A busload of strangers find themselves fighting for their lives when one of them reads from a gothic book and brings to life six dead serial killers who proceed to hunt them down one by one.
Innocents stranded in remote surroundings are hunted by bloodthirsty maniacs. There are only so many cinematic avenues one can traverse when pursuing this premise, and most involve heavy borrowing from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Are the antagonists deformed cannibals or thrill-killing hillbillies? Do our heroes know one another, or are they strangers thrust together under dire circumstances? Desert setting, or perhaps a woodland locale? The variations are few and arbitrary.
Unless the film in question is “Death Factory.” Also known by “The Factory” and “The Butchers,” the latest for consideration is certainly no stranger to tropes of the trade. After their charter bus breaks down on an empty stretch of highway, a group of travelers find themselves in a dilapidated rest stop area that has been renovated into a museum dedicated to serial killers. Cut off from the outside world, their numbers begin dwindling as members foolishly wander off from the herd and are slaughtered in descending order of repugnance.
Before you write this one off friends, here comes the fun part. The murderers are the establishment’s main attractions, resurrected by way of an ancient text that we’ll just refer to as the “Evil Dead book” from now on. That’s correct, our shopping list of baddies consists of Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Albert Fish, the Zodiac and Jack the Ripper. Offering six famous psychopaths for the price of one is an ingeniously novel notion, one which “Factory” exploits for every last penny. Relying far more on curiosity factor than upon consistency or execution, it succeeds almost in spite of itself.
These second comings are part of a plot hatched by the elegant BD (Semi Anthony), who promptly bumps off the museum proprietor after a vague speech confessing to multiple homicides and hinting at aspirations to become the most feared serial killer in history. He fashions ritual circles on the floors of the exhibit rooms utilizing spray painted pentagrams and piles of dirt. His preparations are interrupted by the arrival of our primary players, on foot to find a phone and respite from the heat.
As is frequently the case in micro-budget slashers, one can easily discern who’ll likely make it and who will become villain fodder within nine seconds of introduction. Though the performances are serviceable, the characters run a gamut of broad stereotypes, from merely irritating to downright offensive. Prime example of the latter rests on the capable shoulders of indie regular Mara Hall (“Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie”) as May, a large black woman who complains of her “dogs barking” and lack of fried chicken in the vicinity. Given that none of these people are supposed to be taken seriously and May emerges as one of the piece’s true heroes, we’ll let the witless racial insensitivity slide.
Heading up the eclectic gaggle are war veteran Simon (Damien Puckler of television’s “Grimm”) and his brother Brian (Cameron Bowen), who split leadership duties once the shit hits the fan. Also on board are minister Bill (Braxton Davis of the similar but unwatchable “No Vacancy”) and his wife, two haughty hot chicks who would never be seen riding a bus under any circumstance barring fiction, and a young goth couple whose loud disdain for everyone around them forecasts certain death by the midway mark.
Unfortunately, it takes until that point before we’re finally rid of these two. Leaving the others to explore, they find the Evil Dead book in the Gein room and within seconds locate and recite a resurrection incantation. And so begins (better late than never) the only reason any viewer would hold interest in the first place, but it also begs a nagging question. Why rely on the beaten-to-death device of asinine kids unwittingly conjuring peril, when that was precisely what BD had intended upon doing anyway? It’s one thing to fall back on a cliché, but sidestepping story in order to do so makes no sense. On the plus side, it ensures that the most annoying of the bunch are victims one and two, so I guess we’ll have to let that slide as well.
The sociopaths themselves are as fleshed-out as one would expect given the preceding material, which is to say just enough to fit the purpose. Dahmer and Fish bear the largest resemblances to their real counterparts in looks and demeanors, though both are reduced to creepy weaklings when forced to defend themselves. A bearded Gacy in full Pogo drag perplexes (A beard? Really?), and writers Stephen Durham and David McClellan (who is also credited with directing additional scenes) seem to believe that the diminutive Gein was a mountain of a man. The oddest embellishment is the reveal of the Ripper’s true identity, which is ridiculous enough to feel inspired. Still, finding a performer whose c**kney dialect was some par above a failed comedian’s Bob Hoskins impression would’ve been appreciated.
Many of the confrontations in the second half entail mixed martial arts courtesy of Puckler and Anthony while the survivors flee and hide throughout the compound. There are a few instances of gore, but less than one might think, as the deaths result from either stabbings or good old fashioned ass-whoopings. The moments when the famous freaks butt heads over potential prey are the most entertaining, Gein emerging as the clear alpha male of the lot. Logic and cohesive editing are left in the dust into the finale, which manages to knock off “Highlander” while sputtering out a rushed morality message concerning the atrocities of war.
Native artist Steven Paul Judd (“American Indian Graffiti: This Thing Life”) proves to be a director on the rise with this uneven and at times shamelessly trashy departure from his previous projects. His presence is welcome within the realm of our humble genre any time. No one will accuse “Death Factory” of greatness, but it would lose its charm if it were. Give this one a chance. I can almost guarantee you won’t hate me for it this time.