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Hacked Off (2004)
12th Nov 04
Escaped loonie serial killer kills a bunch of annoying students in a remote house in Northern France.
A word of advice to any aspiring horror filmmakers out there: watch Hacked Off first, just so you get some kind of idea of how NOT to make your first film. That said, the guys responsible for this brief exercise did get off their arses and got it together enough to actually get a British slasher film made, so it has to be a good thing that they made the effort at all. Hasn’t it?
The plot of Hacked Off is something you will have seen before. Even if you haven’t seen it before, you will think you have. There’s really no surprises in store here: a serial killer escapes from a mental asylum in North France. At the same time, a bunch of British college students decide to rent a nearby house for a weekend of partying. You do the math. As the ‘story’ unfolds, its quite difficult to accept that the plot is going to be as straightforward as ‘young scamps being killed off one by one by an escaped mentalist who’s not-so-cunningly disguised as a telephone repairman.’ But that’s basically all that’s on offer here.
The kids in the group (about 8 in all) vary from awkward looking young actors to complete dickheads you just want to see being mutilated. Annoyingly, some of them cannot speak very clearly, but this could be a problem with the sound crew. Either way, I couldn’t understand much of what was being said. One of the characters in particular (a beer guzzling prick with personality issues) speaks like he couldn’t even get any GCSE’s, never mind getting onto a University degree. Why this group of ‘friends’ are on holiday together is anyone’s guess. They really don’t get along with each other very well and as soon as they get in the house, we’re already impatient to see them being picked off, just so we can at least see some good old fashioned gory murder mayhem. Think again. Instead of gory murders, we get blood. Quite a lot of blood, but just blood. No elaborate / resourceful gore effects here - just a shot of a pointy weapons piercing someone, then a separate shot of blood dripping on the floor or splashing onto the wall. So, this is a British ‘slasher’ film? Given the extremely weak / predictable story line, the fact that they couldn’t have at least made an effort to get a few grisly effects together by way of compensation is ridiculous.
As with the basic plot, there are other elements in Hacked Off that are pure cliché. Once the group gets to the remote house, one of them says “I can’t seem to get a signal out here.” What, out here in a remote setting where there’s a mental serial killer at large? Never! Aside from that we have a character who actually says, with a straight face, “I’ll be right back.” If you’ve already had enough of reading this review, please don’t stop yet – that’s inconsiderate, take some comfort in the fact that you didn’t have to endure the 70 minutes running time (?!) in order to review this curiosity. It’s a curiosity because I just can’t figure out how these guys thought this would work. It seems that they were going for a ‘less is more’ approach, and I’m not just talking about the 70-minute running time here – there’s less of everything – its less than predictable, and less than cliché. How this production got green-lighted is a mystery.
One thing they did make an effort with is the music. When I spotted ‘Music by Vanilla Pod’ on the DVD cover, my suspicions were immediately aroused. “Who the hell are Vanilla Pod?” you may well ask. Once upon a time (well, 3 years ago) I witnessed them live at a skating festival on Clapham Common, and after a song or two, decided to walk in the general direction of the bar. Away from Vanilla Pod. Having not heard of them since, I though that perhaps they had faded into complete obscurity, until NOW! It’s difficult to communicate quite how little their music does for Hacked Off. Not all the music in the film is VP music, and when its not, everything just seems a little better. It fair to say that with a decent, appropriate sound track, Hacked Off would be a better film. That’s not to say that a decent soundtrack would completely salvage this turkey. It would however make everything more easily digestible. Who knows, maybe some appropriate music would almost create some tension and some involvement in the viewer, rather than being pummelled with a mixture of very loud, chirpy punk rock songs and an instrumental metalfest, which comes off some kind of heavy metal version of John Carpenter’s Halloween soundtrack.
That’s not where the Halloween similarities end, either. Our killer - Jacque Sykes - likes to chase people around the place a bit. When I say chase, I mean walk. Slowly. Surely they could get away from him if they’re running? Well, perhaps not. He tries his best to be some kind of 2004 Michael Myers wannabe but fails miserably because that shit just doesn’t work anymore, ok? The black boiler suit / white-painted captain Kirk mask presence of Myers looks a little more scary than some overweight meathead in a telephone repairman outfit. In 1978, when Halloween came out, the ‘walk / chase’ approach was new and scary, and it worked on so many different levels. You can’t simply get a bunch of amateurs together with a few digital video cameras and make them perform the same kind of scenario and try to pass it off as scary 25 years on! There is also a ‘discovery of victims’ corpses’ scene which is totally ripped off from the end of Halloween, and its worth a mention that the ending is directly from Carpenter’s other frightfest, The Fog. So, what does this tell us? Are these filmmakers true fans of the horror genre? Is this meant to come off as some kind of homage to classic slasher fare? Is that why the plot is so incredibly straightforward? Man, reviewing this movie is no easy job, mainly because it’s impossible to understand where the makers are coming from in their approach. An obvious love for the genre but no capability / inclination to do a decent job. The best immediate advice would be to sit down and write a fucking story. It’s a good place to start.
The production values of Hacked Off are pretty awful with the aforementioned sound problem being quite prominent, particularly in the last scene. The whole thing is obviously shot on digital video but don’t expect this to look like 28 Days Later. It’s more like home video, though someone has pressed the ‘cinema widescreen effect’ button on the camera in an effort to give it that Cecil B DeMille quality. Needless to say, it doesn’t work.
In order to convince you that I’m not involved in a personal vendetta against the people who made Hacked Off, I’d like to list what I liked about the film:
The first time we see Sykes standing in the rain – looks good, AND scary.
The shot from outside the car when its still raining as Sykes is bashing a victim’s head against the steering wheel. They didn’t quite pull that one off, but it worked quite nicely in that it had a nasty feel.
The background story about Sykes, as told by one of our young soon-to-be-victims. Unfortunately though, he seems to have encyclopaedic knowledge of something that happened ten years ago.
The scene where another victim runs into a noose that Sykes has led him to, during the blue-filtered forest-set final chase. Sykes then pulls the rope from where he’s standing, hanging the victim.
Any of the soundtrack that was not pounding heavy metal / punk rock. Personally, there’s nothing I like more than a big meaty punk rock metal sandwich, but not as a movie soundtrack.
But, alas, Sykes is a rubbish killer and most of the time he just isn’t scary. The telephone repairman look just doesn’t cut the mustard, although he does do a decent job at head-drilling on one victim in particular. This was the most impressive ‘guy playing with vibrator then gets his head drilled’ scene I’ve seen this year. Also on offer is a murder scene in a sauna, which, again, is one of the best sauna murder scenes I’ve seen this year.
Don’t worry about going for a piss and missing some of the plot – it won’t matter. In fact, it’s probably a good time to prepare some food. Something that takes a little while to make, maybe about 70 minutes or so. Perhaps you may want to do something with lentils – these take a while to cook and requite regular stirring. Trust me - it will be a lot more interesting than watching Hacked Off.
If the people involved in the making of Hacked Off are reading this review, I want to tell you that I hope you understand my reasons for not liking your film. That said, there are signs of promise here and I do have respect for people who make the effort to shoot a little horror movie. However, you really f**ked this one up. Next time, hire good actors, score the music properly, give us either gore or edge of seat suspense (suspense is NOT a chase / walk through the woods that seems to go on forever and ever, by the way), and last but not least, write a story.
I did however like it much better than The Hills Have Eyes – Part 2.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.