of drama. Does this stuff really happen? If it does then it certainly doesn’t happen often enough to be included in Boll’s depiction of a “normal” school. Then again, Boll’s idea of a normal American educational environment also involves raping mentally challenged girls. The name of the movie itself indicates how typical everything is supposed to seem.
This is a thought-provoking film, with the main thought being “What the hell is the movie trying to say?” Heart of America wades in a kiddy pool of high school clichés. The characters are paint-by-numbers and lack definition beyond their social title (Virgin, Jock, Bully, etc.). This film is awash in unresolved statements and stacks the deck so the audience will practically root for the school shooters. With no help from Uwe Boll, the younger actors are the movie’s stars and give good performances despite the limited range of their characters. You won’t know anything deeper after watching Heart of America. It’s Boll’s Big Statement Film but your guess is as good as mine as to whatever that is. Violence breeds violence? Parents need to spend more time with their kids? Don’t force kids to eat poo if they’re not ready? Heart of America is unrealistic, strained, unfocused, shallow and clumsy, and it’s also Boll’s best work to date.
Nate’s Grade: C
Blackwoods is Uwe Boll’s second English-speaking film. The video’s box advertises the film as a modern Most Dangerous Game, with the befuddled Patrick Muldoon as the prey. This got me thinking about what it would be like if society allowed the recreational hunting of untalented pretty actors. I think it could be a big moneymaker. I’ve already started talking with some investors and things look very promising.
Matt (Muldoon) is a smooth playboy from the big city. He’s off to travel with his girlfriend, Dawn (Keegan Conner Tracy), to meet her parents. Dawn grew up in a very small town well off the beaten path. This requires a trip through the Blackwoods, what she calls the hard-to-see forested area when night hits. The lovebirds get a good talking to about excessive speeds by the town’s sheriff (Michael Paré), who finds Matt curiously familiar. They shack up at a seedy motel run by a seedy owner (Clint Howard). After some vigorous time between the sheets, Dawn goes off to the bathroom to freshen up. Matt is tormented by visions he cannot quite place, but they involve something to do with a car accident. He wakes up to find Dawn has disappeared. On top of all this, a man with an axe breaks into the room. Matt fends him off and goes looking for what happened to his sweetheart. No one seems to believe him. Then he finds a decrepit house out in the woods. He gets knocked out and locked in the basement. Inside, Matt is put on trial for murder by a local family, who plan to become hillbilly judge and jury. And when they badger the witness, they really badger the witness.
Blackwoods almost stumbles accidentally into being an interesting film. The premise of hillbilly justice on the big city folk would make for a good horror movie, no question. I mean, for decades horror movies have been preaching the dangers of small rural towns and their inhabitants. Boll has found himself a fitting premise for a horror movie. But Boll and co-writer Robert Dean Klein aren’t interested in making a horror movie; they want to make Blackwoods into a psychological thriller. They want something more. It’s these pathetic gasps for cleverness that doom Blackwoods. The eleventh hour twists Boll and Klein pack feel contrived and uninspired (the very end shamelessly rips off Final Destination). The ending twist, designed to tie everything together, raises far more questions than answers. You’ll probably be able to see it coming a mile away. Sometimes simpler is the way to go, fellas.
It’s hard to feel for Matt when he’s such an arrogant dope. There are two standout moments that reflect how stupid Matt is. The first is after Dawn goes missing in his motel room. Matt is baffled and tries to work it all out in a bathroom, as most men do. His room is then broken into by an axe-wielding intruder. Matt manages to hide and avoid him. Minutes later, the axe-wielding intruder returns and the two get into a brawl. Matt wins and the intruder runs away again. After this ruckus, Matt lays down on the motel bed and goes to sleep. He dozes off in a room that has been broken into twice by a man with an axe! The second incident happens late in the film as two hillbilly brothers chase Matt through the Blackwoods. One of the brothers has a gun and the other more sporting brother has a bow and arrow. Matt kills the brother with the gun and takes his weapon. Suddenly an arrow zips over his head and sticks in the tree. Behind him is the other brother, and even though this brother is currently unarmed and at a distance, he convinces Matt to drop his pistol. The ending twist only adds more fresh accounts of Matt’s idiocy.
