BodyCount 1987 Review
Directed by: Paul Leder
Starring: Dick Sargent, Bernard White, James Avery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Bodycount… The slasher movie from 1987 you say? Yeah, I have seen that, it’s a well-known one… by Ruggero Deodato, right?
Well actually no. You see; this is the ‘other’ Bodycount. The one that’s an utter obscurity, which rarely gets acknowledged despite the promise of so much. Director Paul Leder populated the genre more prolifically than most throughout his filmmaking tenure. Even if it could be argued that I Dismember Mama is not really a proto-slasher, then there’s no denying that The Babydoll Murders slots straight in. What we have here on the other hand is not so much of a Halloween clone and instead plays a bit like Blood Splash or Maniac by making the killer the film’s central character. It’s generally more of a challenge to make these type of stories work, so I was keen to see what Leder could do.
It begins with one hell of an artsy credit sequence. We hear a beautiful violin piece and then the musician, a young brunette in a red address, appears from behind a tree. The camera pans along and follows her as she approaches a large white building and then it’s revealed for the first time that we are outside an asylum. Here we meet Robert Knight, a mixed up young man who is polite, believes in god and sometimes can’t help but stab people with his trusty blade. You’ll never guess what happens? Yes, surprisingly, he escapes the confines of his cushy cell and heads out to solve some deep-rooted family issues, causing havoc along the way
So as I hinted above, BodyCount is not a slasher movie in the most obvious sense and it’s more like a thriller with some slasher action bolted on top. Don’t get me wrong, there’s blood, stabbings and plenty of victims, but Leder has attempted to make this film more plot-driven than the usual low-budget follies featured on this site. Is that a good thing? Well it can be if it’s done well.
The problem that we have here is that the script is ambitious, but ignores cinematic basics. Any thriller generally needs a villain and a hero, but the maniac here is portrayed as something of a victim, which makes you feel sorry for him. When he kills people it just doesn’t seem right because we’ve invested in him emotionally and he is the most approachable of the key characters. In Halloween for example, Myers escaped to stalk and slaughter his sister and because Laurie Strode was such a good egg, we shared her fear. Robert has broken out to murder a member of his family too, but his uncle is a swindling deviant who is rumoured to have been responsible for the death of his father, so he comes across worse than the guy doing the slashing. In fact the only adult person in the film that is portrayed to have any morals at all is Kim, the helpful maid. Sadly, she’s played by an actress that speaks like Jar Jar Binks after a few lines of Peruvian coke, so she’s not one that we care too much about. Nevertheless, I didn’t want her to die, so I guess that she was doing something right. Come to think of it, even the majority of the victims were low lives (a bully, a drug addict, a gold digger etcetera), so our ‘bogeyman’ really does seem like a gem in comparison. Go figure…
You’ll see I mentioned above that Kim Kim Binks is the only adult person with morals because the story has something of a curveball in the shape of Robert’s six-year-old cousin, Deborah. He picks her up and drives her around and treats her superbly, which is an additional minus to his already minimal scare-o-factor. Little kids and horror is not something that always works. Yes, you can mention Poltergeist or Death Valley, but I still consider using a sweet child as a main player to be a bit of an overdose of heartstring pulling. LaurenWoodland does an impressive job with the role, however I think that a teenage final girl would have made the film feel much less schmaltzy.
Aside from the kidnap that’s not really a kidnap part of the story, there’s also another branch that trundles along in the background. It’s something to do with a heap of money that Robert is entitled to, so pretty much everyone else wants to kill him off so that they can claim it for themselves. We get treated to a lot of talky scenes where this stuff is discussed and I guess that they are supposed to wrap us up in an intrigue of double-crossing, treachery and cunning manipulation. The music that accompanies these moments though sounds like something that you might find in an online commercial for a retirement home and so that pretty much pooh-poohs the tone.
Talking about retirement home commercials, Leder shoots this horror movie like it is one. So much can be achieved with a tad of creativity in the placement of characters and cameras, the blocking, tracking and movement of visuals on the screen. Here though, everything feels so laboured and ‘functional’ that we never really get a chance to be excited by what we are witnessing. There was one tense set-piece that was really well done and utilised the age-old ‘grab the key from the sleeping guy’ trick. Unfortunately, it seems as though that emptied Leder’s glass of filmmaking flair right there. (Did you see that I made that rhyme?)
What about plus points you say? Well aside from Kim Kim Binks, the cast do a stellar job, especially Bernard White as Robert. Quite a few people get stabbed too; but again, even these horror parts are rapid and best described as ‘functional’. Each of the casualties gets a blade to the gut, before being hustled off the screen without a second look. Or mention. Or thought. There’s no variety in the killer’s MO and no suspense in the build up. Come to think of it, Babydoll Murders from Leder was exactly the same. “Hey, Luisito… I thought you were talking about the plus points bro?” Okaaaaaaaay, ok… Well to be fair, it’s not a total failure and I was interested to see how it finished. You could say that it’s like the film equivalent of a cheese sandwich. What was that word again? Oh yes… FUNCTIONAL. (Dictionary check: functional adj [ˈfʌŋkʃənəl]1. practical rather than decorative)
I watched Bodycount in three parts. The first time I stopped it because my eyes came over really heavy and I dozed off; whilst the second was because I heard the ice cream van outside. So basically, it couldn’t compete with a king cone. Make of that what you will.