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Entries in Incest Death Squad 2 [2010] (1)

Tuesday
Dec142010

Incest Death Squad 2 (2010)

One Giant Leap for Incest

Incest Death Squad 2 is one of my favorite films of 2010.

You have every right to be concerned, and before getting into the review proper, I’d like to address the issue of bias.

Shortly after my review of the first Incest Death Squad ran here and at Chateau Grrr, I received an e-mail from Cory Udler, the film’s writer/director.  He thanked me profusely for giving a detailed, honest opinion and, in follow-up correspondence, said that he hoped his contacting me wouldn’t influence my forthcoming review of IDS2.

This put me in an awkward position—not because of anything Cory did, but because I’m committed to being impartial and cold in my assessment of any movie I watch; and, believe it or not, I don’t like writing negative reviews.

Yes, it’s fun to tear movies apart, but I always feel bad afterwards; not only because I may have torn down something that’s dear to one of my readers’ hearts, but also because of the inherent insecurity that comes with doing what I do: in the entertainment spectrum, professional movie critics are about as respected by mass audiences as child molesters; so being an amateur movie critic, I imagine, places me more in league with necrophiliacs.  Back to my original point…

I really liked Incest Death Squad, but I spent a good deal of the review criticizing it.  Frankly, I didn’t know if the sequel would work at all, and I was nervous about having to pan it, knowing that the guy behind the whole thing was now a reader.  I also worried that, in the off-chance that I liked it, my objectivity would come into question. Granted, my readership is about a billionth of Roger Ebert’s—or even Armond White’s—but I have an obligation of honesty to the handful of maniacs who trust what I say (or at least absorb my point of view).

So, as you begin paragraph eight (i.e. the beginning of the actual review), please know that my love for Incest Death Squad 2 is sincere.  I have positive and negative points to hit on, and they’re all heartfelt thoughts on what I consider to be a major step forward by a passionate and promising independent filmmaker.

I have no idea of how much time passed between the making of Incest Death Squad and Incest Death Squad 2.  They were released in 2009 and 2010, respectively, but in terms of quality and coherence, they might as well have been made a decade apart.  It’s a similar difference between House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects—fitting, too, because there’s a huge Rob Zombie influence in IDS2.

Picking up a month after the events of part one, the movie finds newsman Aaron Burg (Tom Lodewyck) and his fiancée Andrea Stein (Melissa Jo Murphy) tucked away in the Wisconsin suburbs, far from backwoods sibling slashers Jeb and Amber Wayne (Greg Johnson and Carmela Wiese).  But Aaron’s encounter with the killers fractured his sanity, compelling him to keep body parts in his basement office—and to have sex with them.  Andrea has a secret of her own, playing bored bi-sexual housewife with her neighbor when Aaron leaves for work.

Meanwhile, Amber discovers she’s pregnant with Aaron’s baby and convinces Jeb to take a road trip and break the news in person.  She sees the child as the next generation of preacher-murderer who’ll keep the Wisconsin woods pure of Illinois tourists after she and her brother are gone.  Jeb agrees, and thus begins a two-day trek marked by car-jackings and hooker slayings.

At a motel, Amber calls Andrea to let her know that they’re coming; this sends Andrea into a panic and Jeb into a rage.  Andrea hires her amateur hit-man cousin Brent (Matt Ukena) to head off the Waynes; Jeb calls Amber crazy and leaves her stranded at the motel.

In an homage to Natural Born Killers, the lover/psychopaths lose themselves in pleasures of the flesh before finding their way back to each other.  For Jeb, this means screwing a mouthy prostitute before cutting her throat; for Amber, it’s a botched ménage a trois with a couple of smarmy bar douches that ends with her beaten, raped, and childless.

Here’s where I come to a familiar crossroads.  I really want to talk about what happens in the last act of Incest Death Squad 2, but I also don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it.  The dilemma is that I bet there are a number of readers who checked out at “beaten, raped, and childless”, who would never deign to see this movie.  And it’s these folks that I desperately want to reach. This film should be seen not just by every aspiring filmmaker, but also—and especially—by people who would write off an indie film with this title and this synopsis as worthless trash.  So I won’t discuss the rest of the story; rather I’m going to make my case for IDS2.