Boll uses a heavy amount of blur-technique for very long stretches of time. Very long. An entire sex scene is blurrified into submission. Boll tries juicing up action sequences by adding the blur effect, which only infuriates an audience already sick of it. The effect is arbitrary and unwelcome. Boll has confused shaking the camera with artistry. Shaking the camera does not equal art, no matter how many notes you take while watching The Blair Witch Project. The stylistic choices Boll makes as a director seem so self-consciously motivated to goose up a limp story.
Blackwoods falls apart because it’s clueless when it comes to plot structure and mood. Boll isn’t one for trusting an audience to pick up his clues. Oh no, he’ll aggressively make sure you get every hint that something is important. When Matt grabs a knife we get an extra special close-up of it followed by a crescendo of music. Boll is shouting the importance of this item. And the funny thing is the knife isn’t even important. The same crescendo happens when a waitress gives Matt the stink-eye, and when Dawn takes a post-coital walk to the motel bathroom. We should pay attention to these things, Boll screams in our ears. Later, Matt assures Drew that “thing’s will be fine.” Cut to blurry image! Matt says, “My mom never let me do things on my own.” Cut to blurry image! Someone says, “You’re paranoid about something, though I don’t know what.” Cut to more blurry images! Because of the back and forth structure, Boll serves up a witless Cliff Notes of important plot points he wants to underline. Blackwoods kills any surprise it could have generated because of these superfluous cuts meant to engender a sense of foreboding. There’s a difference between feeling something will happen and knowing, and Boll’s ham-fisted plot structure and direction drain the film of any involvement. You can’t be mysterious and clever while spoon feeding an audience and hitting them over the head.
Boll uses inappropriate songs at key moments and it wrecks the mood. The sex scene is bad as is because of the blurring and strange editing. What makes the scene drop-dead awful is the song choice that plays over. It’s some odd pop song with odd arrangements that cripples any intended drama. It’ll really take the tingle out of your dingle. Moviemakers of the world take note, if you want your scene to have some power or importance, do not attach a song that will elicit titters from an audience. Nowhere in Saving Private Ryan could you find the song, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”
At the end of Blackwoods I counted the number of artist’s songs used in the film; there are 5 songs by I Saw Elvis, 4 Songs by April Daze, and 3 songs by Charlemane. It seems Boll is more interested in using songs he can get his grubby opportunistic Germanic hands on.
Blackwoods has a score that is overly anxious. There are your standard high-pitched jump moments, but the score also wedges itself into scenes to a comical degree. Take a scene where Matt is being interrogated by the sheriff. The sheriff dictates what he has been told of Matt’s motel room attacker, and ends by noting, “Guy dressed all in black.” The music dramatically swells. We’re meant to distrust the sheriff. Matt says cautiously, “Did I say that?” Sheriff: “Yeah.” Matt: “Oh. Okay.” And the music immediately ends. I kid you not; during Matt’s chase scene in the woods there are tuba sounds on the score. Not a tuba apart of an orchestration, just a tuba. It’s like they recorded this score during take your daughter to work day.
The acting in Blackwoods could be rivaled by lousy high school theatrical productions. Most of the actors are quite stiff and give terrible line deliveries. Boll truly has no idea what to do with his actors and it shows. Actors will punctuate the dialogue in peculiar places and frequently overact like no one’s watching. Muldoon (Starship Troopers) is a pretty actor without much else going for him. His acting range goes from indignant to quiet anxiety, neither of which is convincing. I think his eyebrows out-acted him. Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers, TV’s Greatest American Hero) looks and acts drowsy the whole movie, like any second he’s in danger of keeling over into dream land. Tracy (40 Days and 40 Nights, White Noise) plays the most challenging part and has some fun with it. Her moments of petulant anger are a welcome sight amongst this acting dead zone.
Boll could have had an effective, loosely entertaining horror movie with Blackwoods. Instead, he and his co-writer attempt to grasp at something smarter and fall flat on their faces. Blackwoods is dull, inane, cluelessly structured, poorly acted, and devoid of any nuance. Boll’s tortured direction relies on a lot of arbitrary and annoying stylistic choices (whoever thought it was a good idea to blur a sex scene?). This creaky psychological thriller thinks it’s clever by playing with flash forwards and contrived Big Twists, but Blackwoods is nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is. Maybe Boll’s penchant for blurring the film was the right move; in a few days that’s all this forgettable movie will become.
