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Monday, 7 July 2014

Death Factory (2002)

Director: Brad Sykes
Stars: Lisa Jay, Karla Zamudio, Jeff Ryan, David Kalamus, Rhoda Jordan, Jason Flowers, Ron Jeremy and Tiffany Shepis
It's about time I saw this film, which was, at least at one point, the best selling title on the Brain Damage catalogue. Somehow I've never got round to it, though I've seen its sequel a few times, most memorably at Phoenix Fear Fest back in 2008, and it's still a guilty pleasure of mine. Unfortunately the imagination of the sequel isn't matched by the original, which is a thoroughly routine slasher with one saving grace, the rather unique monster, which was the only element Sean Tretta rendered far more conventional when he revisited this picture with his sequel, The Death Factory Bloodletting in 2008. In that film, she was played by Michelle Mousel as a young lady in a hot outfit apparently built out of leather straps, with sharp teeth and sharp metal claws attached to her fingers. Here, she's a demonic Goth chick with clown white make up and she's played by Tiffany Shepis early in her career. Her teeth are just as sharp but the metalwork on her hands is far less stylish and more grounded in freaky and unwieldy wired medical contraptions.

Her back story is by far the most interesting part about the script, which is otherwise stunningly routine. She was formerly Alexa, a young factory worker at Dyson Chemical, who made chemical weapons on the outskirts of town and did it poorly enough that she was exposed to a radioactive spill. Dyson denied all responsibility, no doubt because everything they were doing was completely illegal, and just wanted to cover the whole thing up, but she mutated into this freakily original creature and returned to the factory to wreak her vengeance. '24 people, all brutally butchered... and they never found the killer,' explains one character as a sort of fireside story that, in a horror movie like this, naturally turns out to be true, if surrounded by the inconsistency that riddles the script. Apparently people die all the time in this factory but nobody has been there for years. Try to correlate all these details and you'll send yourself insane. You just won't look anywhere near as cool as Shepis while you do so.

None of the rest of the cast look as cool as Shepis either. They're the sort of actors you might expect to be playing characters in a movie like this, one obviously shot on videotape in a 4:3 ratio with surprisingly decent sound but overdone colour. When we see skin, which is quite often, it's far too red as if the people we're watching spent the previous day out in the Arizona sun and forgot their SPF vampire suntan lotion. Then again Alyson and her boyfriend aren't likely to care too much because they're only a token necking couple for the monster to kill off at the beginning of the film. They're only given three simple things to do. Alyson needs to get the pair of them into the factory somehow. Allison Beal needs to take off her top for a while so we have something to look at. Then they need to die. I appreciated writer/director Brad Sykes's choice to not reveal the monster fully at this point and the neat role reversal where it's the guy who's the wuss wanting out. I didn't appreciate the ten minutes Alexa took to slice them up. At least it feels that long.
If we're looking at anything except Beal's boobs and Shepis's claws, we're noticing a pretty cool set. The venue was apparently a haunted house attraction, used out of season with many of its props serving as the set decoration but without any of the more extreme stuff on show because it wouldn't fit. Bizarrely, as much as this place adds a great deal to the disused tone of the film, it doesn't seem to fit itself. None of it looks remotely industrial; what sort of factory has chairs, beds and couches like these? Or were the winos who break into the place to die flush with a convenient collection of antiques to haul into the building to destroy? I never bought into the location for this film, but do agree that it's a pretty cool place to shoot a horror flick; it just shouldn't have been this one. Sykes is a prolific filmmaker, so he probably returned to it for another movie where it may have fit better. Then again, we're asked to buy into a lot here. The most believable aspect was to find Ron Jeremy playing a crippled wino. He missed his true calling.