I wrote earlier about the Rob Zombie influence.  It’s evident in the grainy opening television clip featuring Televangelist Buddy Taylor (Kevin Sean Michaels); in Cory Udler’s frequent switching up of different camera filters; and most notably in the soundtrack, which is fully comprised of impeccably placed music.  The key to understanding the success of IDS2 is noting how well Udler replicates these techniques and makes them his own.

It’s refreshing to watch an independent film and to think, “How the hell did he make this scene so compelling and professional”, rather than, “I see where you’re going, pal, and you ain’t gonna make it.”  There were a number of such scenes in the first Death Squad, which were mostly done in by the low-caliber of acting.

The performances in the sequel are a huge improvement all around—and that’s thanks in equal parts to the actors and the script; I haven’t been this puzzled, frustrated, and delighted by character choices in a sequel in quite some time.

In a complete reversal of the first film, Udler writes Aaron and Andrea as scared, mean and deranged, while making Jeb and Amber more human—they’re still monsters, but they at least have an arc in this film, and have cut back on the crazy religious theatrics.  It was hard to watch Lodewyck and Murphy this time around; the soft, gooey heart of the first movie is hardened and rendered almost unwatchable here.  I think Udler went a bit too far in giving his characters pathos (the bisexuality angle went nowhere and played like an excuse to show off the hot neighbor girl’s tits, and Aaron’s transformation into skull-fucking madman was unnecessary; a more realistic portrayal of PTSD would have taken the film to the same conclusion).  Despite being bothered by some of the story choices, I was still fascinated watching these actors bounce off one another; their chemistry is solid, even when it turns sour.

On the other side of the coin, Carmela Wiese didn’t annoy me nearly as much here as she did in part one.  She’s still not convincing as a Wisconsinite, but her performance after the rape scene is devoid of the kooky grin and grating, childish swearing. Amber’s been traumatized to the point of carrying a bath towel with the splotchy remains of her unborn child. You might call this disgusting or hilarious, but Wiese makes it sad and surprisingly motherly.

My one major character gripe involves Brent.  His intro scene also goes a tad too far for no good reason.  We see him on the phone with Andrea, agreeing to help take out the Waynes—fine.  But when he hangs up, he gets abusive with the crack whore he’s just kicked out of bed.  Ukena has real trouble selling this scene; partly because he’s a bit over-the-top, but mostly because it seems like he knows this character detail won’t be at all relevant to the rest of the movie.

The last nit I’d like to pick is a two-pronged problem—that of effects and staging.  As I discussed in my review of the first film, the blood and gore effects in these films are disappointing.  The strawberry syrup is still a-flowin’ in IDS2, and it made me wonder if it was really that hard to whip up a vat of convincing human-blood-substitute.  Especially given the rest of the production’s high—dare I say “slick”—quality, the blood is the last place one would want to see a horror movie fall short.

A notable exception occurs at the very end, where a character has his heart ripped out; we don’t see the action—rather we get a beautiful gore geyser exploding out of the character’s mouth.  I don’t know if it was deliberate or a happy accident, but the blood formed the shape of a cross on the victim’s face, making the moment thematically significant.

My staging issue involves the same scene.  It’s a Mexican stand-off between three characters, and the events that lead to two of them dying are so unclear that I had to re-watch the scene to understand what was going on.  It plays like a series of editing mistakes, or as if the footage that clearly showed the action was lost and Udler had to use secondary materials to get the point across.  Ultimately, if a character has his heart ripped out, it’s important to at least show a hand lunging at a chest—if not the whole bloody evisceration.

If after reading these sixteen-hundred-plus words you still don’t get how I could place this movie on my “Ten Best” list, then I recommend you check it out for yourself.  For film lovers, the only thing better than watching a legend continue to perfect their craft is getting in on the ground floor of a novice who’s got the talent and drive to do great things.  It’s not at all ridiculous to think that Incest Death Squad 2 could be Cory Udler’s calling card to Hollywood, especially if you consider that Sam Raimi, James Cameron and Peter Jackson all started out by shooting low-budget horror movies in their equivalent of the backwoods.

I’d intended to bring this review full-circle by talking about how my appreciation for IDS2 and my correspondence with Udler might undermine my credibility as a reviewer.  But that would be self-serving and pointless.

See the movie or don’t.  I have, and I love it.