Nate’s Grade: D
Sanctimony is the English-language introduction to the filmography of Dr. Uwe Boll and the very last movie I had yet to see for my first edition of my expansive column. Boll wrote and directed the movie about a clever serial killer that’s baffled law enforcement. It’s interesting coming into Sanctimony with all the Uwe Boll homework in the back of my head. I know what flaws I’m looking for, I pay attention to the retched line delivery from the actors, and I genuinely know what I’m getting into. It’s seems that Boll works somewhat in a bubble; almost all of his technical crew is the same from film to film, and Michael Paré, Jurgen Prochnow, Clint Howard, and Patrick Muldoon seem to be the stable Uwe Boll Players. Sanctimony is where it all began and where everything went so horribly awry for movie going audiences.
A killer is loose and terrorizing Seattle, cutting out the eyes, ears, and tongues of his victims. The media has dubbed him the “Monkey Maker killer” (think “speak no evil, hear no evil, etc.”). Detective Renart (Paré) and his partner Dorothy Smith (Jennifer Rubin) are assigned the case. After some investigation of a stabbed homeless girl, their initial suspect seems to be Tom (Casper Van Dien), a wealthy and cynical stockbroker. His lawyer balks at any charges and Tom goes free. Coincidentally, more bodies start piling up haphazardly. As Renart puts more pressure on Tom, he starts targeting those close to him, like his pregnant wife (Catherine Oxenberg, who seduced Van Dien in 1999’s The Omega Code). Tom has some master plan ready to shock the world, and only the dogged persistence of Renart can stop his wicked ways.
Sanctimony is really a crossbreeding of what Boll liked best about Seven and American Psycho. Like David Fincher’s masterpiece, Boll really wants his serial killer to be slicing and dicing with a message; this killer gets his kicks from cutting out different body parts. Tom eventually goes after his pursuer’s pregnant wife, just like Seven, and clumsily aims for some kind of myopic preaching. Tom sure does like to spit out a diatribe about the plague of humanity, even after he’s just dismembered a call girl. Boll seems very intent on crafting Tom into a Patrick Bateman-esque character, one whose soul has been lost to the bottom line of the business world (how many hotshot stockbrokers are based in Seattle?). But while American Psycho was complex, satirical and deeply metaphorical, Sanctimony is stupid. Boll wants Tom’s speeches to have terrifying power to them, but instead they come across as theatrical and lifeless. Tom says, “Raping and pillaging have been the official government policy of any government that’s ever thrived.” If you’re impressed by this assertion, Sanctimony might just be the movie for you. If you yawn at this sub-standard Political Science 101 ejaculation, then you’re likely beyond the film’s short-armed reach. Boll’s writing has a vague inauthentic feel, like he learned everything about crime procedural from TV. In the year 2000, a character actually summarizes America with the words, “apple pie and baseball.” By now I think the only people that characterize America that way are conservative politicians and out-of-touch, disdainful foreigners.
Boll’s serial killer thriller plays all the genre clichés. First, naturally, there’s the clever serial killer who must torment his persecutors as a game. Then there’s the umpteenth example of a cop haunted by the lives he can’t save and his stalwart dedication to the case straining his marriage. When will these wives ever understand? Renart and Dorothy naturally get thrown off their case, thus finally allowing them to solve it as in every cops-and-robbers movie. Maybe movies should just begin with the cop thrown off their case; it would save everyone a hell of a lot of time as far as casework. Partners must always die to spurn our hero into action, though I’d have to assume Dorothy’s too young to be days away from a blissful retirement. Killing her seems ill advised too, especially since her last known whereabouts would be a dinner date with Tom. Way to be the number one suspect and give yourself borrowed time, dude.