The next big stretch is to believe that the various schoolkids who decide to party on down at the factory just because are a) schoolkids and b) schoolkids who hang out together. There are three vaguely defined couples, which makes it a pretty small party, but there's beer and boobs and weed, so we don't complain too much. Derek likes Rachel and she likes him enough for them to be dating, but apparently he's not a priority. Troy likes Louisa but she really doesn't like him, so he just clings in the hope that, in the absence of anyone else, he might just get lucky. Rachel and Louisa hang out together, even though Derek hates it, maybe because Derek hates it. Partly he hates it because he's a squeaky clean nice guy and Louisa likes to show her knife a lot because it makes her look tough. Partly it's because she really does seem to be a bad influence; she seems to only exist to tell Troy no and hurl schoolkid insults at Rachel like suggesting that she's 'clean, sober and a virgin'. That leaves Francis and Leticia, who are at least a real couple.

Francis looks way too old to have just finished school, but he apparently still lives with his parents and is dumb enough to have forgotten when they're away for the weekend. So much for the party at his place, which is why Louisa throws out the factory down on Duncan Rd as a substitute because she used to go there eight years ago. To be fair, I've heard a lot worse reasons in slasher movies but that doesn't mean this is a good one. The six of them head down there, Derek only to protect Rachel and Troy only because Louisa can't say no forever, right? For a while we get all the expected scenes in the expected order. They wander around and bump into spider webs and such for little shock moments. They split up to see if they can get the power switched on. They party for a while, because Francis has a beatbox and some weed, while Derek and Troy bring some beer. And then we get the campfire tale which explains why we're here and introduces Alexa to the story properly. Now we're all set for the main reason for the film: gore.
We've seen a little already, what with the extended death scene at the beginning and Ron Jeremy getting his still beating heart ripped out right in front of Alyson, covered in blood and still screaming herself. The hairy hedgehog gets less screen time here than he does in the blue movies he's better known for. We just know we're going to get more gore though, because none of these six 'kids' are remotely bright enough to make it out alive and we don't want them to anyway. We're firmly rooting for Alexa like the gorehounds we are. Of course, we don't mind them splitting up, stripping off, getting jiggy with it first, but they have to die eventually because that's the main reason we're watching this film. Well, to be fair, nowadays we'll watch to see what Shepis was doing this early in her career, and she is by far the best thing about Death Factory, but back in 2002 nobody really knew who she was so they were watching to see six more people wind up dead in horribly bloody ways. At least the film can deliver on some fronts.

As the body count adds up, Sykes does try to give us a little more than the expected, but I don't believe many audience members really cared. Most of it left me dry, because the characters weren't drawn well enough for me to care about whether this one leaves their supposed friends high and dry or that one has hidden depths as a hero. The only bit that connected at all was the bit I wasn't expecting, which made it a surprisingly capable twist. It's odd to realise that this film had nothing to begin with but built throughout and did find a little bit of substance by the end, while the sequel began with everything but gradually fell apart as it moved on. Perhaps it's all about expectation. Sykes didn't give us any at all while Tretta maybe gave us too much. Tretta's film is light years ahead of this one but from that perspective anything Sykes gave us before the end credits would have felt like a win; while Tretta set us up to believe we might have a cult classic on our hands, only to fail to deliver on that potential.

If we think back to what came before that decent twist, we can't fail to note the poor acting (though I've certainly seen a lot worse), the clich├ęd characters and the predictable plot (up to that point, at least). The positive side is pretty sparse. Certainly the amount of blood is a plus, because we get a lot of it. Sadly the gore effects themselves aren't that great: there are some good moments with blood spurting out of necks but we do wonder how Alexa's knife fingers can generate so much of it when they're apparently unable to penetrate skin. The fact that Ron Jeremy dies quickly and horribly is definitely a plus too. Almost entirely though, it's Tiffany Shepis who shines, not as the scream queen we might expect but as the monster. She looks thoroughly different with her short hair, bleached face and wild contact lenses, not to mention her sharp teeth and spiderlike medical attachments on her arms. She also overplays things so much that we wonder if she's in a haunted house attraction rather than a movie. Ah, now I understand the setting...

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