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Gruesome
cast: Lauren Currie Lewis, Chris Ferry, Cody Darbe, Maureen Olander, and John P. Miller

director: Jeff and Josh Crook

80 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Danger After Dark DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
As I sat down to watch the opening sequence of Gruesome (aka: Salvage), I expected to be subjected to 90 minutes of derivative slasher-movie mayhem or perhaps a torture-porn rip-off. So familiar were the first few scenes that I began to get that old sinking feeling in my stomach... but then something quite miraculous happened and I began to realise that, instead of copying the latest horror trends, the makers of this film had actually decided to cut loose and utilise a little imagination.

Claire (Lauren Currie Lewis), a student who works part-time in an isolated petrol service station, is having a hard time. Her boyfriend Jimmy (Cody Darbe) has a one-track mind and just to add to her problems, someone is trying to kill her. She soon begins to realise that the killer might not in fact be real - no-one believes her when she tries to tell the police about the repeated attacks she experiences and the killer's description matches that of Duke Desmond (Chris Ferry), a murderer recently shot dead by the local sheriff. Perhaps these visions are signs of mental collapse, or someone is deliberately staging them to scare her?

As Claire becomes increasingly alienated from everyone around her - mother, boyfriend, and workmates - the increasingly odd visions gain strength and start to bleed into her waking world. Duke Desmond draws closer by the minute, along with whatever weird logic lies behind the visions of mayhem.

There are many problems with the production, but the film contains some nice imaginative touches - a welcome attempt at maintaining tension, delicious scare scenes showing creepy figures in the background, a knockout set-piece in the basement - that go some way to allowing us to forgive most of its shortcomings. There are also some good quirky touches along the way, like the sheriff being a former drug dealer, a visit to the local church to consult a minister that ends up as a meeting with the janitor, Jimmy needing a shit when the couple check out the killer's lair.

The lead actress does not give a strong central performance, yet as the film progresses she slowly grows on you, and by the end you might be surprised to find that you actually like her, or at least care what happens to her. The acting in general is functional at best, which is par for the course in a micro-budgeted horror movie like this one. The soundtrack does the film few favours either, and in parts even detracts from the work being done on screen.

Despite its many flaws, Gruesome somehow manages to hold together. It tries hard to be a hybrid between Wes Craven's Shocker, and Carnival Of Souls, but lacks the gloss of the former and the sheer weirdness of the latter. But still I couldn't help enjoying the thing, and found myself wondering what the directors might be capable of with studio backing and a decent budget to work with. The film contains enough genuinely unsettling scenes and neat little visual touches to elevate it above a lot of other films produced on similar shoestrings, and is wise enough not to outstay its welcome. There's even a bit of flair going on behind the camera.

While failing to reach any great heights of artistic accomplishment, there's enough integrity and imagination here to ensure a good evening's horror entertainment.
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