I hate to admit it, but despite all its glaring simplicity and predictable bumps in the road, Sanctimony is passably entertaining, that is, until the ridiculous ending draws near. As with most serial killer films, the killer is practically a super being with an agenda. Except, in Sanctimony, Boll doesn’t even give his vengeful hand of God an agenda but just an inescapable rage. The film climaxes with Tom going on a shooting spree at his wedding party and then being gunned down by Renart. Boll uses lots of slow-mo and swelling dramatic music, but the scene had no set-up from earlier and makes little to no sense. What was his master plan? Was Tom trying to outlive his looming terminal illness and create a name that will long live on, likened to the horror he has wrought? He said he couldn’t stand the curse of people, so was his plan to just take out as many people as possible? If so, surely leaving the cops obvious tell-tale signs was not helpful, especially if he was just going to out himself on live TV as a murderer anyway. Sanctimony ends with far too many loose ends and unexplained motives that, in hindsight, seem to suggest Boll’s clever serial killer wasn’t so clever after all.
Since the heroes of Sanctimony are so rote and familiar, the only place for Boll to make artistic strides is in his depiction of his killer, Tom. This is where Sanctimony and Boll really drop the ball. Before we know anything about him, Boll has already introduced us to Tom’s office, which should more accurately be described as a lair. It’s gigantic, poorly lit, and surrounded by ominous rock faces. He even has an array of monitors at his super desk of villainy. The only thing missing is a desk full of files labeled, “Plan, Evil.” We never really understand what Tom’s motivations are, though Boll thinks he’s helping by lining up speeches about Tom’s views on people (hint: it’s not optimistic). Even his choices of murder have no lasting message; Tom just kills whoever’s weak and available. If he’s an ordinary killer then what’s the point of even basing a flick around him?
Sanctimony presents a lot of Tom’s ire but never digs any deeper. He attends a laughable S&M club where they make snuff films in the back for your viewing pleasure. The leader of this demented boys club wants to harness male fury as motivation, for what I don’t know. So what does Tom do next? He goes home and chokes and rapes his fiancé, clearly indicating that this unique support group is not working. She rejects his rough play, so Tom walks the empty Seattle streets (!) with his knife openly drawn and stabs a homeless girl. Was he frustrated over his failed rape? Is he reacting against a woman asserting power over him, denying him an outlet of pleasure? We’ll never know, because Sanctimony is only interested in skirting the waters of characterization. In Boll’s movie, people fall into types and aren’t given anything else to work with. Tom is the killer. He kills. That’s all you’re going to get. Even though the movie is only 87 minutes long, Boll is disinterested in spending time with his characters. He’s rather just draw up a sketch from someone else’s work and move along.
The acting is somewhat better than most Boll movies, and yet still a degree below typical straight-to-video blandness. Van Dein (Starship Troopers) is amusingly believable as a stone-faced serial killer. His limited acting range actually strengthens the character’s sense of frustration. He’s got a menacing stare to boot. Paré (Hope Floats) phones in his performance but gets some points for being in the film’s most weirdly awkward moment, when Renart has to step in as nude model for his wife and her giggly photographer peers. Bizarre doesn’t go far enough in describing the scene. Rubin (Little Witches, Amazons and Gladiators) is the hard-nosed female cop trying to make it in a man’s world, and gives a decent if unmemorable performance. I was more intrigued by her ever-present striped scarf, which seems to follow her everywhere from the shooting range to inside her home. Roberts has very little screen time and is still third billed. Are we at an age where Eric Roberts is a marketing tool? I’d like to think not.
Sanctimony is Uwe Boll’s stab at the serial killer genre, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s formulaic and bereft of suspense and imagination. This is a generic rip-off of far better serial killer flicks. The characters are all brief sketches and genre clichés, and Boll can’t even come up with a compelling agenda for his killer. I kept waiting for Sanctimony to fully explain itself, but once the wedding shoot-out is complete the film leaves you addled and perturbed. Boll has castrated his drama, rendering it unimportant, lazy, and sloppy. Boll may have several ideas floating around his head but he never brings them in for a clarification. Whatever intellectual goals he may have intended for Sanctimony will be lost on an audience grasping for meaning and entertainment. How dumb is this movie? Well, it defines what “sanctimony” means in the opening credits via dictionary. It should be very ominous when a movie is forced to define its own title. Ominous, indeed.
Nate’s Grade: C-