A former beauty queen plots the death of her overbearing mother with the help of her pen-pal, a serial killer on death row.
The resurgence of exploitation cinema has been met with mixed emotions and certainly mixed reviews. From Grindhouse releases to the lesser-known (and in this humble opinion, better) works of Richard Griffin and the wonky Canadian outfit Astron 6, it seems the midnight movie is back in full swing. The true test of one’s patience with these offerings should come in the form of Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno” this fall, as he proudly answers the query “Do we really need a modern homage to ‘Cannibal Holocaust’?” with an unequivocal “Hell yes!”
Director Travis Campbell follows up his Troma flick “Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical” (no synopsis required there) with “Slaughter Daughter,” a revenge thriller with a title that begs to be compared to no-budget 70’s trash. Though it does borrow the elements from this lot we’ve all grown accustomed to (the faked poor print quality, jarring and often peculiar music cues), Campbell’s sophomore outing owes its largest gratitude to early Brian De Palma when all is said and done. From split-screen photography to dream imagery that only serves to enhance the sensation of unease, this is much more “Sisters” than “Switchblade Sisters.”
Left at the altar on her wedding day, former beauty queen Farrah (Nicola Fiore) spends the next two years losing her marbles and obsessing over death row serial killer Jackson Miles, played by Mr. Bricks himself, Tim Dax. As a display of affection she mails him her own severed finger, self-amputated by way of butcher knife in a scene that nails the Italian giallo vibe. Even the simplest mutilation feels like disturbing punishment when it’s kept slow and steady, and this one had yours truly cringing by the time the deed was done.
After a few months in an institution following the incident, Farrah is released into the custody of her mother Phyllis (Leesa Rowland) just in time for her nuptials to her late husband’s best friend Willard (Mike Connell). As if this wasn’t enough to put a bee in Farrah’s bonnet, Phyllis is also having an affair with Reema (Deborah Das), who is either her sister or dead hubby’s sister, I’m not certain if the movie ever divulged that important clarification. Truth be told friends, I initially thought the chick was just the live-in maid, so what do I know? I just work here.
Bribing a prison guard with what we can only assume from the dialogue was not a transfer of cash, Farrah is granted a meeting with her idol Jackson in person. Covered in tattoos including what must be referred to in parlors as “The Magneto,” Dax cuts an imposing figure as the brutal murderer. Once the brief and bizarre courtship is consummated, she asks him for lessons in how to kill. Seems her annoyance with the vapid family unit has grown into murderous rage in two days. Happily obliging, he regales her with a rather silly story of strangling a woman in a forest (I caught myself chuckling), leading to the sage advice “Never leave anyone alive.” Bad news for big brother David (Danny Morales) and his girlfriend Apple (Ruby Larocca, from one of my guilty pleasures “Porkchop”), who arrive the day of the wedding for the festivities.
Even one watching the movie through a mirror while washing dishes two rooms away (I’ve done that) can surmise where this is all heading. The happy day culminates in Farrah’s rampage on her closest loved ones throughout Phyllis’ apartment, taking time to even stalk after the neighbor whose dog annoys her. Face it, any film entitled “Slaughter Daughter” isn’t out to delight you with creative narrative. It’s Campbell’s execution of this escalating descent into madness that keeps the piece above water when the sometimes questionable performances and generic quality of the screenplay threaten to sink it. He weaves fantasy sequences and hallucinations seamlessly into the story’s flimsy fabric, creating another world out of the New Jersey location on a mere $15,000 budget. That’s no small feat.
Fiore (who also played the heroine in “Mr. Bricks”) is terrific as the insane, unapologetic Farrah. Unfortunately, she tends to outshine many of her supporting players, none of whom are terrible enough to taunt in written format. The only major disappointment lies in Rowland as Phyllis. Though displaying her very best impression of Faye Dunaway in “Mommy Dearest” (another guilty pleasure), it only serves to reveal Phyllis as a rather weak character. She is neither batshit bonkers as Joan Crawford was portrayed, nor is she remotely likeable. Just selfish. Again, this is a complaint that should be directed at Campbell and co-writer Lauren Miller, who do nothing with the role on paper and then expect a middling actress to juice it up with histrionics. However, kudos must be given to the duo for peppering their roster of victims with a few affable innocents (you can’t help but smile when Larocca is onscreen), leaving the possibility of Farrah’s defeat as satisfying as her success.
As the credits rolled after an overlong epilogue and an outstanding final shot, I realized something about “Slaughter Daughter.” I’d just been entertained by an hour of artfully presented blather mingled with approximately twenty minutes of intense (yet not overt) gore. I can’t help but feel as though Campbell and company have sold me some magic beans here, friends. The bottom line remains the same, though. I’d buy their beans again.