Murder Set Pieces DVD: Review By Dodd

The film's aesthetic pays due homage to horror classics
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
The film's aesthetic pays due homage to horror classics
The excessive gore and brutality hardly serves a purpose except to drive this film into the ground.
(Note: See end of review for filmmaker's defense)

What I really miss from the horror genre is camp. There was once a time when horror films that were straight-to-video were at least enjoyable for being over-the-top and laughingly awful. Lately, films of the genre have taken a darker tone. With the popularity of Saw and Hostel, it has become customary for horror films to push things to the limit. While these explicit torture films were successful, they have begotten other directors to do the exact same thing. This explicit brand of filthy, relentless terror that was once welcome seems to be turning into a competition of one-upmanship where scripts no longer matter, and mindless splatter does. Murder Set Pieces is a DVD title from Lion's Gate that bathes itself in blood, but seems to have no reason for doing so.

Meet The Photographer (Sven Garrett). This unnamed protagonist is a rough and tough German who has a beautiful hair stylist girlfriend. Unfortunately, she is the only person on Earth that cannot detect his derangement. While his lover is aware that The Photographer shoots models for a living, she does not know that this is sometimes done with a revolver. Every night, The Photographer drives the prostitute-populated streets of Las Vegas and wanders in and out of adult bookstores looking for victims. Due to his Nazi lineage and not being hugged enough as a child, Photographer is a violent and repressed individual who despises women and anyone else who gets in his way. Think of him as Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, except without the brainy, satirical edge.

This is pretty much the route Murder Set Pieces takes. The Photographer goes from one place to another killing people with straight razors, bullets, and even a pair of flesh-cutting dentures. The violence is merciless just like the lead character. It is very clear that the use of violence is gratuitous and without purpose. Perhaps Murder Set Pieces is intended to be a gorehound's wet dream. However, I fail to see how this brutality can even be remotely entertaining. It isn't comical, impressive, or properly motivated. While the main character has the occasional nightmare about 9/11 and childhood abuse, this still does not plunge convincingly into the mind of a true madman.

What is really supposed to sell this movie is its actors. This does not specifically mean Sven Garrett in his stiff performance as the leading man. Horror icons pop up throughout the film in cameo appearances. This includes Gunnar Hansen and Edwin Neil of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Tony "The Candyman" Todd as an adult video store counter clerk. These actors are even featured on the front cover as if the film is a nostalgic horror reunion. Unfortunately, passionate horror fans will only be excited for a brief second as they watch these boogeyman pull miniscule appearances.
Audio Commentary

Writer/producer/director Nick Palumbo, star Sven Garrett, and Managing Editor of Ultra Violent magazine Art Ettinger sit in for this commentary. The track consists mostly of Ettinger feeding questions for Palumbo and Garrett to answer. The interview questions are serious as if this is a groundbreaking indie film. While Palumbo hails his influences such as Dario Argento, his film is hardly a classic.

The DVD case claims that there are deleted scenes. However, these are nowhere to be found on the Special Features menu.
Widescreen (1.85:1). The film itself actually looks terrific. Nick Palumbo is clearly a horror fan, and certain scenes draw from classics such as Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If Palumbo could get his hands on better material, he could make a solid flick.
Dolby Digital 5.1. The music is sometimes eerily creative. However, this particular DVD contains constant skips in the soundtrack.
Standard DVD keep case. A tattooed and mutilated dead prostitute is pictured on the front cover. It is a rather demented illustration sure to attract fans of the horror genre.
Murder Set Pieces aims to be the next controversial horror film to attract a cult following. Even if this does happen, I will not be joining the pack. While the direction is promising at times, this is merely an exercise in brutal violence with absolutely no substance. Instead of trying to continuously desensitize its audience from violence, I wish horror films such as these would think to actually write a good script and scare someone. Passionate followers of mindless torture horror may dig this, but I recommend passing it up at the video store.

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Update: Director Nick Palumbo read this review and responded to my criticism via e-mail. He had this to say:

"YES, the film has been CUT by Lion's Gate for the "R" rating........the original is has been cut by 23 minutes!!!"

"Seeing the "NC-17" rated version of "Murder-Set-Pieces", is an entirely different experience than the severely edited "R" rated version......... ....(and, I'm not only talking about the gore scenes, the rape scenes, the child murder scenes, and the torture scenes.......I'm talking about the specific dialouge that is edited out of the film, the music, the cinematography and the editing, period..... etc...etc...)"

Nick Palumbo, I appreciate you taking the time to step up to the plate as a director and defend your film. There is something quite rewarding about hearing from the filmmakers themselves. Thank you for your two cents.

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